The pain that kidney stones can induce is the stuff of legend—often compared to the pain of giving birth. Turns out this may be an underestimate, says Dr. Geo Espinosa, ND, a New York City-based naturopath with a focus on holistic urology. “It is much worse and more painful, women who have been through both report,” he says.

These painful urinary deposits—masses of tiny crystals—are on the rise, affecting about 12 percent of people worldwide. (1) Although they affect twice as many men than women, the prevalence in women is increasing. (2) The research still hasn’t uncovered a reason why kidney stones are steadily climbing. The crystals develop as a result of too much waste in too little liquid. Possible causes including chronic dehydration, obesity, weight loss surgery, and imbalanced food choices (such as too salty or sweet) encourage the growth of kidney stones.

When they come to pass, the stones trigger tiny pulsing waves—renal colic—that push the kidney stone through your urinary tract and out of your body. Fortunately, kidney stones are not predestined. If you are willing to make some diet and lifestyle changes, the following natural ways to prevent kidney stones can be surprisingly effective.

Did you know?
Preventing kidney stones is not only possible, but it’s also well advised. Particularly because often they are not one and done: in about half of the people who have had one, another one recurred within seven years. (3)

Kidney stones don’t necessarily cause long term damage but passing them can be excruciating. As far as long-term consequences go, according to the National Kidney Foundation, “kidney stones increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.” (4) While genetics do play a role, kidney stones, with determination and smart choices, can be prevented relatively simply.

Natural ways to prevent kidney stones

1. Hydrate responsibly

Drinking water isn’t just good for your health—it’s good for your urine. Water dilutes the acids in urine that, if too concentrated, leads to stones. Dehydration is the number one cause of kidney stones and the number one method of preventing it, says Espinosa.

Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and fruit juice, give the illusion of quenching thirst but actually cause dehydration. Habits that begin in childhood could contribute to kidney stones later in life. According to a nationwide study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, more than half of children and teenagers in the United States drink inadequate amounts of water. (5) To help stay on top of your fluid intake, you could try adding a splash of citrus, like lemon juice or orange juice. The citrate in these beverages helps block stone formation. (6)

man on his laptop drinking water from a glass

Drinking water is the best way to prevent kidney stones!

Did you know?
One surprising trickle-down effect of global warming may be an increase in kidney stones. A recent study found a link between hot days and kidney stones in 60,000 patients in several U.S. cities with varying climates. (7)

Because sweat promotes dehydration, pay attention to rising temps all year round and replenish your fluids accordingly. Don’t forget to drink water!

2. Cut back on sodium

High-sodium diets can trigger kidney stones because they escalate the amount of calcium in your urine. Especially for the stone-prone, current guidelines suggest limiting total daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg. (8)

Certain foods have exorbitant amounts of sodium, such as many kinds of soup, canned foods, cottage cheese, bagels, and snacks such as crackers. Read the label for sodium content—and ration your salt cravings accordingly.

3. Eat more plant-based protein

When you eat too much animal protein, such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, levels of uric acid (purines) builds up in your urine. Organ meats are the biggest culprits—they have astoundingly high levels of purines. Consider replacing some of the animal-based protein you would typically eat with plant-based alternatives such as beans, lentils, and pulses.

The dizzying influx of plant-based alternatives to meat, also called “motherless” or “clean” meat, portends good things for those who need to reduce their meat intake. Many claim there are faux meats, that have been popularized by brands, and that they taste even better than the real thing! Things like beet juice are added to these meats to mimic appearances.

4. Avoid an overly restrictive diet

Many nutrient-rich foods contain oxalate, so if you avoid oxalates altogether, you could end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Practitioner insight

“There is much disagreement with urologists and me on this. Many would advise patients to exclude all oxalates from the diet. But that would mean a kidney stone patient would consume a high simple carb diet since most oxalate-free foods are carbs,” says Espinosa. He also adds, “stay away from only spinach and almonds, as they are by far the food most associated to contain high oxalates.”

Restricting high oxalate foods overly could have a deleterious effect on your health.

5. Don’t forgo calcium

While the prevailing wisdom for kidney stone prevention was to avoid calcium, getting too little calcium (which binds with oxalates to speed their removal) can also trigger oxalate levels to rise, actually increasing one’s risk of developing kidney stones. The best way to get enough calcium is through your diet—some studies suggest that supplements can accelerate the formation of certain stones, if not taken with meals. (9)

If you do want to eat the occasional high-oxalate food, pair it with some calcium. The calcium and oxalate bind together in the intestines, reducing the formation of stones. For example, if you must eat that spinach salad, try sprinkling some cheese on it.

older couple walking in the forrest together

Avoiding obesity and maintaining a healthy weight is a great way to avoid the risk of kidney stones.

6. Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity increases the risk of kidney stones. Older women between the ages of 34-59 who weighed more than 220 pounds had almost a 90 percent higher risk of kidney stones compared with those weighing less than 150 pounds. (10) Obesity causes metabolic imbalances that encourage the formation of calcium-containing kidney stones. On a more basic level, people with obesity tend to eat more salt and animal protein, large amounts of which predispose them to stone formation.

If you commit to losing weight, proceed with caution and always consult with your healthcare practitioner. Many high-protein weight loss diets, such as paleo and keto, require extreme amounts of animal-based protein and may increase the risk of developing stones for some people.

7. Boost your magnesium

Some studies show that magnesium (400 mg a day) can help lower the risk of forming kidney stones. (11) While the evidence is still scant, one theory is that magnesium may reduce oxalate absorption.

Practitioner insight

“Magnesium citrate successfully counters overproduction of calcium oxalates,” says Espinosa.

Since many foods high in magnesium also contain high levels of oxalates, a safer way of boosting magnesium levels is to supplement.

The bottom line

Prevention is critical when it comes to kidney stones. Following these general guidelines—adequate hydration, minimal sodium, and moderate meat consumption—should provide a strong foundation for kidney health. However, if you suspect that genetic factors or other medical conditions might predispose you to kidney stones, discuss your concerns with a trusted healthcare provider.

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