Nearly one in 300 Americans will develop kidney stones this year, leaving more than a million people in intense pain until they can be treated.
Kidney stones are solid pieces of minerals from the foods we eat that get separated from the urine. Anyone can produce kidney stones, but certain individuals are more prone to them because of hereditary factors.
When larger stones become stuck in the urinary tract, it is considered an emergency, causing severe pain, restricting urine flow and potentially leading to infection.
Dr. Julio Davalos, director of endourology and kidney stone disease at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, told FoxNews.com there are simple ways to help avoid kidney stones.
Davalos said the biggest culprit of kidney stones is dehydration. Minerals from the foods we eat, such as calcium, oxylate, phosphate or uric acid, crystallize when there is not enough fluid in the body to dilute them.
Patients with a history of kidney stones need to consume approximately three liters of fluid a day, preferably water. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration and healthy patients produce approximately a half gallon of urine daily. Davalos said it’s important to remember to drink more in the summer months when you're apt to lose more water through sweat.
Cut down on salt
The average American consumes far too much sodium. The recommended daily allowance is 2,300 mg, and yet most individuals take in about 5,000 mg a day.
A high-sodium diet can trigger kidney stones because it increases the amount of calcium in your urine. If you have a history if kidney stones, try and keep your sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day by eliminating processed foods and avoiding using table salt at mealtime.
Davalos said one of the biggest myths about kidney stones is that too much dairy, like milk, cheese and ice cream, causes stones. Although most kidney stones are calcium based, you shouldn’t eliminate it from your diet.
“Cutting dairy completely out of your diet actually leads to more stones and has other potential negative effects on your health,” he said.
According to recommendations from the National Institutes of Health, healthy adults should aim for 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium per day. However, if you have a history of kidney stones, your doctor may recommend a lower calcium intake of about 800 mg.
Eating a diet high in animal proteins like red meat, poultry and eggs can increase the level of uric acid in the body, which has been shown to cause kidney stones. These foods also reduce the body’s level of citrate, a chemical in the urine that helps prevent stones from forming.
If you’re trying to prevent stones, limit your portion size to three ounces of meat, about the size of a deck of playing cards. This will not only help you avoid kidney stones, but has heart health benefits as well.
If you have had a kidney stone, make sure you ask your doctor about getting tested to best understand how to prevent new stones.
“With simple tests we can pinpoint the underlying cause of the stones in 97 percent of people,” he said. “The problem is that most patients and even doctors don't understand the value of this testing, thus many stone formers have recurrent disease that could be prevented or at least significantly improved.”
Davalos stressed that depending on family history and other health factors, sometimes kidney stones can’t be avoided, but staying well hydrated, avoiding salty foods and limiting your protein intake to a moderate amount can only help lessen the risk.
“While diet plays a significant role, there are several underlying causes that are ‘out of a patient's control.’ These are metabolic disorder, such as hyperparathyroidism or gout that are sometimes inherited,” he said.