By Elyssa Noce, MSN, APRN, AGPCNP-C, CDN, CDCES
If you have ever had a kidney stone, or know someone who has, you know they can be very uncomfortable. Most people who get one kidney stone are at risk for developing them again in the future. Kidney stones are small stones that form in your kidneys from substances usually found in your urine. They can range in size from very tiny — like the size of a grain of sand — to the size of a marble. Larger, untreated stones can lead to serious kidney damage, and these organs are vital to your health. Kidney stones can form for many reasons. For most people, they form because there is too much of the substance they are made from in the kidney and the substance is able to accumulate until it takes the shape of a stone, or because there is too little urine being made by your kidney. There are many ways you can address these causes simply by changing your diet. Awareness of these diet recommendations may help reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Since most stones form because there is not enough urine to flush out the extra substances, increasing how much urine you make in a day will significantly reduce your risk of forming kidney stones. The easiest way to do this is by drinking more water. You should aim to drink 2-3 liters of fluid per day — this is about 8-12 glasses per day. When you drink more fluid, the substances in your urine that form stones are less concentrated, making stones less likely to develop.
- Reduce how much salt you eat. Kidney stones form more often when your diet is high in salt. Cutting down on how much salt you eat will benefit your health in a variety of ways and will also limit your chances of developing a kidney stone. Salt is often hidden in foods to make them taste good, so read nutrition labels and limit how much additional salt you put in food you cook at home.
- Eat foods rich in calcium. When you eat foods that are high in calcium, the calcium helps to block digestion of certain substances that contribute to the development of kidney stones. You can get calcium from lots of foods, including many fruits and vegetables, dairy products and some beans. A diet balanced in calcium-rich foods will help protect you from kidney stones.
These diet changes may help any stones you already have shrink in size and protect you from developing more stones in the future. Depending on the size, location and type of stones you have, you may also need medication or a procedure to get rid of the stones. You should always discuss treatment options with your nurse practitioner or other health care provider prior to making changes on your own.