Passing kidney stones is known to be extremely painful, which is why they can easily put someone out of work, ruin his or her week, and make it hard to go about normal activities. Of course, you want to diminish your kidney stone symptoms quickly because they’re agonizing and uncomfortable to live with, but perhaps even more importantly is because untreated kidney stones can at times cascade into worsened kidney function all together.
Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract, and every year more than a million people visit their doctors in the U.S. alone in order to find help relieving their kidney stones. (1) It’s estimated that one in 10 people will deal with a painful kidney stone at one point in their lives. (2)
What exactly are kidney “stones”? They’re small, hard deposits that develop inside of your kidneys made from materials you naturally always have present in your body. They can wind up blocking the normal flow of urine, causing pain in your bladder as it swells and urine to become abnormally concentrated with minerals as they accumulate and can’t be passed.
While most kidney stones won’t leave behind permanent damage once they’re passed, some can. Unresolved kidney stones can develop into kidney damage and even kidney failure in some cases, which is considered a very serious and life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery. If you suspect you’re experiencing kidney stone symptoms — like pain, throbbing and trouble going to the bathroom — read on to learn some of the best kidney stone natural remedies, plus how to best prevent them from returning in the future.
Do You Have These Kidney Stone Symptoms?
The kidneys are bean-shaped, fist-sized, small organs that sit in the middle of your back below your rib cage. They’re important organs for draining waste, excess fluids and urine from the body. The kidneys connect to the urinary tract, including the two ureters, bladder and urethra.
Amazingly, every single day they filter through the body’s blood supply to produce about one to two quarts of urine, which is eliminated through the tube called the urethra. (3)
Kidney stones symptoms can include: (4)
- Intense pain along the kidneys (on your side and back below your ribs) — pain can come and go, varying in intensity and lasting between five and 15 minutes (especially when going to the bathroom)
- Lower back pain that can spread down below the kidneys, to your groin and between the thighs
- Cloudy, bloody or foul-smelling urine
- Discoloration of urine, including brown or pink colors
- Persistent urge to urinate more than normal, sometimes with not much urine actually coming out
- Indigestion, nausea and vomiting (especially when feeling intense pain)
- Fever and chills when the problem worsens
Sometimes stones won’t be painful until they reach a certain size or start moving around in your kidneys. Who’s most at risk for experiencing these symptoms? Statistics show that people likely to deal with kidney stones include: (5)
- Men (more men than women tend to have kidney stones for reasons that aren’t totally understood)
- Middle-aged people, especially those from about 30–50 years old
- White Americans are more prone to kidney stones then African-Americans are
- People taking medications, including diuretics, which can lead to dehydration
- Anyone who has a history of chronic urinary tract infections, gout, hyperthyroidism and trouble digesting minerals normally
- People who are inactive
5 Natural Remedies for Controlling Kidney Stone Symptoms
For the majority of people, passing kidney stones successfully happens over the course of waiting a few days (although likely with lots of pain in the process), but there are several ways you can speed this removal up and then prevent kidney stones from returning. 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 or cause complications — surgery may be needed.
Not drinking enough fluids can put you at risk for kidney stones, especially if you exercise a lot, live in a hot climate, drink diuretic beverages and sweat a lot. Drinking enough water and plenty of hydrating fluids (like herbal tea, sparkling water or fruit-infused water) is even more important if you have a sodium-heavy diet. While fluid intake varies depending on your size, diet, location and how much you work out, try to drink about eight ounces every hour ideally.
2. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
If you eat a generally poor diet — one low in nutrients, electrolytes, antioxidants and a mix of carbs, healthy fats and appropriate amounts of protein — you’re at an increased risk for developing kidney stone symptoms. Eating a very salty or high-protein diet, above your actual protein needs or about 30 percent of your diet, can result in an increase of ammonia in the urine.
Focus on fresh foods, or “eating the rainbow,” in order to balance the body’s pH and prevent too much acidity.
Here are some of the top foods for helping prevent kidney stones:
- Fresh vegetables and fruit — Some research shows that people who follow a mostly plant-based diet, low in dairy products and meat, tend to have fewer kidney stones than people who eat lots of processed meat, packaged sodium foods and conventional dairy. Fresh foods that promote healthy kidney function include bananas, leafy greens of all kinds (and fresh-squeezed veggie juice), sprouted legumes, sprouted grains, fish and small amounts of pasture-raised poultry.
- Vitamin E-rich foods — Berries, olive oil, almonds, avocado and butternut squash are a few of the best sources of antioxidant vitamin E, which helps balance levels of oxalates and other toxins in the body, while also preventing mucus membrane damage, thereby reducing the risk of stone formation. (6)
- Alkaline foods — It might seem counterintuitive, but foods that are acidic in nature and help balance the body’s pH level, like lemon or apple cider vinegar, can help the body pass kidney stones. Mix a small amount with water, or add some to a smoothie with raw honey. (7)
- Magnesium and potassium-rich foods — Consuming plenty of magnesium and potassium can help balance calcium levels in the body, so include lots of leafy green veggies, cruciferous veggies, melon, bananas and avocado in your diet.
- Sprouted grains (as opposed to refined grain products) — Sprouting grains reduces their antinutrient content, making their nutrients more digestible.
On the other hand, here are some foods that can contribute to kidney stone symptoms:
- Sugary foods — There’s some evidence that a sugar-heavy diet can worse kidney stones. Make sure to limit the amount of packaged sugary snacks you eat, sweetened drinks (especially if they’re carbonated), dairy and even fruit if it seems to worsen your symptoms.
- Regular unsprouted grains or refined grains — Most grain products (including flour and products like cereal, bread, rolls, cake, etc.) contribute to kidney stones because they have high levels of antinutrients, including phytic acid.
- Foods naturally high in oxalic acid — While all fruits and vegetables generally offer a variety of electrolytes and nutrients, some that can increase oxalate buildup in people prone to kidney stones include: spinach, rhubarb, tomatoes, collards, eggplant, beets, celery, summer squash, grapefruit/grapefruit juice, sweet potatoes, peanuts, almonds, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, parsley and cocoa.
- Processed meats and cold cuts — Processed meat can cause the body to excrete calcium, which means more is sent to the kidneys where it can build up and form stones.
- Zinc foods — Some research has found that people who consume more zinc (from foods like pumpkin seeds, cashews, meat or spinach) can increase their odds of having kidney stones. (8)
- Too much vitamin C — While vitamin C has numerous benefits, too much might worsen kidney stones. Research suggests that more than three to four grams of vitamin C per day (such as taking high doses in supplement form) might aggravate kidney stones by contributing to oxalate buildup.
- Caffeine and alcohol — Both are dehydrating and can be difficult to digest, which can make kidney stones worse.
3. Get Regular Exercise
Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises like strength training or various bodyweight exercises, is good for building bone strength and preventing demineralization of your skeletal system. On the other hand, being sedentary can cause bones to release more calcium into the blood, which increases the odds of it accumulating in the kidneys. Sneak more exercise into your day by trying exercise hacks like walking to work, sitting on a stability ball and doing squats during commercials when watching TV.
4. Castor Oil Packs and Hot Compresses
Castor oil has special anti-inflammatory abilities that are useful for relieving pain associated with kidney stone symptoms, like cramping or muscle spasms in the abdomen. You can buy a castor oil pack or make your own by soaking a clean towel in pure castor oil, pressing it onto the kidneys and allowing it to seep into the skin. (9)
Similarly, try pressing a hot compress over the kidneys several times per day to increase blood flow, relax tense muscles and help stones pass more easily. You can soak a towel in hot vinegar to make this even more effective for dulling pain, such as using a 50:50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water.
5. Supplements that Can Help Reduce Kidney Stones
Several supplements that are beneficial if you regularly develop kidney stone symptoms include:
- Magnesium: balances other minerals in the body and prevents magnesium deficiency or electrolyte imbalances. Take about 250 milligrams two times daily in capsule form or as part of a mineral powder supplement.
- B vitamins: B vitamins help reduce calcium and oxalates from accumulating. Take a daily B complex vitamin, especially one that contains at least 50 milligrams of vitamin B6.
- Antioxidant supplement or multivitamin containing vitamin E: also useful for lowering inflammation and reducing calcium and oxalate buildup. Aim to get at least 400 IU of vitamin E daily.
- Cranberry extract: reduces risk for developing urinary tract infections and balances calcium levels. Take 400 milligrams twice daily.
- Aloe vera juice/gel: reduces crystallization of minerals within the urinary tract. Take 1/4 cup daily.
- Essential oils: certain essential oils help the body detoxify itself of built-up heavy metals, toxins and access minerals, including lemon, orange, lime or helichrysum essential oil. Take citrus oils either internally (such as adding two drops of 100 percent pure oil to your water twice daily) or topically by combining several drops with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) and massaging it into the lower abdomen twice daily. Helichrysum oil should only be used on the skin and not ingested.
One thing to avoid is taking calcium supplements or antacids, since these can make matters worse. It’s now believed that calcium-rich foods themselves don’t necessarily contribute much to kidney stones, but calcium from supplements might be linked to increased risk. It’s a better idea to get calcium naturally from foods (like raw dairy products, yogurt, kefir, beans and leafy greens) or speak to your doctor about what you can do if you’re worried about your calcium levels.
The Most Common Causes Of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are made of clusters of minerals, acids and salts in the body that bind to one another inside the kidneys, becoming lodged and sometimes blocking the urinary tract, giving you intense pressure and pain when you try going to the bathroom. Kidney stones form when your urine contains a high level of crystal-forming substances, while at the same time too little of the substances you need to break up crystals and flush minerals from the body. This perfect storm creates the ideal environment for kidney stone formation.
About 80 percent of kidney stones are the type known as calcium stones, which means calcium that’s normally present in the body combines with other substances (oxalates, phosphate or carbonate) to form an abnormally hard stone. In most cases, oxalates are the substance that calcium binds to, which we acquire from certain fruits and vegetables that naturally carry them.
While calcium stones are much more common, sometimes kidney stones can also be caused by the buildup of other acidic salts, such as uric acid. Besides calcium stones, other types of kidney stones include: struvite stones, uric acid stones or cystine stones (the type most tied to hereditary factors).
Why does calcium — or other acids — build up in the body in some people? The main reasons that kidney stones can form include:
- eating a poor diet, especially one that’s high in oxalates (10)
- taking synthetic calcium supplements, which aren’t always absorbed well
- dehydration (11)
- genetic factors (if someone in your immediate family has kidney stones often, you’re more likely to develop them too)
- an abnormal pH balance, meaning the body becomes overly acidic
- having trouble with normal digestion, such as healing from gastric bypass surgery, having an inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea
- food allergies or sensitivities that can affect digestion
- electrolyte imbalances
- medication or drug use
- nutrient and mineral deficiencies
- thyroid disorder (which can cause the thyroid to produce too much parathyroid hormone, which raises calcium levels)
Once a kidney stone forms, it can wind up attaching itself to sites that block the urinary tract, which is usually the primary reason for feeling such intense pain. For some people, struvite stones (the type that are “horn-shaped,” larger than calcium stones and usually more dangerous) form due to chronic urinary tract infections, which is more common in women than in men.
One reason urinary infections can keep developing and forming stones is due to a buildup of ammonia in the urine. Uric acid stones, a byproduct of protein metabolism, can develop in people who are eating a very high-protein diet, those who are recovering from chemotherapy treatments or in rare cases because of genetic factors.
Sometimes the pain can subside, and therefore it might seem like the kidney stone dissolved on its own and is no longer an issue — however this can be problematic because that’s not always the case. In some cases, the blockage hasn’t actually been resolved even though pain has faded and the kidney actually starts to shut down, which left untreated by a doctor can lead to permanent loss of function in that kidney within just a short period. A kidney stone can even rupture if it remains for too long, which is another cause kidney failure.
Takeaways on Kidney Stone Symptoms
With an estimated 10 percent of the population dealing with kidney stones at some point, there are few conditions more common. The reasons vary from genetics to diet to allergies, weight, dehydration, pH levels and more.
No matter the reason, there are five main things you can do to curb your kidney stone symptoms and treat painful kidney stones: stay hydrated, eat a nutrient-dense diet, get regular exercise, try castor oil packs and hot compresses, and add beneficial supplements.
If you try these five kidney stone treatments, you’re sure to relieve your kidney stone symptoms and prevent future stones from forming.