woman in consultation with doctor

In honor of National Kidney Month, I decided this would be a good time to better my own understanding of these somewhat mysterious and very important organs. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 26 million adults in the United States have chronic kidney disease with millions more at risk. With statistics that high, I looked into my own kidney health by asking members of my family about our medical history. My grandmother, father, uncle, aunt and others in my family suffer from kidney stones, which puts me at greater risk of having them.

Kidney stones are a type of kidney disease. Usually they are not noticeable until they become stuck in your kidneys and have issues passing through. There are many possible causes of kidney stones including diet and family history. Things like low fiber, high alcohol consumption, high fat intake and highly refined carbohydrates increase a person’s calcium and oxalic acid in their urine.

Most kidney stones are made up of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance in food. In the United States, one in every 1,000 adults is treated for kidney stones annually, according to “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.” Kidney stone symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Increase in urinary frequency
  • Intense pain in the kidney area of the body
  • Pain in the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain when urinating

Smaller stones can be treated by medication and flushing them out with fluids, while larger ones may have to be surgically removed.

A healthy diet can help prevent kidney stones. Simple sugars like sucrose and fructose increase calcium oxalate content in about 70% of people with recurrent kidney stones. Lowering your salt intake and drinking lots of fluids, especially water, can also make a big impact in preventing kidney stones. It’s also important to be aware of foods that have high oxalate content. Many high oxalate foods are healthy and beneficial in other ways, but should be eaten with prudence or avoided altogether for those at a greater risk of kidney stones. Some examples of high oxalate foods include:

  • Green beans
  • Green peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Canned tomato sauce

Eating foods that have a moderate to low oxalate content will help keep the buildup of oxalate in your digestive system low. These foods include:

  • Onions
  • Red peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots

Making some small changes in your diet can help to prevent kidney stones and keep your body healthy. If you are experiencing any symptoms or want to know if you are at risk, or to learn more about your kidneys, contact your doctor today.