Diet and Kidney Stones:
How does diet affect the risk of developing kidney stones?
Kidney stones can form when substances in the urine—such as calcium, oxalate, and phosphorus—become highly concentrated. The body uses food for energy and tissue repair. After the body uses what it needs, waste products in the bloodstream are carried to the kidneys and excreted as urine. Diet is one of several factors that can promote or inhibit kidney stone formation. Certain foods may promote stone formation in people who are susceptible, but scientists do not believe that eating any specific food causes stones to form in people who are not susceptible. Other factors that affect kidney stone formation include genes, environment, body weight, and fluid intake.
What are the types of kidney stones?
Four major types of kidney stones can form:
Why is knowing which type of kidney stone a person has important?
The first step in preventing kidney stones is to understand what is causing the stones to form. This information helps the health care provider suggest diet changes to prevent future kidney stones. For example, limiting oxalate in the diet may help prevent calcium oxalate stones but will do nothing to prevent uric acid stones. Some dietary recommendations may apply to more than one type of stone. Most notably, drinking enough fluids helps prevent all kinds of kidney stones by keeping urine diluted and flushing away materials that might form stones.
How does a health care provider determine the type of kidney stone?
If a person can catch a kidney stone as it passes, it can be sent to a lab for analysis. Stones that are causing symptoms can be retrieved surgically or with a scope inserted through the urethra into the bladder or ureter, then sent to a lab for analysis.
Blood and urine can also be tested for unusual levels of chemicals such as calcium, oxalate, and sodium to help determine what type of kidney stone a person may have had.
Dietary Changes to Help Prevent Kidney Stones
People can help prevent kidney stones by making changes in fluid intake and, depending on the type of kidney stone, changes in consumption of sodium, animal protein, calcium, and oxalate.
Drinking enough fluids each day is the best way to help prevent most types of kidney stones. Health care providers recommend that a person drink 2 to 3 liters of fluid a day. People with cystine stones may need to drink even more. Though water is best, other fluids may also help prevent kidney stones, such as citrus drinks.
Recommendations based on the specific type of kidney stone include the following:
Calcium Oxalate Stones
Calcium Phosphate Stones
Uric Acid Stones
How much fluid should a person drink to prevent kidney stone formation?
People who have had a kidney stone should drink enough water and other fluids to produce at least 2 liters of urine a day. People who have had cystine stones may need to drink even more. The amount of fluid each person needs to drink depends on the weather and the person’s activity level—people who work or exercise in hot weather need more fluid to replace the fluid they lose through sweat. A 24-
Some studies suggest citrus drinks like lemonade and orange juice protect against kidney stones because they contain citrate, which stops crystals from growing into stones.
How does sodium in the diet affect kidney stone formation?
Sodium, often from salt, causes the kidneys to excrete more calcium into the urine. High concentrations of calcium in the urine combine with oxalate and phosphorus to form stones. Reducing sodium intake is preferred to reducing calcium intake.
The U.S. recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of sodium is 2,300 milligrams (mg), but Americans’ intake averages 3,400 mg, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.1 The risk of kidney stones increases with increased daily sodium consumption. People who form calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate stones should limit their intake to the U.S. RDA level, even if they take medications to prevent kidney stones.
1U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office; December 2010.
How can a person limit sodium intake?
Learning the sodium content of foods can help people control their sodium intake. Food labels provide information about sodium and other nutrients. Keeping a sodium diary can help a person limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg. When eating out, people should ask about the sodium content of the foods they order.
Some foods have such large amounts of sodium that a single serving provides a major portion of the RDA. Foods that contain high levels of sodium include
People who are trying to limit their sodium intake should check labels for ingredients and hidden sodium, such as
How does animal protein in the diet affect kidney stone formation?
Meats and other animal protein—such as eggs and fish—contain purines, which break down into uric acid in the urine. Foods especially rich in purines include organ meats, such as liver. People who form uric acid stones should limit their meat consumption to 6 ounces each day.
Animal protein may 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.
How does calcium in the diet affect kidney stone formation?
Calcium from food does not increase the risk of calcium oxalate stones. Calcium in the digestive tract binds to oxalate from food and keeps it from entering the blood, and then the urinary tract, where it can form stones. People who form calcium oxalate stones should include 800 mg of calcium in their diet every day, not only for kidney stone prevention but also to maintain bone density. A cup of low-
How does oxalate in the diet affect kidney stone formation?
Some of the oxalate in urine is made by the body. However, eating certain foods with high levels of oxalate can increase the amount of oxalate in the urine, where it combines with calcium to form calcium oxalate stones. Foods that have been shown to increase the amount of oxalate in urine include
Avoiding these foods may help reduce the amount of oxalate in the urine.
What diet plan should a person follow to prevent future kidney stones?
A dietitian can help a person plan meals that lower the risk of forming stones based on the type of stone the person formed in the past. A person with a history of kidney stones may want to talk to a dietitian who specializes in kidney stone prevention or nutrition for people with kidney problems.
A dietitian can also help overweight people plan meals to help them lose weight. Studies have shown that being overweight increases the risk of kidney stones, particularly uric acid stones. Diets that are low in carbohydrates have been shown to further increase the risk of uric acid stones and should be avoided.
Studies have shown the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can reduce the risk of kidney stones. The DASH diet is high in fruits and vegetables, moderate in low-
Points to Remember:
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
The NIDDK would like to thank:
Gary Curhan, M.D., Harvard Medical School; David Goldfarb, M.D., New York University School of Medicine
This information is not copyrighted. The NIDDK encourages people to share this content freely.
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