Kidney stones are small, hard deposits that form inside the kidneys. The fluids that pass through the kidneys contain different kinds of minerals and molecules. The stones usually form when there are too many minerals and too little fluid. The urine becomes concentrated, thus crystallizing the minerals and making them stick together. Kidney stones are quite common and usually affect people aged 30 to 60 years. It is estimated that renal colic affects about 10-20% of men and 3-5% of women.
Symptoms of kidney stones
Kidney stones can affect any part of the urinary tract — from the kidneys to the bladder. A kidney stone may not cause any symptoms until it moves around within the kidney or passes into the ureter — the tube connecting the kidney and bladder. The following symptoms may occur when this happens.
- Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs, which also spreads to the lower abdomen and groin. The pain may also come in waves and fluctuate in intensity.
- There could be pain on urination. Urine could be cloudy or foul-smelling. The colour of the urine could be pink, red or brown coloured urine. There is a urge to urinate often.
- There may also be fever and chills if an infection is present. When a kidney stone blocks the ureter, it can lead to infection of the kidney, as waste cannot pass through, thus causing build-up of bacteria. Symptoms of a kidney infection include all of the above symptoms and may also include a high temperature, shivering or chills, fatigue and diarrhoea.
Types of kidney stones
The most common kind is calcium oxalate stones. Some of the substances contained in the fluids that pass through the kidneys are calcium and oxalate. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in food. Some fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and chocolate, have high oxalate levels. The body also produces oxalate. Calcium oxalate usually floats in the fluid, but when there is too little fluid, it forms crystals.
Struvite stones form in response to an infection, like a urinary tract infection. The struvite stones sometimes grow quickly and become quite large. The problem here is that they sometimes cause few symptoms or give very little warning.
Uric acid stones usually form in people who don’t drink enough fluids or who lose too much fluid. It may also form in those who eat a high-protein diet. Genetic factors sometimes increase the risk of uric acid stones. Having gout is another reason.
Causes of kidney stones
Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. A proper diet can reduce the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation. In his book, ‘The Practical Encyclopedia of Natural Health’, Mark Bricklin quotes a report published in the ‘Nutrition and Health”. The conclusions on diet and kidney formation were that a diet of high animal protein, refined carbohydrates and reduced fibre consumption, on the urinary electrolyte pattern increase the risk factors for calcium oxalate crystallization.
There are many risk factors for developing kidney stones.
Firstly, if there is a family history or if one has already had one or two kidney stones, one is at a higher risk of developing them again.
Not drinking enough water each day can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Eating a diet that’s high in protein, sodium and sugar may increase the risk of some types of kidney stones. When there is too much sodium in the diet, the amount of calcium that the kidneys must filter increases, thus increasing the risk of kidney stones.
High body mass index (BMI), large waist size and weight gain have also been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones.
Digestive diseases and surgery can cause changes in the digestive process that affect the absorption of calcium and water, thus increasing the levels of stone-forming substances in the urine.
Other conditions that can increase the risk of kidney stones include renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, and urinary tract infections.
Certain medications can also increase the risk of kidney stones.
Natural Remedies to Treat Kidney Stones
Most kidney stones won’t require any major treatment. Small stones can be passed out by drinking lots of water. Water helps flush out the urinary system. Sometimes an alpha-blocker, which relaxes the muscles in the ureter is prescribed to help pass the stone with less pain. Large stones are treated differently as they are too large to pass out on their own and they also cause bleeding. These require invasive treatments. But natural remedies are available that can prevent the formation of these stones. As we know, most natural remedies are preventive. We can prevent the formation of kidney stones by a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes.
There are two basic approaches to preventing kidney stones from forming. One is to drink lots and lots of water. Secondly, cutting down on animal protein and increasing the intake of cereal and vegetables for fibre helps considerably. In a study done in Ireland, researchers examined the diets of kidney stone patients and compared them to the diets of similar weight, age and constitution people without kidney stones. They found three differences. Firstly, the stone group ate less fibre, secondly, the stone group got fewer calories from complex carbohydrates like vegetables, grain and fruits. Thirdly, the stone group had a higher intake of fats like those found in red meat.
It has been found that calcium oxalate stones can be avoided by taking daily supplements of magnesium and vitamin B6. In a long term study of 149 kidney patients, doctors used magnesium and vitamin B6 to cut stone formation by an impressive 90%. B6 is said to lower the amount of oxalate in the urine of people who have a risk of kidney stones.
Home Remedies for Treating Kidney Stones
1. French Beans or Rajma Pods
French beans or rajma pods is considered an effective home remedy to treat kidney stones. In the book ‘Miracle Cures from the Bible’, by Reese Dubin, it is mentioned that around 1900, a Dr Ramm of Preetz, Germany, found that kidney blockage of long duration was completely cured by the intake of bean pod water. The way to do it is to remove the beans from the pod and then slice the pods. Take around 60g of the pod and boil it slowly in 4 litres of water for about four hours. Strain the liquid and let it cool for about eight hours. Strain it again through a muslin cloth without stirring. Take a glass of this decoction every two hours for the whole day. It should be made fresh each day, as it loses its therapeutic properties when kept for more than a day. (From ‘Home Remedies for Common Ailments’ by B. K. Bakhru)
Watermelon is a very effective kidney and bladder flusher. Cut the watermelon into bite-size pieces. Eat or drink only watermelon juice for the whole day. Watermelon fasts help to cleanse the kidneys. Watermelons are diuretics and help to increase urine flow. The black seeds of watermelon are also an effective home remedy to cleanse both the bladder and the kidneys, thus helping to remove the stones. Mix one teaspoon of crushed watermelon seed to about 500ml of boiling water; Steep for about 15 minutes; Take in small quantities several times a day. The tea should be made fresh for each use.
3. Lemon Juice
Lemon (Citrus aurantifolia) juice is another effective home remedy for dissolving kidney stones. Drinking the juice of two lemons a day mixed with water helps to dissolve kidney stones. Regular consumption of lime juice helps raise pH, citrate and potassium content, without increasing calcium content. As citrate content exceeds calcium, calcium crystallization will not happen as calcium gets discharged through the urine. This therapy also prevents the recurrence of kidney stones. Lemon juice in warm water, sweetened with a little honey, first thing in the morning helps keep the liver and kidneys healthy.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar may help to prevent the formation of kidney stones in the first place. Apple cider vinegar makes the urine less acidic, which decreases the chances of developing kidney stones, Mix together 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar with one cup of water and drink it twice a day. You can add honey to make it more palatable.
5. Chanca Piedra
Chanca piedra, is the Spanish name for Phyllanthus niruri, which means “stone breaker” or “shatter stone.” It was so named as it has been used by generations of Amazonian indigenous peoples in eliminating gallstones and kidney stones. After giving Chanca piedra to more than 100 people with kidney stones, German physician, Wolfram Wiemann found that 94 per cent of them eliminated their stones within two weeks. The traditional method of having Chanca piedra is tea. It is also available in the form of a tincture and tablets.
A low-sodium, low-to-moderate protein diet containing normal levels of calcium can help reduce the recurrence of stones compared to a low-calcium only diet, says an article in The New York Times. Restricting salt and protein (especially meat) helps prevent calcium kidney stone formation.