Diet and Supplements for Kidney Health

Your kidneys are among the most important organs in your body. Think of them as one of your body’s filters, constantly removing waste and extra fluid.

Your kidneys do so much more than that, though! They regulate your salt, potassium and acid levels, balance fluids, help to regulate your blood pressure, control the production of red blood cells and produce vitamin D to keep your bones healthy.

Your kidneys work hard to keep you healthy, so it’s important that you do your part to keep your them functioning properly.

If you’re not careful, your kidneys can get into trouble. If you mistreat your kidneys, they can experience serious damage that can lead to a variety of diseases. Chronic drinking, for example, can lead to kidney disease and raise your blood pressure, causing your kidneys to work overtime to keep your body going.

There are also less serious kidney issues that can be fixed if need be but that are better avoided in the first place.

Probably the most common kidney issue is kidney stones. Much more common than kidney disease, kidney stones, according to Renal & Urology News,  “will develop in one in 10 people during their lifetime. This translates into nearly 30 million people in the United States.”

Kidney stones can be extremely painful and difficult to deal with. You’ve probably heard of them before, but might be wondering, what exactly is a kidney stone? More importantly, how can I avoid getting one?

What is a kidney stone?

Though most people have heard of kidney stones, a lot of people don’t exactly know what a kidney stone is. 

A kidney stone, according to MedicineNet, “is a hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract. Kidney stones are a common cause of blood in the urine (hematuria) and often severe pain in the abdomen, flank, or groin. Kidney stones are sometimes called renal calculi.”

The Mayo Clinic tells us that symptoms of kidney stones don’t often appear until the stone moves around within your kidney, passing into your ureter (also known as the tube that connects your kidney and bladder).

Once this occurs, you may experience a wide variety of symptoms, including severe pain in your side, back and below your ribs, pain when urinating, constantly feeling the need to urinate, nausea or vomiting, fever, urinating in smaller amounts, pink, red or brown urine and groin pain just to name a few symptoms.

Sounds horrible, right?

Small kidney stones are able to be passed in the urine, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds. If a kidney stone is particularly large, they can become trapped, which means a doctor may have to help you pass the stone in a more invasive way, like with surgery.

What causes kidney stones?

There isn’t one specific cause behind kidney stones, but rather a variety of triggers that can lead to the formation of a stone.

To generalize, though, the Mayo Clinic says that “kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.” 

There are actually a couple different types of kidney stones, caused by different things.

The most common type of kidney stones are calcium stones, in the form of calcium oxalate. The Mayo Clinic says that calcium oxalate is found naturally in many of the foods we eat. “Dietary factors, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and several metabolic disorders can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine.” Oxalates are found in many different foods and are also produced by the body.

There are also struvite stones which form in response to infection, uric acid stones which appear when someone isn’t drinking enough fluids, eats a high protein diet or has gout, and, finally, cystine stones which form due to a hereditary issue that causes the kidneys to excrete too much cystinuria, a certain type of amino acid.

How can I avoid getting one?

The good news is, you can prevent kidney stones or if you’ve already had one, prevent them from happening again, which is a worry because the likelihood goes up after your first stone.

For starters, hydration is key. According to the National Kidney Foundation, “One of the best measures you can take to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water, leading you to urinate a lot. So, be sure to keep well hydrated, especially when engaging in exercise or activities that cause a lot of sweating.”

Since either too much calcium or too much oxalate can cause stones, watching how you eat those foods and how much of them is important. Try to eat your calcium- and oxalate-rich foods together; this will cause them to bind together in the digestive tract before they reach the kidneys, which makes it less likely that stones will form.

If you’ve experienced kidney stones in the past, you should limit your intake of oxalate-rich foods like beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea and most nuts.

A common misconception is that cutting down on calcium will help avoid future stones but according to Harvard Medical School, “getting too little calcium in your diet can cause oxalate levels to rise and cause kidney stones. To prevent this, make sure to take in an amount of calcium appropriate to your age.” Sometimes simply increasing your calcium intake is enough and cutting down on oxalates isn’t necessary.

You should also limit your sodium intake and animal protein intake to prevent kidney stones.

There’s one more mineral that can help prevent kidney stones that isn’t as commonly discussed but can certainly do the job. We’re talking about magnesium.

Magnesium & kidney health

Renal and Urology News tells us that “magnesium has also been shown to inhibit crystal formation thus reducing the risk for forming kidney stones. 6,7 When 24-hour kidney stone risk profiles are performed, magnesium levels are a key indicator as to the potential stability of the urinary environment. While magnesium is available in food, dietary recommendations often conflict because foods that are good sources of magnesium often are high in less desirable constituents, such as oxalate.”

Not only is magnesium great for kidney stones, but it’s also great for general kidney health.

Renal and Urology News states that low serum magnesium levels are “associated with an elevated risk of developing kidney disease.”

Upping your magnesium levels with a bioavailable supplement is a great way to prevent kidney stones and potentially lower your risk of kidney disease.

You’re probably wondering, what’s the best way to up your magnesium levels?

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Related Links

http://www.kidney.nyc/types-of-kidney-disease/
http://www.renalandurologynews.com/commentary/kidney-stone-prevention-fact-versus-fiction/article/217239/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-stones/symptoms-causes/dxc-20319562
http://www.medicinenet.com/kidney_stones/page2.htm
http://www.renalandurologynews.com/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd-low-magnesium/article/374980/
http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-steps-for-preventing-kidney-stones-201310046721
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones_prevent

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