Kids and Kidney Stone News – Prevention the Best Treatment

February 10, 2015 in Health, Health Claims, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

If you haven’t had a kidney stone, or watched a child suffering while trying to pass a kidney stone, you’re blessed, whether you know it or not; and as a result, you probably put kidney stones in the realm of ‘someone else’s problem. If you’re doing that, for your sake and the sake of your family I truly hope it remains ‘someone else’s problem.’

What’s going on with the staggering increase in the incidence of kidney stones; and especially, the increase of children developing kidney stones? One of the correlations that has been identified is that as obesity rates rise, cases of kidney stones have doubled. Certainly, the researchers need to discover if obesity and kidney stones are both the results of eating styles; or if the obesity causes the kidney stones. Surely, if we eat lots of salty fast food, for example, we can end up both obese and suffering from kidney stones.

The fact is that the tiny mineral deposits that form in some of our kidneys, cause no pain, and we are usually not even aware of them – UNTIL the stone leaves the kidney, and travels through or gets stuck in the urinary tract. Sometimes there’s blood when the stone scratches one of the ureters (the tubes that carry the urine from the kidney to the bladder to be eliminated.) Another symptom is intense pain. I’ve always said that I’d rather have another baby without anesthesia (did that 3 times) than go through another kidney stone.

So some brave souls, probably aren’t worried about some pain, but there is the possibility that the stones have to be removed surgically, which is always a risk for complications. Also, in a worse case scenario, you could also get pyelonephritis and the untreated infection can become life-threatening septicemia (bacteria in your blood) and inflammation in the liver. My sister was in intensive care for a week with her kidney stone/pyelonephritis ordeal.

In my mind it is pretty terrible that the incidence of kidney stones has doubled; but the fact that kidney stones are increasing so frequently in children is the most distressing part of the kidney stone story. One strange fact about kidney stones in children is that they occur more frequently in girls than in boys even though the majority of adult cases affect men rather than women.

The epidemiologists are earning their salary, trying to figure out what’s going on with the precipitous increase in prevalence of kidney stones. Although genetics are a factor in the prevalence of kidney stones, the rapid increase over the past 25 years is likely environmental factors, like diet, to blame rather than genetics.

As related to children, they often don’t drink enough water, eat enough fruits and vegetables (which counter stone production) and they do eat fatty, salty foods (think about burger, cheese and/or chicken nuggets and fries). Eating lots of meat and eggs, as well as cheese (animal protein). Don’t forget the consumption of phosphorus containing cola, both diet and regular. If you are going to drink soda, better to choose, a citrus, lemon-lime or orange, grape, plain water, ginger ale or root beer. If you’re trying to lose weight, how about choosing water with a squeeze of lemon or a little calorie-free flavoring?

Salty processed foods are pervasive in our society. This profitable (from food sales with high profit margins) but less healthy situation is leading to multiple problems (obesity, diabetes, hypertension) and now we realize that it is likely driving up the incidence of kidney stones.

The categories of adults that most frequently get kidney stones are:

  • Male (girls, if among children)
  • Caucasian
  • Very overweight
  • Have had kidney infections
  • Have a family member with kidney stones
  • Have had kidney stones before
  • Eat a lot of animal protein (such as meat, cheese and eggs)
  • Do not drink enough liquids

If you get kidney stones, the doctor will assess what kind of stones you have and your instructions will be to avoid foods or habits that cause the specific type of stones that you get. Having said that, some things are common to both calcium oxalate stones and calcium phosphate stones:

  • Reducing sodium in your diet
  • Reducing animal protein
  • Getting enough calcium from food or taking supplements with meals

Sodium causes the kidneys to excrete more calcium into the urine; that not only increases your risk of developing kidney stones, but it also increases the risk of developing osteoporosis as the years go on. High concentrations of calcium in the urine combine with oxalate and phosphorus to form stones. Reducing sodium intake is preferred to reducing calcium intake. Often the public only considers hypertension (high blood pressure) when they consider the dangers of high sodium intake. Your blood pressure may be fine, but the high sodium intake of Americans may be driving up the kidney stone problems.  Americans’ intake averages 3,400 mg, and the U.S. recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of sodium is 2,300 mg.  Some foods should be avoided because a single serving provides a major portion of the RDA in one serving. The red flag of warning should be flying when you consider:

  • Hot dogs
  • Pizza
  • Canned soups and vegetables
  • Processed frozen and canned foods
  • Luncheon meats (ham, sausage, bacon, sandwich slices)
  • Fast food
  • Chinese food
  • Commercial Mexican food
  • Bread, cake, pastries, ready breakfast cereals, biscuits

If you’re wondering what’s the problem with animal protein and kidney stone formation, it is that animal protein contains purines, which break down into uric acid in the urine. People who form uric acid stones are especially susceptible. Animal protein seems to also raise the risk of calcium stones by increasing the excretion of calcium and reducing the excretion of citrate into the urine. Citrate prevents kidney stones, but the acid in animal protein reduces the citrate in urine.

We used to be so afraid of calcium. The problem may have come from people like my sister and me, who jumped right on the calcium carbonate bandwagon in the 1980s. We knew we had osteoporosis in our family, so we began taking calcium supplement tablets. Unfortunately, there was no information like: take calcium citrate or take it on a full stomach, in those days. Both of us got kidney stones within a relatively short few months after starting supplementing. My urologist told me not to worry about calcium in my food – that is, the many whole foods that contain calcium. Now that was over 30 years ago and no second experience with kidney stones – once was enough to last a lifetime! Just one more experience that has taught me that supplements do not provide the benefits of whole foods, and may come with serious side effects. Even if you have lactose intolerance and must avoid dairy products, be sure to get calcium from other whole foods. If you use supplements, be certain to take the right kind for you and take them with food.

To prevent kidney stones:

  • The most important thing a person can do is to drink enough fluids to keep the urine dilute.
  • Reduce sodium intake, which causes the kidneys to excrete more calcium into the urine.
  • Eat animal protein sparingly.
  • Decrease phosphorous-containing cola, diet or regular (including Mr. Pibb; Dr. Pepper); instead, switch to a citrus drink or ideally water.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Lose weight, if needed. Note that making some of the above changes may help you lose weight (eating less animal protein and more vegetables).

Researchers have much to learn regarding kidney stones; but meanwhile, we can benefit from what they’ve already learned. You may be interested in other Dr. Grandma’s Blogs for more ideas about kidney stones; but the biggest lesson is that prevention is the best place to start.