In the context of your urinary system, you're probably heard of kidney stones, and what you've heard probably hasn't been very positive. Kidney stones are hard clumps of salt and minerals that develop over time in the kidneys based on things like genetics, environment, diet, exercise, and more, according to Samit Soni, MD, a urological surgeon at Memorial Hermann. The stones can be exceptionally painful if they dislodge into the bladder and urethra and need to be passed, and often require a hospital visit. The thing about kidney stones and trying to prevent them, Dr. Soni says, is that there are a lot of factors to be aware of beyond just diet and exercise.
For example, people in hotter climates actually tend to have higher rates of kidney stones than people in cooler climates. This is largely due to one of the most important aspects of kidney health: hydration. The hotter a climate, the less hydrated people tend to be, and chronic under-hydration can lead to kidney stones, says Dr. Soni. (This is also why kidney stones are more common in the summertime, FWIW.)
Bottom line? When it comes to preventing kidney stones, there isn't a one-size-fits-all set of rules, but Dr. Soni and Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, gynecologist, and medical advisor to Bonafide shared some guidelines that could help you reduce your risk.
Here are some tips that could prevent kidney stones
1. Know your health history and family's health history
If your family members (especially immediate family members) have had kidney stones, you are more likely to develop them, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is the first step in understanding how to prevent kidney stones for your body. Why? Because the more you know about your risk, the more targeted your decisions can be. For example, there are four different types of kidney stones and a number of different causes. If you know what type your family members had and what caused them, that can inform your preventative actions and lifestyle choices going forward.
Some people should avoid oxalic acid, while other people should avoid high amounts of supplemented calcium, says Dr. Soni. But these recommendations aren't blanket statements for everyone because it depends on the specific person's risks and proclivity for developing stones. You are also, according to Dr. Dweck, more likely to have kidney stones in the future if you have already had them. Developing a relationship with a care provider that's well-versed in the renal system and knows your medical history is a great way to work towards preventing them in the future.
2. Stay hydrated
Hydration, according to Dr. Dweck, is one of the most important aspects of kidney stone prevention and maintaining a healthy bladder in general. Your body needs a lot of water, renal system included. Having enough water in your blood can help support the best toxin filtration, says Dr. Dweck, while under-hydration can result in a higher concentration of kidney stones. The Mayo Clinic recommends 3.7 liters of fluids a day for men and 2.7 for women, respectively.
3. Be careful of supplementing calcium and vitamin C
Some minerals and common dietary ingredients that can increase your risk for kidney stone development include sodium (more on this one below), vitamin C, and calcium. Eating plenty of calcium- and vitamin C-rich foods isn't much of a concern at all, Dr. Soni says. The real cause for concern is ingesting significant amounts of these minerals via supplements or cold-preventing methods like Emergen-C. According to Dr. Soni, having really high amounts of these ingredients can be a risk if you're prone to kidney stones. Be sure to stay in touch with a medical provider about any supplements you're taking.
4. Pay attention to your sodium intake
Another aspect of kidney stone development is a high-sodium diet, according to Dr. Soni. Making sure that you're not exceeding the daily value is an important step in preventing kidney stones—according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should aim to consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day.
At the end of the day, according to these experts, plenty of causes of kidney stones can be outside of your control and more about your environment and family history. If you've had kidney stones, it doesn't mean you failed at maintaining a healthy diet or hydration. When it comes to trying to prevent kidney stones, staying informed, hydrated, and in touch with a provider is the best you can do.
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