The pain of kidney stones is so significant it’s often compared to the pain of childbirth. A person with kidney stones experiences painful urinary deposits that form masses of tiny, jagged crystals that can be excruciating to pass. In addition to the pain, kidney stones can also increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. (9) That’s why prevention is so important. Continue reading to learn more about what causes kidney stones and ways to prevent them.

What causes kidney stones

Causes of kidney stones are diverse and can include one or more of the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Diet containing excess animal protein or salt and insufficient fiber
  • Genetic predisposition via a family history of kidney stones
  • Inflammatory bowel disease or other intestinal malabsorption issues
  • Metabolic or hypercalcemic disorders such as gout or hyperparathyroidism
  • Recurrent urinary tract infection or urinary abnormalities (2)

When one or more of the previously mentioned causes are present, the following outcomes may result in increased risk of kidney stones:

  1. Infrequent urination
  2. Increased urinary concentrations of calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, and uric acid
  3. Decreased excretion of magnesium (3)

Fortunately, a combination of diet and lifestyle can help reduce the risk of kidney stones especially if you have a history of developing kidney stones. This is important because estimates show that 10 to 23% of people who get a kidney stone will get another one within a year and 50% will get another one in five to ten years. (2)

6 Natural ways to prevent kidney stones

There are many simple steps to take to help prevent kidney stones beginning with hydration. From a lifestyle perspective, avoiding even mild dehydration is critical not only to preventing kidney stones but in achieving overall improved wellness.

1. Stay hydrated

Studies indicate that high fluid consumption reduces the risk of kidney stones and recurrent kidney stones. Drinking fluids frequently to stay hydrated throughout the day increases urination and also lowers urinary concentrations of calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, and uric acid, which lowers the risk of kidney stone development. (6)

Consider adding lemon and/or lime juice to water throughout the day because the added citric acid will naturally help inhibit urinary crystallization, increase urinary volume, and reduce crystal and calcium saturation to further help prevent kidney stones. (10)

2. Reduce dietary protein

Research is clear that a high protein diet, especially one that contains high amounts of red and processed meats, will significantly increase the risk of kidney stones. According to a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis, some studies reported an increased risk of more than 50% with people who had a diet high in red meat and animal protein. (8)

Patients with a history of kidney stones may want to avoid higher protein diets such as the ketogenic diet as research indicates there may be an increased risk of kidney stone development among people following this type of diet. (1) For those looking to reduce their red meat and animal protein intake, there are a number of high-quality plant-based protein alternatives to consider.

3. Cut back on sodium

A diet featuring more than 3,000 mg of sodium per day can increase the risk of kidney stones because it increases urinary calcium concentrations. (3) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, everyone, especially those who are prone to kidney stones, should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. (4)

4. Increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fiber

Eating fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of kidney stones by increasing urinary volume, urine pH, and urinary excretion of citrate, magnesium, and potassium. (8) Keep in mind that intake of high-oxalate raw fruits and vegetables, such as beets, okra, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, and sweet potatoes, should be reduced or avoided.

Did you know? Various cooking methods may reduce the oxalate content in foods. Boiling may remove 30 to 87% of oxalates in vegetables, whereas steaming may remove up to 5 to 53% of oxalates. (5)

5. Ensure adequate magnesium intake

In addition to their fiber content, fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of magnesium. Research shows that low levels of magnesium increase the risk of kidney stones. Magnesium is also a chelator of oxalate and can inhibit urinary crystal formations. (7)

6. Maintain a healthy weight

Research demonstrates that being overweight, having a high body mass index, and/or having a larger waist circumference significantly increases the risk of kidney stones for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Increased inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Lower urine pH
  • Possibly greater intake of animal protein and sodium and lower intake of fruits, vegetables, and fiber in the diet (11)

For this reason, maintaining a healthy weight is critical to reducing the risk of kidney stones.

The bottom line

Through a number of dietary habits as well as maintaining a healthy body weight, it’s possible to significantly reduce the risk of kidney stones. If you are looking for a natural approach to kidney stone prevention, consider consulting with an integrative practitioner for guidance.

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  1. Acharya, P., Acharya, C., Thongprayoon, C., Hansrivijit, P., Kanduri, S. R., Kovvuru, K., Medaura, J., Vaitla, P., Anton, D., Mekraksakit, P., Pattharanitima, P., Bathini, T., & Cheungpasitporn, W. (2021). Incidence and characteristics of kidney stones in patients on ketogenic diet: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diseases, 9(2), 39.
  2. Alelign, T., & Petros, B. (2018). Kidney stone disease: an update on current concepts. Adv Urol, 2018.
  3. Assadi, F., & Moghtaderi, M. (2017). Preventing kidney stones: continue medical education. Int J Prev Med, 8, 67.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Get the facts: sodium and the dietary guidelines. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf
  5. Chai, W., & Liebman, M. (2005). Effect of different cooking methods on vegetable
  6. Cheungpasitporn, W., Rossetti, S., Friend, K., Erickson, S. B., & Lieske, J. C. (2016). Treatment effect, adherence, and safety of high fluid intake for the prevention and incident and recurrent kidney stones: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nephrol, 29(2), 211-219.
  7. Ferraro, P. M., Bargagli, M., Trinchieri, A., & Gambaro, G. (2020). Risk of kidney stones: influence of dietary factors, dietary patterns, and vegetarian-vegan diets. Nutrients, 12(3), 779.
  8. ​​Lin, B., Lin, M., Huang, R., Hong, Y., Lin, B., & He, X. (2020). Dietary and lifestyle factors for primary prevention of nephrolithiasis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Nephrology, 21, 267.
  9. National Kidney Foundation. (n.d.). Kidney stones. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones
  10. Penniston, K. L., Nakada, S. Y., Holmes, R. P., & Assimos, D. G. (2008). Quantitative assessment of citric acid in lemon juice, lime juice, and commercially-available fruit juice products. J Endourol, 22(3), 567-570.
  11. Poore, W., Boyd, C. J., Singh, N. P., Wood, K., Gower, B., & Assimos, D. G. (2020). Obesity and its impact on kidney stone formation. Rev Urol, 22(1), 17-23.