Many people mistakenly believe that there's nothing you can do to prevent kidney stones. In reality, many risk factors are under your control, and many are remarkably simple.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
The number one risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water. If you aren't drinking enough, your urine will simply have higher concentrations of substances that can form stones. NKUDIC recommends drinking enough water to produce at least 2 quarts of urine in every 24-hour period, but a simpler way to know if you are drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine; you want your urine to be a very light yellow.
Every person's water requirement is different, depending on your particular system and activity level, but simply keeping your urine light yellow will go a long way toward preventing kidney stones. Remember to increase your water intake whenever you increase your activity, and when you're in a warmer climate.
If you happen to be taking any multivitamins or B supplements that contain vitamin B2 (riboflavin), the color of your urine will be a very bright nearly fluorescent yellow and this will not allow you to use the color of your urine as a guide to how well you are hydrated.
2. Make Sure You Get Adequate Magnesium
Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, and deficiency of this mineral has been linked to kidney stones. It also plays an important role in your body's absorption and assimilation of calcium, as if you consume too much calcium without adequate magnesium, the excess calcium can actually become toxic and contribute to health conditions like kidney stones.
Magnesium helps prevent calcium from combining with oxalate, which is the most common type of kidney stone.
Green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard are excellent sources of magnesium, and one of the simplest ways to make sure you're consuming enough of these is by juicing your vegetables. Vegetable juice is an excellent source of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts and seeds, like almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Avocadoes are also a good source. However, surveys suggest that many Americans are not getting enough magnesium in their diets.
It's been estimated that up to 80 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in this important mineral, according to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Miracle of Magnesium.
If you decide to supplement with magnesium it is important to understand that its complementary partner is calcium. So you should use both. Typically you would use twice as much elemental magnesium relative to the elemental calcium. That ratio works out quite well for most.
3. Avoid Sugar, Including Fructose and Soda
A diet high in sugar can set you up for kidney stones, since sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body by interfering with calcium and magnesium absorption. The consumption of unhealthy sugars and soda by children is a large factor in why children as young as age 5 or 6 are now developing kidney stones.
One South African study found that drinking soda exacerbates conditions in your urine that lead to formation of calcium oxalate kidney stone problems. Sugar can also increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in your kidney such as the formation of kidney stones.
You're more prone to kidney stones if you're bedridden or very sedentary for a long period of time, partly because limited activity can cause your bones to release more calcium. Exercise will also help you to resolve high blood pressure, a condition that doubles your risk for kidney stones. You can find my comprehensive exercise recommendations, including how to perform highly recommended Peak Fitness exercises, here.
5. Eat Calcium-Rich Foods (but be careful with supplements)
In the past, kidney stone sufferers have been warned to avoid foods high in calcium, as calcium is a major component of the majority of kidney stones. However, there is now evidence that avoiding calcium may do more harm than good. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of more than 45,000 men, and the men who had diets rich in calcium had a one-third lower risk of kidney stones than those with lower calcium diets.
It turns out that a diet rich in calcium actually blocks a chemical action that causes the formation of the stones. It binds with oxalates (from foods) in your intestine, which then prevents both from being absorbed into your blood and later transferred to your kidneys.
So, urinary oxalates may be more important to formation of calcium-oxalate kidney stone crystals than is urinary calcium. It is important to note that it is the calcium from foods that is beneficial -- not calcium supplements, which have actually been found to increase your risk of kidney stones by 20 percent.
Check out my nutrition plan for a simple, step-by-step guide for what types of foods to eat to reduce your risk of kidney stones and other chronic and acute health conditions.
6. Avoid Non-Fermented Soy
Soybeans and soy-based foods may promote kidney stones in those prone to them, as they may contain high levels of oxalates, which can bind with calcium in your kidney to form kidney stones.
This is just one reason why unfermented soy -- the type found in soy milk, soy burgers, soy ice cream and even tofu -- is not a health food. If you were to carefully review the thousands of studies published on soy, I strongly believe you would reach the same conclusion as I have -- which is, the risks of consuming unfermented soy products FAR outweigh any possible benefits.
If you're interested in enjoying the health benefits of soy, choose fermented soy, as after a long fermentation process, the phytate (which blocks your body's uptake of essential minerals) and anti-nutrient levels of soybeans (including oxalates) are reduced, and their beneficial properties become available to your digestive system.
As you can see, the best and most natural ways to prevent kidney stones are some of the easiest, if you're willing to make some lifestyle alterations.