Kidney Stone Season

by Howard Gerber on September 27, 2012

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Kidney Stone Season

There’s only one way to beat the summer heat in the South: a tall, cool glass of sweet iced tea… which may be why so many southerners suffer from kidney stones. Dehydration is the major cause of kidney stones, but incidents are trending up drastically over the last decade, as much as 30%. Doctors who specialize in such studies strongly suspect the culprit is the American diet.

Kidney stones are formed when a concentration of minerals collects in the kidney, often forming jagged constructions that are painful and difficult to pass. During the summer, people sweat out more fluid, leaving the kidneys high and dry, a perfect environment to foster the growth of stones. It’s a common problem, affecting about 10% of all Americans. People who form one are far more likely to have more.


The best prevention is simple hydration. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least eight cups of water a day…enough that your urine is very pale yellow to clear. If you don’t need to urinate every couple of hours, you’re not drinking enough. Lemon helps inhibit the formation of stones as well, but avoid sugar-laden lemonade and opt for a refreshing squeeze in plain water instead.

Iced tea loaded with sugar is not a good choice for two reasons. First, there’s the sugar, which is bad for the kidneys all round. The black tea most commonly used for iced tea is also high in oxalates, which aids the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. There is no scientific proof of the hypothesis, but anecdotal evidence shows a higher incidence of kidney stones in southern states.

Diet Issues

Diets heavy in animal proteins tend to acidify the urine and promote stone formation. Excess sodium pulls calcium into the kidney, which can result in stone formation, and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increases the risk of crystal formation, especially when combined with low magnesium levels.

Some of the obvious answers are contradictory. While lemons help prevent the formation of crystals, grapefruit seems to increase the risk. And since calcium is a factor, it is counterintuitive that, while supplemental calcium increases the risk, dairy calcium from food sources reduces the risk.

The good news is this: If you’re looking for solid advice for your patients, the answer is a healthy diet and hydration. The same advice that benefits nearly every person alive, barring those who need specific diets to address certain conditions. You rarely go wrong by suggesting that people eat healthy, wholesome food, less sugar and saturated fat, and plenty of water. You can also safely advise them to eat more sources of magnesium – dark leafy greens, nuts, seed, and whole grains. More healthy food for a well-balanced diet.



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