Men who get kidney stones often say that passing them feels like what they’d imagine childbirth to be like. And while men still make up the majority of kidney stone sufferers, women in their 50s are gaining on them. According to David Kaufman, professor of epidemiology at Boston University, the lifetime risk of developing a kidney stone ranges from 5 to 15 percent. But once you’ve had one, the risk of recurrence in the next five years jumps to between 30 and 50 percent.
What are kidney stones? Most are made up of calcium, oxalic acid, and uric acids that bond together in the kidneys. They can be tiny (like grains of sand) or as large as a pea. As long as they stay in the kidneys, they don’t really cause problems or pain, and generally dissolve on their own. But some stones break loose and travel through the ureter—the narrow tubes through which urine passes from the kidneys to the bladder. Still, not a problem unless they get stuck in the passageway or in the bladder; then the pain can be excruciating.
If you feel the early signs of a stone (fever and trouble urinating), try:
- Taking gravel root. This herb helps to break down stones, making them easier to pass. Add 1 tablespoon of the dried herb to 3 cups of hot water, and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Drink one-half to 1 cup three to five times a day.
- Drinking Marshmallow root tea to soothe the urinary tract and make passing stones less painful. Steep 1 tablespoon of the dried herb in 1 quart of cool water overnight. Drink 2 to 4 cups a day.
- Using Uva Ursi if you have painful urination. It’s best to combine it with soothing herbs like marshmallow root and corn silk. Take 2 to 4 ml of a tincture three times a day—but only for seven to 10 days.
- Drinking black tea to reduce your chances of developing kidney stones, says homeopathic doctor Jacquelyn Wilson, MD.
- Eating more magnesium- and potassium-rich foods to reduce your oxalate levels. Avocados, green veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are rich in magnesium; and strawberries, turmeric, and apricots pack a lot of potassium. And cut back on alcohol, soda (the phosphoric acid may cause a buildup of uric acid), and red meat.
- Take a magnesium supplement in addition to dietary magnesium to ensure you’re getting enough. Check out Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm supplement.
Passing kidney stones can be quite painful, but the stones usually cause no permanent damage if they’re recognized in a timely fashion. Depending on your situation, you may need nothing more than to take pain medication and drink lots of water to pass a kidney stone. In other instances — for example, if stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary infection or cause complications — surgery may be needed.