Any man who’s gone through it will tell you that passing a kidney stone is the male equivalent of giving birth. In other words, it really, really hurts. Stones—ranging in size from a grain of sand to a small plum—form in the kidneys, when minerals and other substances in the urine aggregate.
Small stones often pass through the urinary tract on their own (albeit sometimes painfully), but larger formations can get stuck in the ureters or kidney, causing much greater pain. About 5 percent of adults develop a stone sometime in their life, with men being more susceptible to them. Once you’ve had a stone, you’re more likely to have another one. The trick is to stop them before they start. For oxalate stones—by far the most common type—avoid foods such as spinach, rhubarb, wheat bran, and chocolate; drink lots of water; and cut back on meat and salt. Additionally, a medley of natural remedies can help keep you stone free. Try one or two of the following supplements at a time, to see which ones work for you. (For more supplements, go to Web Exclusives at naturalsolutions.com.)
Solidago (Solidago virgaurea L.). Also called goldenrod, this flowering weed grows mainly in the southeastern US. It has long been used to treat bladder, kidney, and urinary-tract problems. By increasing blood flow to the kidneys and increasing urination, solidago helps flush out small stones and reduces calcium buildup. You can buy it as capsules, tinctures, or as a dried herb. Dosage: 2 to 4 ml of a 1:5 tincture, two to three times a day.
Magnesium. The body uses magnesium and vitamin B6 to convert calcium oxalate into magnesium oxalate, a soluble (and, thus, peeable) compound. Opt for magnesium citrate supplements, since citrate has been shown to reduce recurrences of stones as well. Take it with meals to more effectively lower urinary oxalate levels. Dosage: 500 to 800 mg of magnesium citrate a day, along with 10 to 200 mg of vitamin B6.
Potassium. Found in foods like spinach, cremini mushrooms, and of course, bananas, potassium wards away stones by reducing the amount of calcium in urine. Research indicates that 5 grams of potassium citrate three times a day can significantly reduce the rate of stone formation. Dosage: 15 grams daily of potassium citrate in divided doses.
Inositol hexaphosphate (IP-6). You find this carbohydrate, also known as phytate, in cereal grains, beans, brown rice, and other high-fiber foods. In one study published in Anticancer Research, 120 mg a day of IP-6 significantly reduced calcium oxalate crystal formation in people with a history of kidney stones. For greater effectiveness, choose an IP-6 supplement that also contains small amounts of calcium and magnesium. Since phytate can slightly inhibit iron absorption, take it separately from when you eat iron-rich foods or take iron supplements. Dosage: About 2.5 to 5 grams a day.