Experts estimate that roughly 1 in 10 people in the United States will develop a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime. Despite how common (and painful) these stones are, most people don’t know much about them or what the risk factors for kidney stones are.
So, what behaviors or other risk factors can lead to the development of kidney stones? Read on to learn about your risks…
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
There are many triggers for kidney stones, but the primary one is dehydration.
Kidney stones form when minerals and salts harden together. Most of the time, this happens in the kidneys. One of the most common types of kidney stones is uric acid stones, which form when the urine is highly acidic. And, acidic urine is a byproduct of dehydration, so it makes sense why dehydration can lead to the development of kidney stones.
It’s not just what someone drinks (or doesn’t drink) that can cause kidney stones, but also what they eat…
2. Eating Foods that Contain High Amounts of Oxalate
Even certain foods, specifically those rich in oxalates and oxalic acid, can increase the risk of kidney stones. Such foods include nuts, spinach, tea, beets, and chocolate.
When oxalate combines with other substances, it forms compounds, typically in the colon or urinary tract and including the kidneys. When this binding occurs in the kidneys, calcium oxalate stones can form. These comprise roughly 80 percent of all kidney stones.
Please note: Most oxalate in the human body isn’t the result of diet. Rather, most oxalate is produced by the human body itself. So, reducing oxalate from the diet isn’t always the most effective way to prevent this sort of kidney stone. As a result, people should first consult with a doctor before making any dietary changes, especially when considering cutting out food like spinach.
Of course, oxalate-rich foods aren’t the only kinds of foods that may increase the risk of kidney stones…
3. Eating Excessive Amounts of Animal Protein
Steak may be delicious, but it can also put someone at increased risk of kidney stones. Animal-based proteins—that is, proteins from animal meat—are high in a compound called purine. Research links high levels of purine to an increased concentration of uric acid, which can lead to kidney stones.
To avoid consuming too much purine, try to avoid eating copious amounts of food high in purine, like anchovies, organ meat, red meat, tuna, or sardines. Alternatively, low-purine foods include peanut butter, fruit, fruit juices, nuts, pasta, and rice.
When preparing food, it’s important to limit the following…
4. Eating a High-Salt Diet
Excessive sodium is bad for the body for many reasons. Not only does it promote the development of kidney stones, but it also is bad for the heart as it can lead to high blood pressure.
Too much sodium can lead to kidney stones because it can result in a high amount of calcium in the urine. In the kidneys, this calcium may bind to oxalate, which can lead to calcium oxalate stones, the most common kind of kidney stone.
While dietary choices can directly lead to kidney stones, there are also medical conditions that can cause them as well…
5. Having Certain Medical Conditions
Believe it or not, not all medical conditions have to be directly related to the kidneys in order to cause kidney stones.
There are plenty of seemingly unrelated medical conditions that are associated with a greater likelihood of kidney stones, including gout, high blood pressure, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when urate crystals, which can form when someone’s blood has high levels of uric acid, form and deposit in joints. When these crystals form in the kidneys, they can create kidney stones.
So, what about urinary tract infections?…
6. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Gout is associated with a higher risk of kidney stones. UTIs, though, can directly cause them, specifically a variety called struvite stones.
Because UTIs are infections of the urinary tract, someone with a UTI can expect plenty of bad bacteria in this region. Now, struvite is a combination of minerals that are created by (often UTI-causing) bacteria in this tract. In other words, UTI-causing bacteria result in reactions that cause struvites (aka, struvite kidney stones) to form in the kidneys.
As far as diet goes, the following can impact your chances of getting kidney stones…
7. Not Getting Enough Calcium
It may come as a shock that not getting enough calcium can lead to kidney stones when calcium oxalate stones are the most common kinds of kidney stones. Calcium + oxalate = calcium oxalate stones, right? Not necessarily. This binding results in kidney stones when it occurs in the kidneys. Particularly, it occurs when there are high levels of oxalate. So, taking in too little calcium can mean an excess of oxalate, just ripe for forming kidney stones.
Daily lifestyle choices can directly affect the risk for kidney stones, too. An unhealthy choice that can cause kidney stones? It’s coming right up…
Smoking can damage the body in countless ways, and kidneys are not exempt. This may be due to the fact that smoking does not promote frequent urination, but no research has confirmed the exact link between smoking and the development of kidney stones.
The following habit can also result in kidney stones…
9. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can cause dehydration, it can ultimately lead to the development of kidney stones. And, dehydration is never good when it comes to kidney stones.
After learning about common kidney stone causes, it’s important to keep the following in mind for preventative care…
What to Remember to Reduce the Chances of Developing Kidney Stones
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid and/or manage kidney stones. Such methods include not smoking, drinking plenty of water each day, drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy diet, and receiving medical care for all medications, especially gout and UTIs.
If you’re worried you might have kidney stones, it’s important to call your doctor immediately. They will be able to provide proper medical advice on the best treatment for your specific needs.