Nephrolithiasis, or kidney stones, is the most common condition affecting the urinary system, affecting about 12% of the world population. (1) Kidney Stones develop because of a change of substances from liquid to solid state (2) forming crystals, which can vary in composition. Attributed to increasing rates of obesity due to poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity, kidney stones affect and reoccur more frequently in men (1) as well as obese individuals.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in particular has received acknowledgement in clinical studies which have shown that Chinese herbal medicine can promote the discharge of broken stones in patients. (3) Chinese medicine potentially not only saves patients from the pain of surgery but also reduces adverse reactions and recurrence rates (4) by improving renal function and facilitating clearance of waste products. (5)
Risk Factors for developing kidney stones are influenced by certain diseases, habits and composition of urine and include:(1)(6)
- Prior stones (increasing risk by 50% within the next 10 years)
- Family history of kidney stones
- Malabsorption increases the formation of calcium oxalate crystals
- Urinary tract infections can produce struvite crystals
- Low fluid intake
- History of diabetes, obesity, gout and hypertension
- Acidic urine (pH< 5.5) promotes the uric acid formation
- Chronic diarrhea
- Bariatric surgery
Types of stones (1)(2)
- Calcium oxalate
- Calcium phosphate
- Magnesium ammonium phosphate, or struvite stones
- Uric acid
Calcium-containing Kidney Stones have high recurrence rates (7) and 80% of stones are composed of both Calcium oxalate and Calcium Phosphate (2) with Calcium oxalate as the primary component. Struvite stones are caused by infection, while Uric acid acidifies urine also leading to stone formation. (1)(2) Effective prevention of recurrence depends on stone identification (1) and treatment suggestions may vary based on the type of stones identified.
Symptoms of Stones
Symptoms only occur when stones travel from the kidney through the genitourinary system. When the stones descend into the ureters severe pain can occur and often produces:(1)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hematuria (blood in urine)
- Fever and chills in cases of infection
Worsening systemic signs of infection include shock. Kidney infections can potentially become severe and life-threatening, requiring emergency surgery. Several complications can also arise due to kidney stones, and especially stones that cause obstruction.
Fortunately, when it comes to kidney stones, diet change, to help manage and treat risk factors, can make all the difference to aid with issues like weight management, diabetes or hypertension.
Generally speaking, Kidney stone patients are advised to:
- increase water intake to maintain 2 litres of urine output per day
- consume a low salt diet
- decrease animal protein
Other more specific suggestions may include:
- eating a low oxalate diet and increasing dietary Calcium intake
- taking Calcium supplements to reduce oxalate absorption
Keeping Kidneys Healthy
In all cases of kidney stones, it’s important to recognise that pharmacological treatments may be required. For struvite stones, patients must receive careful follow-up until the infection has resolved. An integrative approach works best, so natural medicine can still play a vital role in co-management.
As always at Brisbane Livewell Clinics, ensuring the best quality supplements and more specific and tailored diet advice alongside any required medical attention is how we serve you best.