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This too shall pass: Preventing kidney stones

Adventist Health Health and Wellness

If you've ever had a kidney stone, chances are you can't forget it. The back pain, the nausea, the frequent trips to the bathroom, the waiting...and the little token that you end up with at the end of it all: The "stone," made from chemicals in your urine, that undoubtedly caused you intense waves of discomfort and pain...

And when we say it's hard to forget, we're not kidding. We know it was probably awful; Kidney stones are notorious for being one of the most painful things to go through. And unlike childbirth, the product that you get at the end of your journey isn't something you're looking forward to taking home.

In honor of National Kidney Month, we thought this would be a great time to spread awareness about a condition that affects over half a million people every year. In fact, an estimated one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. But fear not, sometimes they can be prevented, depending on the type of stone and your health history.

To avoid kidney stones, the first thing you should do is know what causes them. The "stones" are actually crystals that build up in your kidneys (and not the nice kind of crystals that you can wear on a necklace), and do not have enough liquids to dissolve them in the urine. If large enough, these stones can get trapped and block the flow of urine, which is where the pain comes from. Medical intervention is necessary and stones can be passed in a matter of hours or weeks (yikes!) in a variety of ways.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your kidneys happy:

Stay hydrated

Water, water, water! If you don't take in enough fluids, your body dehydrates and puts you at a greater risk for developing kidney stones. Drinking enough fluid is the number one thing you should do to make your kidneys function properly. If you are easily "bored" by water, try drinking it as a tea or by adding lemon.

Keep an eye on your animals (proteins)

Remember the high-protein diet fad? Strictly eating a diet full of meat proteins and dark green veggies may sound like a good way to drop weight, but think about what it does to the kidneys: The body has trouble breaking down large amounts of these foods, which can promote stones-especially if you're not taking in enough h20.

Don't stay (too) salty

A major component of the American diet is salt-if you eat a lot of prepackaged or fast foods, the sodium content can be incredibly high per serving. It's also a base ingredient for most seasonings, condiments and canned foods. While it may be tasty, too much salt can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Chat with your doctor about how much sodium you should be consuming every day. You can also find a helpful dietary guide here.

Eat like your heart depends on it

Have you ever heard of the DASH diet? The National Institute of Health promotes the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet as a lifestyle eating pattern to prevent and control high blood pressure. This diet, rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy, is also a great solution to help prevent kidney stones because of the low amounts of processed foods and animal proteins. The DASH diet isn't just great for your heart and kidneys, it can help you lose weight and prevent diabetes, too!

Make calcium your new best friend...sorta

When it comes to kidney stones, calcium can be a tricky beast. Consuming too little calcium in your diet can lead to stones…and taking too much calcium can also lead to stones. What's the deal? Ideally, you want to eat calcium-rich foods (like cheese and broccoli) along with oxalate-rich foods (like sweet potatoes and beets)-these will work together during digestion to break each other down and prevent stones from forming. Getting calcium through food is better than taking calcium supplements (and it's more fun to eat cheese than take a pill, right?!).

While it's possible to help prevent those unwanted little stones, some things can make you more likely to get them despite preventative measures: Surgeries on the digestive tract (like gastric bypass), bowel conditions such as Crohn's Disease or ulcerative colitis can raise the risk of forming a kidney stone. Talking with your doctor and a nutritionist about proper diet is the best course of action when it comes to kidney stones. Just remember to grab a giant glass of water before you go.