Kidney stones are one of the most common diseases in the world, affecting millions of people each year. If you have ever had a kidney stone, you know how painful it can be. In this blog post, we will discuss 10 tips for how to prevent kidney stones naturally. By following these simple tips, you can lower your risk of developing this painful condition!
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Table of Contents
Types of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones come from a high concentration of minerals in the kidneys. These minerals include calcium, oxalate, phosphorus, or uric acid.
Other names for kidney stones are renal calculi, nephrolithiasis, or urolithiasis.
The very first step when learning how to prevent kidney stones naturally needs to start with knowing what type of kidney stone you have.
Treatment plans can vary significantly depending on the type of kidney stone diagnosis you have.
Calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate stones
The most common stones are calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate stones. Almost 70% of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones.
Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods.
About 10% of kidney stones are made of calcium phosphate.
Kidney stones are formed when there is too much waste and not enough fluid. The oxalate binds with calcium (or phosphate) and creates a kidney stone.
Risk factors for developing calcium-based stones include:
- Chronic dehydration
- A diet high in protein, sodium, and/or sugar
- A high oxalate diet with high uric acid in the urine
- Too much vitamin D
- Digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease
Uric acid stones
Uric acid stones account for 5-10% of all kidney stones.
A diet high in animal meat and protein can cause uric acid stones.
The Western diet is high in animal meat and over 10% of the US population has diabetes.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that uric acid stones are also common.
These stones are less common but affect about 10% of all kidney stones.
Struvite stones are made of calcium, ammonia, and phosphate.
Struvite stones are caused by infections, such as urinary tract infections. The bacteria of the urinary tract infection make ammonia.
When ammonia builds up in the urine, it contributes to the development of kidney stones.
Cystine stones happen when there is a cystine build-up in the body.
They are caused by genetics and account for less than 1% of all kidney stones.
This is why it is important to know what type of stone a person has. This means when a person has cystine stones, their family members are at higher risk.
Cystinuria is a disorder in which a person’s urine becomes saturated with cystine, a component of the amino acid cysteine.
How to Identify the Type Kidney Stone
Having a stone tested is the only way to know what type of stone it is. When passing a stone at home, collect it and take it to a urologist.
The urologist will be able to test the stone and provide you with more directly on your plan of care from that.
It can be harder to prevent kidney stones naturally if the stone is not scientifically identified.
It will likely lead to more fear and frustration with failed diet changes. And it may not stop kidney stones from happening again.
Knowing the type of stone will help as we move on to how to prevent kidney stones naturally.
Kidney Stone Symptoms
Kidney stone symptoms may not be noticeable until it moves in the kidney or passes into the ureters.
To clarify, ureters are the tubes that connect your kidney to your bladder.
- severe and sharp pain in your side and/or back
- pain in the lower abdomen and groin area
- discolored urine (pink, red, or brown)
- cloudy or strong, foul-smelling urine
- pain or burning sensation when urinating
- the ongoing feeling that you need to urinate
- fever and chills (if there is an infection)
Pain that comes from a kidney stone can come in waves. The pain can also change in intensity or location.
This happens in different levels based on when the kidney stone moves through the kidney and urinary tract.
Be sure to discuss any symptoms with your doctor or seek immediate medical attention.
Tips to Naturally Prevent Kidney Stones
Drinking adequate water is extremely important for kidney stone prevention and by far the best way to naturally prevent kidney stones.
Every 200 milliliters of water consumed per day reduces kidney stone risk by 13%.
(That’s less than one cup.)
Getting enough water ensures that the kidneys have enough fluids to create urine.
The kidney stone “ingredients” are more diluted. Therefore, more frequent bathroom trips can naturally prevent recurring kidney stones.
How much water to drink
Research shows that drinking at least 2-3 liters of water per day can prevent kidney stones.
Studies have found that drinking enough water to make at least 3 liters of urine each day helps to prevent cystine stones.
On the other hand, it’s important to follow a fluid restriction if prescribed by your doctor or dietitian. Drinking more water will not help. It is dangerous to drink too much water if the kidneys cannot remove it.
2. Add more citrate
Citrate in the diet can help lower urine calcium excretion and increase urine citrate.
The urine citrate will bind with calcium and prevent stone formation.
Add citrus to water to increase citrate. Lemon, orange, limes, and grapefruit have citrate. Adding citrus juice to water increases dietary citrate.
Research has shown that 85 milliliters of fresh lemon juice provided similar stone prevention compared to a potassium citrate supplement.
Homemade lemonade is a great alternative to water. It increases citrate in the diet to naturally prevent kidney stones.
Beware that frozen lemonade is commonly high in oxalates. Therefore, this may be more harmful than helpful when it comes to kidney stone prevention.
3. Limit Added Sugar
When sugar intake increases, it then increases the calcium in your urine. Excess sugar also decreases your urine production. This combination increases the risk of kidney stones.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of adper day for women. To clarify, that is equivalent to 25 grams of added sugar or 100 calories.
Men need to limit to 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day.
However, fructose from fruit does not appear to increase the risk of kidney stones.
In fact, it has been shown that more fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of kidney stones.
General recommendations are 1 to 2 cups of fruits and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.
Read the nutrition label to find and avoid added sugars in canned or dried fruits and vegetables.
Soda and Kidney Stones
A 12-ounce can of soda has more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is higher than the recommended daily allowance of added sugar.
Sodas are a liquid and do count towards fluid intake for the day. However, sodas do not help prevent kidney stones.
In fact, soda increases the risk of kidney stones.
Many sodas include an ingredient known as phosphoric acid.
This is a phosphate additive. It contributes to calcium-phosphate stones. It can cause other kidney health issues, like high phosphorus levels.
4. Cut down on salt
A high sodium diet creates more kidney stones. Too much salt in the diet will increase calcium losses in the body.
Calcium cannot bind to oxalate prevent kidney stones because of this.
The average American diet is 3,400 milligrams per day.
The American Heart Association recommends a daily salt intake of less than 2,300 mg sodium.
Even snacks can add up quickly when it comes to sodium. The average sodium intake from snacks for children is 1,400 mg per day.
Luckily, there are plenty of low-sodium and kidney-friendly snacks.
Another way to cut back on salt is to change the way you dine out.
5. Get the right amount of calcium
As mentioned, calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stones.
Some people believe that by avoiding calcium, they will lower their risk of developing kidney stones.
However, it’s actually the opposite. Not getting enough calcium in the diet can lead to more kidney stones.
When eating high oxalate food, pairing it with calcium-rich foods can help.
Plant-based sources of calcium include tofu, calcium-fortified bread and cereals, broccoli, seaweed, and beans.
The calcium in plants can already be bound to oxalates. This makes the calcium less available. Fortified plant-based milk may have calcium added as well.
A vegetarian diet with low-fat dairy products is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones naturally. This is because dairy is a good source of calcium.
In general, aim for 300-400 milligrams of calcium with each meal.
5. Avoid high-oxalate foods for oxalate kidney stones
The typical diet contains anywhere around 200 mg of oxalate per day.
Limiting to 50-100 milligrams of oxalate per day may help prevent kidney stones naturally. This is because there is less oxalate in the body.
Less oxalate means fewer calcium oxalate stones.
High Oxalate Foods
There are many foods high in oxalate. Some of the highest oxalate foods include:
- Spinach (both cooked and raw)
- Rice Bran
- Buckwheat Groats
- Miso Soup
- Wheat Berries
- Baked Potato (with skin)
- Corn Grits
It is helpful to avoid the highest oxalate foods to prevent calcium oxalate kidney stones. For example, swap from almonds (122 milligrams oxalate per ounce) for pistachios (14 mg oxalates per ounce).
However, research has shown that higher oxalate intake alone in younger women did not increase the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Don’t solely focus on eliminating foods with oxalates. This is not successful in the long term.
6. Eat an alkaline diet
Animal proteins are acid-producing. A diet that produces more acid can increase the risk of kidney stones.
A diet high in animal proteins has been shown to increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
Three animal protein sources (beef, chicken, and fish) were tested for urinary stone risk in a clinical trial.
The beef had the lowest serum uric acid increase and fish had the highest urinary uric acid. The result concluded with limiting all animal proteins, including fish, for all stone formers.
Additionally, animal meats also are generally high in purines. A high purine diet can create uric acid stones.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are more alkaline-producing. This means they counteract the acidity in the body.
Potassium is a nutrient that helps in reducing acid by lowering the PRAL score of food.
The benefits of raising the pH in the urine to be more alkaline come from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
This is why it’s not always advised to avoid all oxalates.
7. Avoid vitamin C supplements
The body converts vitamin C into oxalate. This can lead to more frequent stone formation.
It is more likely to have a higher oxalate level when taking excess vitamin C.
One study found that men had a significantly higher risk for developing kidney stones supplementing their diet with vitamin C.
Therefore, vitamin C supplements are generally not recommended for those with kidney issues unless medically necessary.
Always speak with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement regimen.
8. Add apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been shown to help reduce calcium oxalate kidney stones. This is because of the acetic acid in ACV.
Just 1-2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily mixed into water can be helpful. ACV supplements are not proven to naturally prevent kidney stones.
9. Vitamins and Supplements
There are some vitamins and supplements that can be helpful to prevent kidney stones naturally.
Even though supplements and vitamins can be purchased over-the-counter, it’s important to first speak about a supplement with your nephrologist or urologist to make sure it’s right for you.
Potassium citrate is often prescribed to help prevent calcium oxalate stones.
This medication may be prescribed along with a thiazide diuretic and has been shown to be more effective than potassium chloride.
It also helps prevent low potassium levels so your doctor will be monitoring your potassium balance. Be sure to communicate any concerns about your prescribed medications with your prescribing physician.
Magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide
Magnesium citrate is can also prevent kidney stones when paired with potassium citrate.
One study found that the urinary stone size decreased significantly when treated with both potassium citrate and magnesium citrate.
Magnesium oxide supplements are generally 200-400 milligrams per day.
There have been some theories that a vitamin B6 supplement can help decrease kidney stones.
However, there have been no significant correlations between vitamin B6 supplementation and the risk or prevention of kidney stones.
Many people with chronic kidney disease require a vitamin D supplement.
A meta-analysis of supplemental vitamin D showed an overall increased risk of developing kidney stones in five observational studies. However, there was no increased risk in seven random clinical trials.
Adequate dietary calcium is more effective than calcium supplements. Calcium supplements may increase the risk of kidney stones if taken excessively.
In some cases, however, a calcium supplement may be prescribed. Calcium citrate is one of the common calcium supplements as it also helps in increasing urinary citrate excretion.
Supplementing both calcium and vitamin D simultaneously did show an increased risk for developing kidney stones.
Speak with your doctor or dietitian before taking any type of nutritional supplement.
10. Learn from a Kidney Stone Renal Dietitian
We always advocate for working with and learning from a renal dietitian. Renal dietitian Melanie Betz teaches exactly how to prevent kidney stones naturally.
Kidney Stone Nutrition School* is a course created to stop calcium oxalate and uric acid kidney stones. Melanie provides 24-hr urine test result review and live monthly calls to support students in preventing kidney stones naturally.
If you’re interested in learning more about stopping kidney stones while getting recipes, education, and tips from a renal dietitian, it’s time to join!*
Common Myths about Preventing Kidney Stones
Cranberry juice flushes kidney stones
This juice is commonly associated with alleviating urinary tract infections. But what about cranberry and kidney stones?
Cranberry concentrate tablets will increase the risk of developing calcium oxalate kidney stones.
An 8-oz glass of cranberry juice contains approximately 15 mg oxalate.
Additionally, cranberry also contains a moderate- to high amount of oxalate and should not be consumed if you have or are at risk for calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Milk causes kidney stones
As mentioned, milk is a source of calcium which can in fact help prevent kidney stones.
Almond milk may increase the risk of developing calcium oxalate stones. Almond milk has approximately 27 milligrams per 8 ounces.
Milk that is low in oxalate and a good source of calcium includes macadamia nut milk, rice milk, coconut milk, flax milk, and cow milk.
Including milk in the diet can help provide extra calcium as well as fluids to help prevent kidney stones naturally.
Medications that Prevent Kidney Stones
While not be a natural kidney stones prevention method, prescription medications can help stop kidney stones. These types of medications come from a urologist, nephrologist, or primary care physician.
This group of diuretics is prescribed to help prevent too much calcium in the urine.
Thiazide diuretics also help control blood pressure and fluid balance.
Similarly, a thiazide diuretic helps in urine production and release for those with a fluid restriction.
A common medication prescribed for gout and formation of uric acid kidney stones by lowering the level of uric acid in the blood.
Acetohydromaxic acid helps prevent struvite stones. It helps by preventing the buildup of ammonia in the urine.
As noted in the name of the medication, cystine-binding thiol is prescribed for cystinuria.
With all prescriptions, take as ordered and talk with your prescribing doctor for any questions or concerns.
Kidney stones are considered to be one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. To help prevent kidney stones naturally, it’s important to identify the type of kidney stone first.
There are four types: calcium oxalate/calcium phosphate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine kidney stones. Once the kidney stone is identified, a treatment plan can begin.
Some of the first guidelines include drinking at least 2-3 liters of water daily, increasing fruits and vegetables (sticking to low oxalate options for oxalate stones), and keeping animal meats and sugars limited.
It can also be helpful to discuss supplements and medications with your healthcare team. However, not all supplements can prevent kidney stones naturally. Vitamin C supplements can increase the risk of kidney stones.
If you have tried to stop kidney stones on your own without success, it may be time to reach out for help.
Take the Kidney Stone Nutrition School* course today to learn exactly how to stop your kidney stones from coming back.
Jen Hernandez is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in renal nutrition. She has nearly a decade of experience with kidney disease patients in all stages - from stage 1 through kidney transplant. Jen writes on the blog of Plant-Powered Kidneys to help reach and teach more kidney patients about how they can enjoy more foods in a plant-based diet while protecting kidney health.