Kidney Stones Home Remedies

Want to know how you can cut your risk of getting kidney stones down to almost nothing? Remember these three things.

  1. Reduce your risk of heart disease to as close to zero as possible through lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, and staying trim.
  2. Stay hydrated. Drink when you’re thirsty to keep your urine a clear color.
  3. Be careful when taking a variety of supplements, especially calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). (I’ll discuss this further below.)

This is one of the only areas of medicine where there are more dietary supplements that can cause the condition than can prevent or treat it! For that reason, “WHAT’S WORTHLESS” comes before “What Works” in this article.

What is Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones impact 10 to 15 percent of Americans (global rates are rising, too). Some experts believe the increase has been driven by warmer weather (leading to dehydration) and the obesity and diabetes epidemics. 

Stones are hard mineral or acid salt deposits that form in the kidneys and travel to the bladder. There are four main types of stones based on their content, including calcium oxalate (75 to 80 percent of stones) or calcium phosphate, uric acid (see the Gout section), struvite (usually from an infection), and cystine (rare).

Small stones (only a few millimeters) pass spontaneously in 90 percent of people, but the large ones can cause significant pain because the ureters that connect the kidney and bladder are relatively narrow and full of nerves. 

Some men say the pain is so bad it’s “equivalent to giving birth,” while some women have been known to describe it as “nowhere close to giving birth.” The pain usually occurs on one side of the back or body, can be severe and colicky (starting and stopping) or constant, and often radiates around to the groin. 

Blood in the urine, nausea, vomiting, and even low-grade fever are also common. The real problem with kidney stones is that they can block urine drainage, which is similar to a clogged pipe. If urine gets backed up for too long, it can increase the risk of kidney disease, infections, and kidney failure.

If you’ve had kidney stones in the past, your chance of having a recurrence

within 10 years is about 50 to 80 percent, according to most studies. The risk of having a recurrence within the first year is 10 to 20 percent, especially if you fail to follow your doctor’s preventive advice to make healthy lifestyle changes (plus some people are more genetically predisposed to stones).

There are many causes of kidney stones, including:

  • Anatomic abnormalities of the kidney, bladder, or urinary tract
  • Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Genetics/family history
  • Gout
  • High blood calcium
  • High blood levels of parathyroid hormone
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Immobilization or physical inactivity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Medications (steroids, anticonvulsants)
  • Obesity (this increases your risk more than any other factor)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Urinary tract infections or urinary retention problems

Kidney Stones Home Remedies

1. Calcium citrate dosage is based on need, up to 1,200 milligrams a day maximum, depending on how much you’re getting in your diet

This is the ideal supplement for people who need to increase their calcium intake but want to reduce their risk of kidney stones. (The Recommended Dietary Allowance of calcium is mostly based on age, gender, and situation such as pregnancy, but for most people it is between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams daily.) 

Calcium citrate has not been shown to increase the risk of stones, and in some cases it can decrease the risk because it provides citrate in the urine, a natural stone inhibitor, and if taken with meals, it binds with the oxalates in foods (which helps discourage stone formation). 

Calcium citrate supplements with a little magnesium (50 to 100 milligrams) can help reduce the risk of constipation (common with this form of calcium) as well as stones because magnesium binds with oxalate. (You can get a ballpark estimate of how much calcium you’re getting in your diet by keeping a food diary and then checking the calcium content of all the foods online or having a nutritionist evaluate your food log.)

2. Vitamin B6 50 to 200 milligrams a day

This vitamin prevents too much oxalate from being formed in the body. Several studies suggest that individuals with higher vitamin B6 intake from foods (40 milligrams or more daily) have a lower risk of kidney stones. 

The recommended daily dietary intake is approximately 1.2 to 1.7 milligrams per day in adults, however, to reduce high oxalate levels, you need to take 50 to 100 milligrams per day or slightly more. 

Some companies sell a more active form known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P), but studies have primarily used the inexpensive and simple form of B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), so P-5-P is probably not worth the money.

Taking more than 300 milligrams per day can lead to severe sensory neuropathy, which is basically nerve damage, so more is not better. 

If you have a history of kidney stones due to high urinary oxalate levels, talk to your doctor about trying the lower doses of vitamin B6 that were studied, along with dietary and lifestyle changes. 

If you don’t have an oxalate problem and take high amounts of vitamin B6, it could paradoxically increase oxalate levels. Finally, never combine antiseizure drugs, especially Dilantin, with vitamin B6; check with your doctor or pharmacist for the latest drug interactions.

3. Magnesium 250 to 500 milligrams a day

The Recommended Dietary Allowance of magnesium from food sources is generally 310 to 420 milligrams, but that’s not easy to get unless you’re eating a very heart-healthy diet. 

Supplementing makes more sense for people at risk of kidney stones. Taking magnesium with or right after meals not only can reduce levels of oxalate absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract (so it doesn’t end up in the urine) but also appears to independently discourage the formation of calcium and oxalate in the urine. 

Several preliminary studies have found that combining 250 milligrams of magnesium oxide twice a day with a conventional prescription medicine for stones (such as potassium citrate) significantly increased the antistone environment in the urine, with even greater reductions in oxalate. 

A word of warning: Magnesium can increase the risk of loose stools and diarrhea, and high doses (above 600 milligrams) can cause a variety of health problems, including arrhythmias, muscle weakness, and confusion.

4. Oxalobacter formigenes

Oxalobacter formigenes is a strain of healthy bacterium that can degrade and reduce the absorption of oxalate in the gastrointestinal tract (the GI tract is loaded with healthy bacteria), meaning less gets into the urine. 

By age 8, almost all children test positive for it, compared to only 60 to 80 percent of adults. I think the decrease is partially due to the overuse of antibiotics and unhealthy lifestyle choices. 

Now here’s what’s really interesting: Consuming foods or beverages with oxalate (which is usually restricted in people prone to kidney stones) can increase the chances that O. formigenes takes up residence in your gut! Makes sense; it goes where the food is. (Foods high in oxalate include spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, and many types of nuts.) 

That’s one of the reasons I’m generally not a big fan of severely restricting high-oxalate foods if you’re at risk for kidney stones (contrary to the conventional belief). So why is it only an Honorable Mention? It’s not widely available commercially as a probiotic yet.

5. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (1,200 milligrams per day of the active ingredients EPA and DHA) can lower urinary calcium and oxalate by affecting something known as prostaglandin metabolism, which is involved in inflammation and may increase stone risk, according to a Cleveland Clinic study. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may impact the transport of oxalate so that it doesn’t get dumped into the urine in larger amounts. 

Another study that used 1,800 milligrams of EPA found that it helped decrease calcium in those who had high levels in their urine, but not in those who had normal levels. 

In fact, those famous studies of Greenland Eskimos that showed a lower risk of heart disease with a greater omega-3 intake from fish (5,000 to 10,000 milligrams daily) also found a lower risk of kidney stones in this population. Omega-6 supplements may have antistone effects, too, because they contain GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) and linoleic acid, which can become DGLA and then PGE1, both anti-inflammatory compounds.

What Supplements Are Useless For Treating Kidney Stones?

High doses of calcium carbonate or vitamin D

The large Women’s Health Initiative study—36,282 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79—found that women who took 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate and 400 IU of vitamin D daily for an average of 7 years had 17 percent more kidney stone episodes than the placebo group. 

A total of 449 women in the calcium and vitamin D group and 381 in the placebo group reported a kidney stone during the clinical trial. What is interesting is that many of the women in the study were already getting 1,150 milligrams of dietary calcium and 365 IU of dietary vitamin D, meaning they were getting these nutrients from food. 

This just goes to show that many people do not need to take supplemental calcium and vitamin D, and there can be negative health consequences if they do. There is already plenty of calcium in a moderately healthy diet.

Aim to get 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium from food sources first and foremost, and then supplement only if you’re not getting enough. If you need supplemental calcium and you’re at high risk for kidney or other types of stones, consider taking calcium citrate if your last kidney stone was a calcium oxalate stone; this form of calcium does not appear to raise kidney stone risk. When it comes to vitamin D, avoid taking more than what is already in your multivitamin unless a blood test shows you’re low in vitamin D (less than 30 ng/mL) and you’re not able to increase it by eating wild salmon, losing weight, or exercising more.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid or plain vitamin C)

Clinical trials have consistently demonstrated that plain vitamin C supplements in higher doses (1,000 milligrams or more) increase blood and urine levels of oxalate and can increase the risk of kidney stones, both in people with a history of stones and those who’ve never had one. 

Studies have found that large doses increase oxalate excretion in the urine by as much as 60 percent. Let me put this in perspective: Consistent oxalate increases of just 10 percent or more could be enough to create kidney stones. 

Plain vitamin C also lowers blood levels of uric acid by increasing filtration of it through the urine, which might also increase the risk of kidney stones. If you’re at a higher risk than normal for a calcium oxalate kidney stone (because you’ve had a previous stone), taking large amounts of vitamin C supplements is a bad idea. Another option is to take a “buffered” vitamin C tablet, such as calcium ascorbate, which does not appear to increase oxalate levels as much, if at all (its impact on uric acid has not been well studied).

Inosine (inosine monophosphate)

Inosine helps with energy production in the body, which is why there has always been interest in determining whether supplementing it could boost athletic performance (so far the answer is no). 

Because it may help fight inflammation, it’s being studied as a uric acid increasing supplement in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease (see the Parkinson’s Disease section). But it can also increase the risk of kidney stones.

Cranberry

Some cranberry dietary supplements contain high levels of oxalate, so if you need to take this supplement (maybe for preventing a urinary tract infection), check with different companies to find one that’s low in oxalate (less than 1 milligram per pill or less than 1 percent oxalate). (You’ll have to call or research it online, though, since it’s not on labels.) The average normal intake of oxalate from the diet is about 150 milligrams per day, but in one study, two cranberry tablets contained more than 350 milligrams. 

Another problem with some cranberry supplements is that they can contain ascorbic acid (a.k.a. vitamin C)—a double whammy!

Turmeric and ginger

These popular supplements may contain high levels of oxalates, which can increase the risk of kidney stones. Oxalates in plants exist in two forms: the water-soluble salts and the insoluble salts attached to calcium, magnesium, and iron. 

The former get absorbed in the intestines and reach the urine; the latter aren’t absorbed and get excreted in the feces. Plants high in soluble oxalates have a greater chance of increasing uri-nary oxalate. 

When researchers tested spices themselves (not the supplements), they found: Green cardamom had the highest concentration of soluble oxalates (99 percent), followed by turmeric powder (95 percent), ginger (87 percent), malabathrum leaf (59 percent), and black cardamom (59 percent). Cinnamon was the only spice that contained only insoluble oxalate.

A clinical trial with young, healthy men and women without diabetes, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that 2,800 milligrams per day of a turmeric supplement caused a significant increase in oxalate (about 8 percent) within 6 hours. The 24-hour urine oxalate level increased from about 20 to 25 milligrams with turmeric, which is below what defines real kidney stone risk (40-plus milligrams), but many people with a history or risk of kidney stones also have increased absorption or production of oxalate.

Silicon dioxide

Manufacturers add silicon dioxide to many supplements to keep ingredients from clumping together and to absorb moisture. If you have a history of kidney stones, check to see if it’s listed as one of the primary ingredients because it could create a silica kidney stone (bizarre but true)!

What Lifestyle Changes Can Help With Kidney Stones? 

Heart healthy = kidney healthy

The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study followed 5,000 Caucasian and African American men and women for 20 years. 

Researchers found that those with kidney stones were more likely to also have some blockage of their arteries. Exercising and losing weight are key lifestyle changes that can improve heart health and decrease stone risk. Review the US government–funded DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study with your doctor because, although it has been shown to reduce blood pressure, it appears to also dramatically lower kidney stone risk. 

Basically, DASH is just a heart-healthy diet high in fiber, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans; low in sodium; and low to moderate in meat and sugar.

Watch your sodium and normalize your calcium intake

A historic, randomized trial from Parma, Italy, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was the largest and longest kidney stone clinical trial in the history of medicine. 

Over 5 years, men who received the intervention diet (which contained normal calcium and low protein and salt) reduced their risk of a recurrent stone by 50 percent compared to the control group who only ate a low- calcium diet. 

This trial really turned the medical world upside down because it started to become very clear that diet and lifestyle changes make a very big difference. Sodium likes to hide in processed foods; if a food comes in a bag, box, can, or fast-food container, you’re probably getting large amounts of sodium. 

Excess levels increase the amount of calcium in your urine and decrease the amount of citrate, which helps discourage stone formation. I went over calcium in the “What’s Worthless” section, already.

Hydrate daily

Imagine a glass with a couple of tablespoons of powder in it. If you add a small amount of water, you get clumps, but if you add a lot of water, then the powder easily dissolves into the mixture. Stones are just like those clumps. 

You need to produce 68 ounces of urine (about 2 liters) per day to prevent a kidney stone; to do this, you should drink as much as 85 ounces of fluid a day (about 10 cups), depending on how much water you lose from other activities, such as exercise or digestion. 

All fluids and even some foods contribute to urine production. Let the color of your urine be your guide: Dark yellow means dehydration, and a very light color or clear means you’re adequately hydrated.

Get your daily servings of fruit and veggies

They’re loaded with water, potassium, and magnesium, which increases the pH of urine. And a favorable pH reduces the risk of stone formation. Also, citrus fruits have citric acid, which increases pH and citrate levels in the urine.

Get more citrate

Just a little freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice is a good source of citrate, which discourages kidney stone formation.

Cut carbs

Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates or sugars; these can increase calcium in the urine.

What Else to Know About Treating Kidney Stones?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a dietary oxalate intake of 40 to 50 milligrams per day or less for people at risk of stones. 

Many nutritionists and doctors recommend restricting any food or beverage high in oxalate. I don’t agree and here’s why: Some foods that are high in oxalate are high in insoluble oxalate, which is not a concern because it doesn’t get absorbed; it passes through the body and ends up in the feces. 

Plus, many of these restricted foods have heart-healthy benefits and other antistone compounds in them (this is why the DASH study mentioned earlier, which was higher in oxa- late, showed lowered stone risk). 

Some commonly restricted high-oxalate foods are beets, buckwheat, cocoa powder and chocolate, nuts, okra, rhubarb, seeds, soybeans and foods made from them, spices (such as ginger and turmeric), spinach, Swiss chard, tea (black and green), and wheat bran. Now do you see why I disagree? There are better ways to reduce stone risk for some individuals.

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