Affecting around 1 in 11 Aussies at some point in their lives, kidney stones are not fun! They can be incredibly painful, and unfortunately, rates of affliction are on the rise. Here’s how to protect yourself from this agonising ailment.
While kidney stones can occur at any age, they are most common in people between the ages of 20 and 49, with men more likely to develop kidney stones than women, with a male-to-female ratio of approximately 2:1. But, we’re seeing a rise in cases across the board, with our ultra-processed diets square in the line of blame. After all, the foods we’re eating are packed with salt, sugar and preservatives that leave our kidneys worse for wear.
Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk for Kidney Stones
Stay Hydrated: Dehydration is a leading cause of kidney stones. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Aim for at least 8-10 cups (64-80 ounces) of water daily. If you live in a hot climate or are physically active, you may need more.
Lemon Juice: Citrate, found in lemons, can help prevent certain types of kidney stones. Adding a splash of fresh lemon juice to your water can be a tasty and beneficial habit.
Limit Sodium: High-sodium diets can increase the risk of kidney stones. Be mindful of your salt intake, especially if you've had kidney stones in the past.
Eat Calcium-Rich Foods: Contrary to popular belief, consuming calcium-rich foods can actually reduce your risk of kidney stones. Calcium binds with oxalates (a common component of kidney stones) in the digestive tract, preventing them from reaching the kidneys.
Moderate Protein: Diets that are too high in animal protein can increase the risk of kidney stones. Balance your protein intake with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Watch Oxalate-Rich Foods: If you've had calcium oxalate stones in the past, limit foods high in oxalates, such as spinach, rhubarb, beets, and sweet potatoes.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of kidney stones. Aim for a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity.
Reduce Sugar: High-sugar diets can lead to obesity and increase the risk of kidney stones. Avoid sugary drinks and excessive sweets - your whole body will thank you!
Control High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is a risk factor for kidney stones. Manage your blood pressure through a healthy lifestyle, including a low-sodium diet.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration. Consume them in moderation and offset with extra water.
Supplements: If you've had kidney stones in the past, your doctor may recommend specific supplements or medications to prevent their recurrence. Follow your healthcare provider's guidance.
Monitor Medications: Some medications, like diuretics or antacids, can increase the risk of kidney stones. Discuss your medications with your healthcare provider.
How Sugar Skyrockets Your Risk for Kidney Stones
You probably hear all about too much salt being the major risk factor for kidney stones – and while it’s absolutely true, sugar often goes underestimated in its effects. While sugar itself may not directly cause kidney stones, there are several ways in which it can contribute to an increased risk of kidney stone formation. Here's what the science says:
- Dehydration: High sugar consumption, especially in the form of sugary beverages like soda and fruit juices, can lead to dehydration. Dehydration reduces urine volume and the ability to dilute substances in the urine, increasing the concentration of stone-forming minerals like calcium and oxalate. Concentrated urine is more likely to promote the crystallisation of minerals, a precursor to kidney stone formation.
- Obesity: Excessive sugar intake is associated with weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for kidney stones. It can lead to increased excretion of substances that contribute to stone formation, such as calcium and uric acid.
- Insulin Resistance: Diets high in added sugars have been linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. These conditions can alter urinary calcium excretion and increase the risk of kidney stones.
- Acidic Urine: High sugar diets, particularly those high in fructose (found in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup), may lead to acidic urine. Acidic urine can promote the formation of uric acid stones.
- Increased Oxalate Production: Some studies suggest that high sugar diets may increase the production of oxalate, a substance that can bind with calcium to form calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common type of kidney stone.
- Dysregulation of Mineral Absorption: High sugar diets can disrupt the body's absorption and regulation of minerals, including calcium and magnesium, which are relevant to stone formation.
It's important to note that not all sugars are equal. Natural sugars found in whole foods like fruits are less likely to have the same impact on kidney stone formation as added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, which are commonly found in processed foods and sugary drinks. Why? Fibre. The fibre in whole fruits slows the absorption of sugar in our blood stream, giving us more energy and putting less strain on our organs.
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