Kidney stones begin when minerals that are normally held in solution in urine become saturated and form crystals. If enough of these crystals cluster together, they begin to form a solid piece of material called a “stone.”
Kidney stones have become increasingly common in the United States. A 2012 study by a team of UCLA urologists reported that 1 in 11 Americans (8.8 percent) were diagnosed with kidney stones — up from 1 in 20 (5 percent) in 1994.
“Our findings also suggested that the increase is due, in large part, to the increase in obesity and diabetes among Americans,” said the reports’ lead author, Dr. Charles D. Scales Jr.
This report also went on to add that men are more likely to have kidney stones than women, and stones are more common in non-Hispanic white people than in non-Hispanic black people and Mexican Americans. Overweight and obese people have more kidney stones than people with a normal body mass index.
Kidney stones are also more common in what urologists call the “kidney stone belt,” a high-risk swath of the southern United States where people are more likely to develop stones due to dehydration (the most common cause of kidney stones). Approximately 40 percent of Americans currently live in the “kidney stone belt,” but the National Academy of Sciences predicts that number will rise to 56 percent by 2050 due to warming temperatures.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Small kidney stones may pass through the urinary tract largely unnoticed. Larger stones, however, can get logged in the renal pelvis (the “hub” of the kidney), in the ureter (the tube between the kidney and the bladder), in the bladder, or in the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder). These larger stones can be extremely painful and often block the normal flow of urine, which can lead to all sorts of complications.
The symptom of a kidney stone blocking the renal pelvis or ureter is pain that is so excruciating it even has it’s own name: renal colic. This type of intermittent pain radiates from the lower back to the groin and sometimes into the genital area and inner thigh. Nausea, vomiting, profuse sweating, and the urgent need to urinate often accompany renal colic.
Why Do I Have Kidney Stones?
According to Dr. Emilia Ripoll M.D., there are only two questions about kidney stones that are worth asking:
- Why is your body making stones?
- How can we prevent you from ever making another one?
As Einstein said, “the rest are mere details.”
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
Here is a brief list of simple lifestyle changes that anyone can do at home to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
- Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drink 8-10 glasses every day of the purest water available. (Water from a natural spring is best, purified water is a close second, tap water is a distant third.)
- Magnesium Glycinate supplements (Avoid Magnesium Citrate as it is a powerful laxative that can induce dehydration, which will increase your chances of developing kidney stones.)
- Citrate: Either as a prescribed medication or as the juice of one lemon in 8-10 oz. of water, once a day in the morning.
- Vitamins: Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and Vitamin A can also help prevent stones. Consult your physician or certified dietician to find out what the right does of these vitamins is for you.
- Limit sugar, salt, caffeine, and processed foods
- Get plenty of exercise — and continue to hydrate while you’re exercising. (In traditional Chinese medicine, one treatment for kidney stones is to carry a large jug of water up a mountain, drinking the water as you go. By the time you come back down, the action of the water and the impact of hiking up and down sends the stone on its way.)
- Get your calcium from foods — not supplements.
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Good Home Test: Your urine should be the same color as tap water. If it’s not, you need to drink more water until it is.
At Choices in Health, we believe that treatment of kidney stones begins with prevention; however, there are five major types of stones:
- Calcium oxalate
- Calcium phosphate
- Uric acid
Each type of stone forms under different pathological conditions, which complicates treatment plans and requires an almost Sherlock Holmes-ian love of both inductive and deductive reasoning. That’s where Choices in Health comes in.
With more than 60 years of collective experience in treating patients with kidney stones, our team of urologists are recognized leaders in analyzing each patient’s lifestyle, biochemistry, personal history, and family traits to design a customized treatment/prevention plan for each patient based on orthodox and complementary medicine.
We also look for the causes beneath the symptoms. (Why is your body making kidney stones? How can we prevent you from ever making another one?) Our integrated approach to healing the whole person is based on a deep understanding of traditional medicine, and supported by complementary and alternative products and techniques.
Integrated Treatment Choices for Kidney Stones
(can be done separately or in combination)
Dr. Emilia Ripoll M.D. is a Participating Urologist at the Kidney Stone Center of the Rocky Mountains — one of the premier centers for the treatment of kidney stones in the United States — and the only kidney stone center that requires a second opinion.