I wrote here on how the Standard American Diet generally contributes to the formation of kidney stones, due to its acidity. The bottom line from a dietary standpoint is to avoid processed, prepackaged foods, eat whole foods the way God made them, and drink plenty of water.
But is there anything else that can be done to prevent kidney stone formation, or even to help them dissolve once they’re there?
Identify Where High Oxalates Are Coming From (If You Have Them)
It’s often recommended that those prone to calcium oxalate stones (the most common type of kidney stones) should follow a low oxalate diet. This is good, short-term advice… but the question remains, why are your oxalates high in the first place? I wrote here on possible causes.
If your stones are calcium oxalate, it’s best to minimize your Vitamin C intake until you’ve fixed the problem, as this increases oxalate excretion.
Interestingly enough, increasing dietary calcium actually decreases the risk of stone formation. This is because calcium in food binds with oxalates in food, preventing absorption. Whole foods high in calcium include leafy greens, broccoli, dairy, nuts, seeds, and brown rice. Supplementing with calcium citrate also helps bind the oxalates in food, enabling their excretion in stool (see more on citrate below).
Vitamin E also protects against calcium oxalate deposition in the kidneys in the meantime as well.
Vitamin B6 also leads to lower oxalate levels. This is because it is a cofactor for a liver enzyme (AGT) which converts the precursor for oxalates (glyoxylate) into the amino acid glycine, preventing it from turning into oxalates instead.
Increase Fluid Intake Generally (Just Not Soda)
The job of the kidneys is largely to maintain electrolyte balance in the bloodstream, filtering any excess from the blood and dumping it into the urine (or else reabsorbing it from the blood if levels are too low, such that urine electrolyte concentrations fall).
So think of adding any solid granule, like salt or sugar, to water. If you add enough of it, it’ll precipitate out of solution. But if you then add more water to the solution, you can usually put the precipitate back into solution.
The same process is happening in your kidneys: the more concentrated the urine, the more likely you are to end up with precipitates, which can turn into stones. This is why, the more fluid you drink, the less prone you will be to stone formation—with one major exception.
Most kidney stones (75-85%) are made of either calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. Soda is high in phosphate, which is the other half of calcium phosphate, and also of the far less common magnesium ammonium phosphate stones. Because of this, soda is associated with an increased risk of stone formation—but nearly every other kind of fluid (including coffee and alcohol oddly enough), are associated with a decreased risk.
Increase Citrus Consumption
Fruits (and juices) containing citrate or citric acid are particularly helpful in preventing and even dissolving kidney stones. This is because citrate binds to calcium, so that it’s not available to precipitate out of solution in the kidneys.
This study compares potassium citrate as a supplement to drinking lemonade, and finds that the two treatments over a period of 42.5 months are nearly equivalent in terms of raising urinary citrate levels.
(The main concern I might have with this approach is that lemonade is typically very high in sugar, which is itself acidic and can create new problems. But stevia-sweetened lemonade might work great, or else adding lemon juice to your water.)
This animal study showed that lemon juice not only succeeds in raising urinary citrate levels, but that it also translates into reduced calcium oxalate deposition in the kidneys.
Orange juice works for this too, as it is also high in citric acid.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to help dissolve kidney stones via acetic acid.
There are a number of other potential health benefits to adding ACV to your diet as well. I usually recommend 1-2 tsps in water, daily or per meal, depending upon the goal.
Essential Fatty Acids
Everyone should be on an essential fatty acid supplement, in my opinion. They help protect the cell membranes and decrease inflammation.
This study also shows that in a period of just 30 days, those who took omega-3 fatty acids showed decreased urinary oxalate excretion.
While it’s possible to get EFAs through your food, there are a number of possible, increasingly common reasons why your body might not effectively utilize those EFAs.
Black Seed Oil
According to this study, black seed oil at 500 mg twice daily for 10 weeks had significant positive effects upon decreasing stone size and facilitating excretion, compared to placebo.
Chanca Piedra (Stone Breaker)
Chanca piedra (also called phyllanthus niruri) is the herb I probably use most often for this purpose. It earned its name because of its effects upon kidney stones. This study shows that the herb helps to eliminate existing kidney stones, or to clear out any remaining fragments after lithotripsy, without side effects.
Chanca piedra also decreases urinary oxalate and uric acid.
The best treatment for kidney stones is prevention, of course: eat whole foods and particularly plenty of broccoli, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds for the calcium, and citrus fruits for the citric acid (or add a dash of lemon juice to your water). Drink half your body weight in ounces daily in water.
It’s also possible to naturally dissolve kidney stones too, though—and to identify and address the reason for their formation in the first place, so that they don’t recur.