By Dr. Michael Miles
Special to the Crier
Kidney stones are becoming more common along with the rise of other “Western Diet” ailments. It is estimated that ten percent of all Americans have kidney stones. These stones don’t often become evident until they are dislodged from the kidney and travel down through the ureter into the bladder. This passage can be quite painful as the crystals scrap their way through these very narrow tubes.
Stones are formed from crystalline substances being excreted in the urine. When these crystalline substances become concentrated enough, they begin to stick together to form larger crystals. Today’s diets can result in high concentrations of particles that accumulate into crystals.
The most common kidney stones are formed as calcium oxalate crystals. They are often the result of a diet low in fiber (vegetables) and high in refined carbohydrates (sugar). Other dietary contributions include high alcohol consumption, high animal protein intake, high fat intake, and high intake of milk products.
Sometimes stones are also the result of excessive antacid use. In addition, dehydration plays a role in stone formation by concentrating the urine. This is why they are more prevalent in the summer months. Stones other than calcium oxalate are formed from uric acid (e.g. someone with gout) or struvite or cystine.
The most important measure of treatment to consider is prevention. In other words, eat a varied diet with plenty of raw vegetables and lots of water. However, if a person already has kidney stones it is a good idea to identify what kind they are. Even though 80% of them will be calcium oxalate, some have very different compositions. Some stones can be dissolved by merely changing the pH, or acidity, of the urine. Others can be dissolved with ultrasound treatments. The smaller ones just need to pass through to the bladder. Often comfort relief is about all that can be done. Dilating the ureters as much as possible will help ease the passage of stones. Magnesium has proven to be very helpful for this, as has Vitamin B6. There is an herb called hydrangea that can also open up the ureters.
Once a person has had kidney stones, it is wise to determine how they were formed in order to prevent future stones. Diet and lifestyle adjustments are the first place to start. For instance, if the stones are determined to be calcium oxalate in origin, then avoid oxalate foods such as spinach, coffee and rhubarb. Interestingly, calcium supplementation may actually help reduce the formation of calcium oxalate stones. Cranberry juice can help dissolve developing stones, though be aware that most cranberry juice products on the market are very high in sugar. And, remember that uric acid stones need an alkaline environment to dissolve in and therefore won’t be effectively prevented with the acidic cranberry juice.