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Be Kidney Healthy

Your kidneys are very important organs in your body. Their role is to filter your blood of waste products and excrete waste and water as urine. Everything you eat and drink affects the level of nutrients and materials that get into your bloodstream. Therefore, diet plays an important role in the health and function of your kidneys.

kidney graphicWhat Is a Kidney Stone?

Kidney stones are hard formations inside the kidneys that develop when materials dissolved in urine form solid crystals. These stones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Most stones break off and pass out of the body through the urine naturally.

Doctors can help you prevent stones by prescribing certain medications. However, if you already have a stone, it can usually be flushed out by drinking large amounts of water. If it cannot be passed on its own, the doctor can remove the stone through surgery or breaking it up using sound waves. There is no medication available that can be used to actually dissolve the stone.

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What Causes Kidney Stones?

  • Not drinking enough water
  • Drinking too many dark-colored sodas
  • Taking too many calcium supplements
  • Genetic or metabolic disorders
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Not getting enough physical activity

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Are There Different Types of Kidney Stones?

Yes. Calcium stones are most common and form when too much calcium is filtered through your urine. Oxalate, a material found in some plants, tea, and coffee, can bind with calcium and form an oxalate stone. Too much acid in your urine might cause a “uric acid” stone.

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What are Some Signs That I Might Have a Kidney Stone?

  • Pain in kidney area (middle of back) or lower abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever, chills, and weakness
  • Urine that smells bad
  • Blood in urine
  • Blocked flow of urine
  • Increased urge to urinate
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen and groin

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What Do I Eat to Help Prevent Kidney Stones?

People who do not have a history of kidney stones do not need to make any changes in their diet. If you have had kidney stones before, these diet changes might help prevent future stones:

  • Reduce amount of salt and sodium in your diet. Too much salt increases calcium in urine.
  • Drink more water and fewer sodas.
  • Eat fewer foods that contain oxalate such as nuts, tea, coffee, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, chocolate, wheat bran, and draft beer.
  • Reducing intake of animal proteins from meat, fish, pork, chicken, and eggs will reduce acid levels and help prevent uric acid stones.

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Will Drinking Too Much Milk Cause Kidney Stones?

Many people believe that consuming too much dairy products will increase the risk for developing kidney stones. Studies have shown that eating three servings of dairy foods a day actually lowers your risk for having kidney stones.* Calcium in dairy seems to have a protective effect on health. Taking calcium alone in pill form will not reduce risk for kidney stones and might actually increase the risk for kidney stones.

See your doctor if you think you have a kidney stone. Your doctor will determine what kind of kidney stone you have and what medical or dietary treatment you may need.

For more information, visit The National Kidney Foundation or the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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Gary C. Curhan, MD, ScD; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; Eric L. Knight, MD, MPH; Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH.  Dietary Factors and the Risk of Incident Kidney Stones in Younger Women:  Nurses’ Health Study IIArchives of Internal Medicine.  2004; 164:885-891.

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