Every 1 in 11 people in the United States are affected by kidney stones. And the scary thing about kidney stones is that 50% of people who get a single kidney stone in their life will likely get another. You can, however, learn how to prevent kidney stones naturally. Let’s dive into more about kidney stones and natural ways to prevent them.
Table of Contents
Types of kidney stones
Kidney stones are formed by a higher concentration of minerals in the kidneys, such as calcium, oxalate, and phosphorus. They are also known as 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
Calcium oxalate stones are the most commonly formed stones. Almost 70% of people that have kidney stones are affected by calcium oxalate stones. Approximately 10% of all stones are made of calcium phosphate.
Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods. The stones are formed when an excessive amount of waste is in a small amount of 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, oxalates, and/or sodium
- Excessive vitamin D
- Digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease
Uric acid stones
Uric acid stones account for 5-10% of all kidney stones. They can be formed with a diet high in animal meat and proteins, for example. Those with type 2 diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing 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 known, but still affect about 10% of all kidney stones. They are made from calcium, ammonia, and phosphate.
Struvite stones are generally caused by infections, such as urinary tract infections. The bacteria of the urinary tract infection produce the ammonia. When ammonia builds up in the urine, it contributes to the development of kidney stones.
This is a hereditary problem and accounts for less than 1% of all kidney stones. Cystine stones are composed of cystine build-up in the body. Cystinuria is a disorder in which a person’s urine becomes saturated with cystine, a component of the amino acid cysteine.
Have a family history of kidney stones? Be sure to find out what type of stones your family members have had. And if you’ve already had one, the risk of stones developing again is higher.
Kidney stone symptoms may not be noticeable until it moves in your kidney or passes into the ureters. To clarify, ureters are the tubes that connect your kidney to your bladder. Symptoms you may feel once this happens can include:
- 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 and 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 and all symptoms with your doctor or seek immediate medical attention.
How do I know what kidney stone I have?
That all being said, the only way to know for sure is to get the stone tested. When you experience and pass a stone at home, collect it and take it to your urologist. They will be able to test the stone and provide you with more directly on your plan of care from that.
If you pass a stone and do not get it tested, it will likely lead to more fear around foods, frustration with failed attempts to change your diet, and possibly still more kidney stones.
As we move on to the tips to naturally prevent kidney stones, keep in mind the type of stone you have and which tips will apply to your type of stone.
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. For every 200 milliliters consumed per day there is a 13% reduction in risk of kidney stone formation. (One 8-ounce glass equals approximately 240 milliliters.)
Getting enough water ensures that the kidneys have enough fluids to create urine. Therefore, the more urine we make, the less diluted those kidney stone components will be.
To get an estimate of how much water you need to drink, aim for about half of your weight in ounces. For example, a 140 lb woman would aim to drink approximately 70 ounces of water per day.
However, if you have kidney stones or are at high risk for kidney stones, your fluid goal may be higher. Ask your doctor or dietitian for a customized fluid goal.
Staying hydrated is a marathon, not a sprint. Gulping down a bottle of water here, a mug there, will not be the solution. Sip your fluids throughout the day to keep stable and consistent hydration.
On the other hand, if you have a fluid restriction prescribed by your doctor or dietitian, follow it! You may think drinking more water will help, but it will not. If you are drinking more water when your kidneys cannot filter it, you are risking your life.
Turn your water into a kidney stone crusher
Citrate in the diet can help with decreasing urine calcium excretion and increase urine citrate. The urine citrate will bind with calcium and prevent stone formation. Add citrus to your water! Lemon- or orange-infused water can help ensure you get enough citrate.
I recommend making a pitcher of lemon water for the day and pouring from that as you need. Try adding a sprig of mint for a burst of flavor and freshness.
Homemade lemonade is a great alternative to water. It can in more of the benefits of citrus for naturally preventing 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.
Skip the sodas
While sodas are a fluid and do count towards your fluid intake for the day, sodas may not help prevent kidney stones. In fact, soda intake increases risk of kidney stones.
Many sodas include an ingredient known as phosphoric acid. This is a phosphate additive and can contribute to calcium-phosphate stones, among other kidney health complications.
In addition, sodas have excessive amounts of sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda has more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is higher than the recommended daily allowance of added sugar.
Keep sugars limited
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 to limit added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women. To clarify, that is equivalent to 25 grams of added sugar or 100 calories.
For men, it’s recommended they stick to 9 teaspoons per day, or 36 grams of sugar.
Fructose from table sugar and high fructose corn syrup can also lead to more kidney stones. It is also found in fruits, and does not appear to increase the risk of kidney stones. In fact, a greater intake of fiber, fruits, and vegetables has been shown to reduce risk of kidney stones in postmenopausal women.
General recommendations for daily servings of fruits and vegetables per day are 1 to 2 cups and 2 to 3 cups, respectively.
When it comes to cutting back on sugars, start with cutting out added sugars before you remove fresh, frozen or even canned or dried fruit.
Cut out salt to prevent most stones
Salt is strongly tied to the risk of kidney stones. Calcium excretion in the urine increases by 40mg for every 2300mg increase in dietary sodium. Therefore, when more calcium is excreted it cannot bind to prevent kidney stones.
The average American diet is 3,400 milligrams per day. That is well over the American Heart Association’s recommended daily salt guideline of less than 2,300 mg sodium.
Even our snacks can add up quickly when it comes to sodium. The average sodium intake from snacks found in children is 1,400 mg per day. Luckily, there are plenty of kidney-friendly snacks that are low in sodium!
Another way to cut back on salt is to change the way you dine out. Check out my article about tasty fast foods that are okay for kidney disease.
Get the right amount of calcium
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 your diet can lead to more frequent kidney stones.
Plant-based sources of calcium include tofu, calcium-fortified breads and cereals, broccoli, seaweed, and beans for instance. However, the calcium in these foods may be already bound to oxalates and less available. Fortified plant-based milks may have calcium added as well.
As a result, one of the highest recommended diets to prevent kidney stones naturally is a vegetarian diet with dairy products incorporated on a daily basis.
Working with a dietitian can help give you support and guidance on getting the right amounts.
Avoid high-oxalate foods for oxalate kidney stones
When you do have foods that are higher in oxalate, pairing them with calcium-rich foods can help! By eating these foods together, it will lower the chances of stone formation since they will bind to each other before reaching the kidneys.
The typical diet contains anywhere from 200-300 mg of oxalate. For a low oxalate diet to prevent kidney stones naturally, limiting to 50-100 milligrams oxalate per day may help.
High oxalate foods (milligrams of oxalate per 100 g serving)
Vegetables and Tubers
Cereals and Grains
Nuts and Seeds
Rice bran (112)
Peas, raw (50)
Hazelnuts, raw (100)
Cocoa powder (11)
Whole-grain flour (11.6)
Lentils, boiled (8)
Pistachio nuts (49)
Brewed tea (5.6)
Information in table obtained from the Nutritional Management of Kidney Stones (Nephrolithiasis)
In fact, some research has shown that higher oxalate intake alone in younger women did not increase the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones. The goal here is not to cut out as many foods (and nutrients!) as possible.
Don’t focus on eliminating all foods with oxalates. It is helpful to at least avoid the ones with the highest amounts – like spinach and almonds, for instance. For example, swapping from almond milk for a different plant-based milk can help lower the oxalate load.
Plant-based prevents kidney stones
And by that, I’m saying eat less animal meat. Animal proteins are more acidic compared to plant proteins, so they can lead to higher odds of developing calcium oxalate and uric acid kidney stones.
In a clinical trial, three animal protein sources (beef, chicken, and fish) were tested for urinary stone risk. 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.
In addition, animal meats also are generally high in purines, which can lead to formation of uric acid stones when consumed in high amounts.
Skip the vitamin C
The body converts vitamin C into oxalate. So if you have an excessive amount of vitamin C, you are more likely to generate a higher amount of oxalates in your system. This can lead to more frequent stone formation.
One study found that men had a significantly higher risk for developing kidney stones when total and supplemental vitamin C were reviewed.
Therefore, supplementing with vitamin C is generally not recommended for those with kidney issues unless medically necessary.
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. Additionally, it also contains a moderate amount of oxalate and should not be consumed if you have or are at risk for oxalate-based kidney stones.
A cup of cranberry juice contains approximately 15 mg oxalate. The exact amount of oxalates of cranberry tablets is unknown and can be variable, however it goes to say a tablet that is a concentrated source of cranberry will have significantly higher levels of oxalate.
Effect of blackcurrant-, cranberry- and plum juice consumption on risk factors associated with kidney stone formation https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12373623/
Milk causes kidney stones
As mentioned, milk is a source of calcium which can in fact help prevent kidney stones.
The types of milk that may put you at higher risk of developing calcium oxalate stones. Some types include soy or almond milk or milks (often with added phosphates).
Vitamins and Supplements for Kidney Stones
Potassium citrate may be prescribed to help prevent stone formation. 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 considered an additional benefit in preventing kidney stones when paired with potassium citrate. Just adding magnesium is not considered yet to be preventive in calcium oxalate kidney stones.
One study found that when treated with both potassium citrate and magnesium citrate, the urinary stone size decreased significantly.
As mentioned above, magnesium-rich foods can be difficult to fit into a kidney stone prevention diet. Magnesium oxide is often supplemented at 200-400 milligrams per day but should always first be discussed with your physician.
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 nor prevention of kidney stones.
Many people with chronic kidney disease are prescribed a vitamin D supplement due to declining kidney function. One of the kidney’s roles is to convert the vitamin D we get from the sun into the active form of vitamin D that is used in the body for calcium homeostasis.
A meta-analysis of supplemental vitamin D showed an overall increased risk in developing kidney stones in five observational studies but no increased risk in reviewing 7 random clinical trials.
Most importantly, discuss any vitamin D supplement with your doctor prior to starting.
In most studies, dietary intake of calcium has been shown to be more effective over supplemental calcium. Calcium supplements may increase your risk of kidney stones if taken excessively.
Calcium citrate is one of the preferred types of supplements as it also helps in increasing urinary citrate excretion. These supplements, however, are generally not recommended at least before increasing dietary calcium.
Supplementing both calcium and vitamin D simultaneously did show an increase in risk for developing kidney stones.
Speak with your doctor or dietitian before taking any type of nutritional supplement.
Medications that prevent kidney stones
While medications may not be considered part of naturally preventing kidney stones, there may still be a place in supporting kidney stone elimination. Your urologist or nephrologist may be able to prescribe you medication to further help prevent the formation of stones.
This group of diuretics may be prescribed to help lower the kidneys remove calcium from the urine and put back into the blood.
Thiazide diuretics are often prescribed to assist in managing blood pressure as well as fluid balance. Similarly, many that are on a fluid restriction are prescribed a thiazide diuretic to help in urine production and release.
A common medication prescribed for gout and formation of uric acid kidney stones by lowering the level of uric acid in the blood.
Also known as AHA, acetohydromaxic acid is generally used for those that develop struvite stones. It helps by preventing buildup of ammonia in the urine.
As noted in the name of the medication, cystine-binding thiol may be prescribed if you have cystinuria.
With all prescriptions, take as ordered and if any change needs to be made – talk with your prescribing doctor.
In conclusion, kidney stones are considered to be one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. Therefore, to help prevent kidney stones naturally identify the type of kidney stone first.
Once the kidney stone is identified, a treatment plan can begin. Some of the first guidelines include staying hydrated, increasing fruits and vegetables (low-oxalate for oxalate stones), and keeping animal meats and sugars limited.
There are plenty of natural remedies for kidney stones. However, many people can also find help in modern medicine with guidance of their healthcare team. In other words, if you have tried to stop kidney stones on your own without success, it may be time to reach out for help.
For a limited time! Register for the Kidney Stone Nutrition School
Renal dietitian Melanie Betz will be holding a live course about calcium oxalate kidney stones. If you’re interested in learning more about preventing kidney stones while getting recipes and tips from a renal dietitian, it’s time to join!
Registration is available from Monday, February 8 and class starts on Monday, February 15th!
Plant-Powered Kidneys is an affiliate partner of the Kidney Stone Nutrition School.