Our kidneys are powerful, important organs that perform many functions necessary for our well being. When a kidney stone develops one of the first symptoms is excruciating pain. A hard mass develops when crystals separate from the urine and build up on the inner surface of the kidney. If these crystals remain small enough, they pass through the urinary tract without being noticed. At times, however, these stones grown in size, making them difficult if not impossible to pass. The pain may begin suddenly when a stone enters the urinary tract causing irritation or blockage. This week’s column is dedicated to those suffering or for those who are caring for anyone suffering from kidney stones.
Q. Dear Natalie, I am suffering from kidney stones and my doctor has agreed for me to try the ‘alternative’ medicine route. Are there any herbs or supplements you can recommend to heal and also to prevent the development of recurring stones?
A. Herbs have a long history of relieving the pain and helping your body pass kidney stones. Marshmallow root contains mucilages that soothe and protect tissues which become irritated and inflamed. These mucilages form a coating along the urinary tract to protect against damage from the passing kidney stone. Dr. James F. Balch and Phyllis A. Balch state that a quart of marshmallow root tea daily helps to cleanse the kidneys and eliminate stones.
The aerial parts and seeds of the wild carrot are frequently used to treat kidney and bladder disorders, especially kidney stones. The plant has diuretic leaves and antispasmodic properties. The seeds or leaves from which you can make a tea with contain flavonoids, alkaloids and volatile oil, all of which help to dissolve kidney stones. The herb will also help prevent the development of recurring stones. The fresh plant may cause photosensitivity.
Finally, a wonderful herb known as gravel root can also help and is identifiable for its beautiful lavender flowers. Herbalists use the roots of this plant to treat kidney stones. Active ingredients include volatile oil, flavonoids and resin, and the herb has diuretic properties. You can combine a tincture of gravel root with the tinctures of wild yam, corn silk or black haw to reduce inflammation in the urinary tract and therefore reduce the pain from the muscle spasms in the urinary tract to allow the stones to pass.
Q. Natalie, which foods are recommended for dispelling kidney stones?
A. According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, diet is one of many important factors that may reduce or promote kidney stone formation. Therefore, changing your diet will help significantly in preventing stones from forming in the first place, increasing in size or causing pain. Make sure to drink large amounts of fluids. This helps to keep your urine diluted and helps flush out materials that may form into kidney stones. Drink water throughout the day.
Avoid grapefruit juice and dark-colored sodas, which may make symptoms worse. Try to increase your intake of whole grains. Wheat and rye bran contain a compound known as phytate which helps prevent the formation of oxalate and phosphate stones. Any fiber-rich foods in general will help to reduce your symptoms. Switch your white bread and pasta for 100 percent whole wheat or rice-based breads and pasta and bran flakes. You can also include oatmeal and pearled barley since they too provide valuable amounts of fiber.
Try to choose a low-sodium diet. Limit your meat intake and replace your diet with legumes instead to ensure you have sufficient protein. Beans, lentils and split peas contain quite a lot more protein than other plant-derived foods. Meats which are very rich in sodium include sausage, salami and other smoked and processed meats. Experiment with tasty alternatives such as black bean burgers or pea and lentil soup, unsalted edamame and baked or steamed tofu. An excellent source of protein to include in your diet is cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel and trout. These are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which will help reduce the inflammation. Try some low-sodium seasoning varieties such as lemon juice and natural herbs and spices.
The NKUDIC recommends aiming for 800 mg of calcium from dietary sources daily for kidney stone prevention and to maintain bone density. This should come from calcium-rich foods and not calcium supplements. Foods rich in calcium include low-fat yogurt, mozzarella cheese, tofu, leafy greens, almonds, fortified orange juice, soy milk and breakfast cereals. The compound citrate helps inhibit the formation of calcium stones. Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes contain high levels of citrate. Try to drink two to three glasses of lemonade or diluted orange juice a day.
Q. Hi Natalie, my mother and father have both suffered from kidney stones in the past. Which foods should I avoid if I have a tendency to get kidney stones?
A. Two of the four types of kidney stones are related to diet: calcium stones and uric acid stones. Different foods also form different types of stones. You can begin by reducing your salt intake. Salt causes extra calcium to be excreted into the urine, where it can combine with oxalate or phosphorus to form calcium stones. Check how much of your diet is of processed foods because they tend to be high in salt.
Try to cut back on hot dogs, canned food, frozen meals, tomato juice and fast food. If there’s a tendency or history of calcium oxalate stones, you should reduce the amount of oxalate-rich foods you consume. Oxalate is found in squash, wheat bran, rhubarb, tomato soup, tea, currants, canned fruit salad, sweet potatoes, instant coffee, strawberries, spinach, beets, leeks, tofu, nuts and chocolate. Too much animal protein from meat, fish and poultry can increase your risk of both calcium and uric acid stones. According to the NKUDIC, those who form uric acid stones should limit their meat consumption to 6 oz. a day. To avoid uric acid stones, limit foods which are high in purine. These include organ meats such as liver or kidneys, alcohol, herring and anchovies. Spinach, asparagus and yeast are also quite high in purine.
Oxalate, or oxalic acid, is in plant foods and combines with calcium to form calcium-oxalate stones. Research suggests that oxalate, which is in plant foods, combines with calcium to form calcium-oxulate stones. If one has a medical history of this it’s recommended to consume less than 50mg of oxalate a day and limit foods high in oxalate. The foods with the most oxalate and known to aggravate kidney stones include chocolate, wheat bran, nuts, rhubarb, spinach, beets, tea and strawberries. Other oxalate foods include bran cereals, berries, figs, citrus peels, kiwis, tangerines, green leafy vegetables, olives, beans, parsley, zucchini, potatoes and sweet potatoes, peppers, eggplant, marmalade and soy sauce.
This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
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