Home care forms a large part of the treatment procedures for both small and large kidney stones. The most important home remedy for kidney stones is to drink plenty of fluid (especially water), which flushes out the urinary system (removing toxins and moving stones and grit through the urinary tract). Hydration allows for urine dilution and also contributes to preventing further kidney stones considerably. In this way, ‘home remedies’ are effective. Prevention is better than cure – and can be achieved by consistently maintaining diluted urine.
Much of the treatment available for kidney stones revolves around symptom control and providing the system with the opportunity to flush out the obstruction as best it can.
There are various things a person can do to take care of themselves, encourage the flushing out of a stone and prevent the formation of newly developed ones. Before trying anything at home, especially if pregnant or breastfeeding, or already receiving treatment for an existing health condition, a discussion with a doctor beforehand can help to ensure that no unwanted interactions or side-effects occur. Natural substances can also interact with other supplements and medications in the system at the same time. To be on the safe side, ensuring that a treating doctor is well aware of what’s being taken can help to avoid any further discomforts and health concerns.
Natural substances and foodstuffs as remedies for kidney stones
NOTE: Home remedies have not all been proven as scientifically effective in the treatment and/or prevention of kidney stones. Alternative methods which are thought to help prevent or treat kidney stones are also largely theory based. Some of the remedies mentioned below have seen anecdotal success rates. It is best to discuss use of natural substances and therapies with a treating medical doctor beforehand.
Some natural substances and foodstuffs which may be recommended by certain natural health experts include:
- Water: Up to 12 glasses of water a day (which should produce about 2.5 litres of urine) is helpful in flushing the system (instead of the average 8). It’s as important not to overdo things as it is to keep well hydrated, before and after a kidney stone has passed. Once a stone has been successfully passed, getting into the habit of drinking plenty of water is advisable. In this way, preventing further stones can be more easily achieved. Urine that is passed should be a very light, or pale yellow colour. Insufficient hydration levels often result in urine that is dark yellow in colour.
- Lemon juice: The juice of freshly squeezed lemons is safe to add to water. Citrate content in lemons can help to prevent the formation of calcium stones. This chemical can also help to break up small kidney stones in the system and aid in more comfortable passing thereof. Lemon juice can also keep bacterial growth at bay.
- Apple cider vinegar: Citric acid in apple cider vinegar can also help to break up small kidney stones, helping to alkalise urine and blood, as well as increase stomach acids. In this way, symptoms of pain can also be alleviated. Two tablespoons added to glass of purified water may be helpful. Large quantities can, however, lead to lowered potassium levels and as such, should be avoided. A doctor will not recommend that a person with diabetes drink this mixture and will monitor blood sugar levels carefully while the patient is undergoing treatment.
- Celery: Also good for clearing toxins and flushing out the system, a juice from celery can be made by blending one or more stalks with water. Those with low blood pressure, bleeding disorders or about to have a scheduled surgical procedure should not drink this mixture. Certain medications may also interact adversely with it, these include lithium, isotretinoin (which increases sensitivity to sun exposure) and certain sedative medications.
- Pomegranate juice: Overall kidney function can benefit from pomegranate juice, not just the flushing of the system. Pomegranate juice is known to lower the acidity levels of urine, and in turn help to prevent the risk of new stones developing. A doctor may caution against drinking pomegranate juice if medications impacting the liver or blood pressure levels are being taken.
- Kidney bean broth: Broth from cooked kidney beans can be beneficial for overall kidney and urinary health, as well as in flushing out toxins or small kidney stones. Broth can be consumed several times a day.
- Dandelion root juice: A natural kidney tonic, dandelion root can help to stimulate the production of bile, which is effective for the elimination of waste from the body. Urine output can also be increased and digestion improved. Fresh dandelion root juice can be made at home or bought as a tea. Orange peel, ginger and apple can also be added for flavour. Three or four cups a day should not cause any discomforts. A doctor may caution against drinking dandelion root beverages if taking antacids, antibiotics, lithium, blood thinning medications or diuretics.
- Wheatgrass: Wheatgrass contains many beneficial nutrients and can help to increase urine flow, as well as cleanse the kidneys. Wheatgrass ingested on an empty stomach can also help to alleviate nausea, but can sometimes lead to loss of appetite or constipation.
Following a low-purine diet
Part of the problem when it comes to the formation of kidney stones lies in what a person eats (consumes). A low-purine diet can help to alleviate a variety of adverse effects in the body, such as gout and other digestive disorders, and not just kidney stones.
What is purine? A substance that is naturally produced in the body, purine is also found in a variety of different foodstuffs as well. In the body, purines break down into uric acid. At least one third of the substance in the body is obtained in a dietary capacity. The more of it in the system, the higher the chances of crystallised deposits causing pain and inflammation. Deposits affecting the joints cause gout attacks. In the kidneys and urinary system, these formations lead to kidney stones.
On the menu for low purine diets are wholegrain varieties of breads, cereals and pastas, as well as low-fat cheese, yoghurt and milk. Coffee, eggs, potatoes, some whole fruits and vegetables and nuts are also good additions.
Foods high in purine content include beer (due to the yeast content), liver, bacon, anchovies, sardines, beans, dried peas and oatmeal. Vegetables with high levels of purine include spinach, cauliflower and mushrooms.
What is a low oxalate diet and how does it help to prevent kidney stones?
Oxalate is found in many plant and animal species and even though it is a substance that occurs naturally, it is not necessarily an essential nutrient for human beings. For plants, oxalate binds with calcium and in that way, rids any excess. For people, oxalate (in sufficient quantities) functions mostly as a ‘probiotic’ which aids in feeding the gut with good bacteria. Excess of this molecule is known to contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Once foods high in the substance are consumed, oxalate travels through the digestive tract (intestines), eventually being excreted in both urine and stools (faeces). During the time it travels through the digestive tract, it binds with calcium. If present in excess, higher quantities of oxalate in the system will remain and travel through the kidneys where it can crystallise and lead to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones.
To reduce risk, another dietary consideration could be to follow a nutrition plan that is low in oxalate in order to avoid excess in the body. It is not necessary to cut out oxalate-rich foods from a diet altogether. An alternative is to balance calcium and oxalate quantities. A healthy balance of calcium and oxalate (enabling healthy levels of binding which can also keep the risk of stones low) in the diet can be beneficial too. Excess of either is what can entice trouble (i.e. increase risk for kidney stones).
Vitamin C rich foods are something to be mindful of when it comes to kidney stones and oxalate quantities in the body. The reason for this is that vitamin C converts to oxalate in the system and thus naturally increases oxalate quantities.
Other things which can also increase oxalate levels include some digestive conditions, as well as the taking of antibiotics. Good bacteria in the system can help rid the body of excess oxalate.
When trying to keep the risk of kidney stones low, it is wise to spread out liquid consumption throughout the day. When it comes to diet and beverages, finding a balance is key, rather than making changes that go from one extreme to another (e.g. consuming too much calcium, and then consuming virtually none at all, or drinking too little water in a day, and then consuming large quantities in one go).
Instead of consuming one substance over another, creating a balance in how calcium and oxalate rich foods are eaten can also make a difference. For instance, if having oatmeal for breakfast, add in some wheat germ and milk (combining quantities of calcium and oxalate). Spinach can be included in a lasagne (pasta dish) or added to a pizza. Including yoghurt in a smoothie can also balance out the two substances.
Foods which are high in oxalate and that one should be mindful of include:
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts and cashews)
- Fruits (berries, figs, kiwis and purple grapes) and vegetables (okra, rhubarb, spinach, Swiss chard, beets and leeks)
- Grains (bran flakes, quinoa and wheat germ)
- Soy products
Other dietary tips for the prevention of certain types of kidney stones
- Calcium kidney stones can be avoided by limiting intake of salt and salty foodstuffs, including processed or pre-packaged foods. Consulting a nutritionist or dietician can also prove beneficial in determining just how much calcium is needed on a daily basis through food consumption, rather than via supplements. It is counterproductive to avoid calcium intake as too little in the system can also result in the increased risk of kidney stones. Intake is more about finding a balance. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources to include in a daily diet. Other calcium rich foods include watercress, broccoli, okra, kale, legumes (such as chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans and navy beans), and fish (salmon, sardines [with bones], and whitebait). All can still be included in a diet, even though these foodstuffs are high in calcium, but should be consumed in limited quantities to avoid excess. High calcium intake is considered to be more than 1500mg/day.
- Oxalate kidney stones can be better prevented by limiting foods high in oxalate. Foods such as dark green vegetables, rhubarb, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, tea, black pepper, soy products, chocolate and nuts can be kept to a minimum ensuring that an excess of the substance does not linger in the system.
Reducing sodium is also key. Excess salt in the system prevents calcium reabsorption from the urine to the blood. Effectively this creates higher calcium levels in urine, leading to kidney stones. Foods which are generally high in sodium content include processed foods (crisps, chips and crackers), canned products (such as soups or vegetables), lunch meats, condiments, and others which contain monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate or sodium bicarbonate (i.e. backing soda / powder).
In general, a diet that is balanced, high in fibre and not too high in animal protein (beef, pork, chicken, fish and eggs), salt and substances known to cause kidney stones, is best. Such foods needn’t be restricted from a daily diet altogether but making a concerted effort to keep consumption at a low rate will ensure that excess substances that can lead to the formation of kidney stones are maintained at the lowest possible risk level.
A doctor may caution against or limit the consumption of fish liver oil or calcium and vitamin (especially those containing C and D) supplements. It is best to discuss these with a treating doctor before adding them to a daily diet routine. He or she can also help to best manage doses and quantities so as to avoid unwanted effects.
Prevention of kidney stones with the use of medication
In combination with changes to diet, medications can also be used for preventative means. The treating doctor will assess benefits over risks (i.e. potential side-effects, such as dizziness or headaches) when it comes to susceptibility for kidney stones, especially if recurrence risk is high for future formations. Medications may be useful for those who develop recurrent kidney stones, by controlling the amount of salts and minerals in urine production.
It’s important to notify a treating doctor of all medications and supplements being taken so that the ingredients of these substances can be carefully assessed. Some medications may contain substances that can increase risk for kidney stones, even though they may be treating other health concerns. Some of these to keep in mind include decongestants, diuretics, anticonvulsants, protease inhibitors, chemotherapy medications, steroids and uricosuric drugs. A doctor can carefully recommend the best options should a change be necessary.
It is important, however, to not discontinue any prescription medications without the consent and guidance of the treating medical doctor. Tapering is important for some medications so as to avoid other harmful side-effects. Rather notify a treating doctor so that any necessary discontinuation can be done safely.
Medications for preventative purposes may include:
- Calcium kidney stones: A thiazide diuretic or one containing phosphate can be prescribed.
- Uric acid kidney stones: Medications which reduce levels of uric acid in urine and blood can help to balance urine’s ph levels making it alkaline. Some medications also contain alkalising agents which help to breakdown already formed kidney stones.
- Struvite kidney stones: Antibiotics may be prescribed in small doses for long-term use in order to maintain bacteria free urine which results in infection.
- Cystine kidney stones: Medications for preventing these types can be a little trickier, but options are available to help reduce the amount of cystine in urine.