That is the attractive get-up I got to sport several times when I visited the hospital for x-rays, ultrasounds and surgeries. I loved the cozy socks they give you that go up to your knees, but I could take or leave the robe! Since my last post I’ve had several tests done and results analyzed to figure out why my body is producing kidney stones. I have learnt a lot over the past six months about the renal system and I feel I have a much greater appreciation for the complexities of various systems in my body and how a small stone can cause so much disruption!

I know several people have asked to learn more about how kidney stones are formed and how to prevent them, so I thought I would write out what I’ve learnt. However, please note that this information is specific to my case. Although much of the information is applicable to other cases, it’s important to ask your doctor to have appropriate tests done to know what is the root cause of your stones.

The most common form of kidney stones is calcium oxalate, with calcium phosphate coming close behind. Stones are formed in the kidney when there are high levels of calcium and oxalate or phosphate present. For various reasons, sometimes when these minerals are absorbed they end up in the kidneys, rather than other areas of the body where they can be used. The calcium and oxalate/phosphate bind to one another in the kidney which form stones. Some stones are small and are passed undetected, while others remain in the kidneys and are never excreted. However, sometimes the stones become large and are either painfully passed through the renal system or need to be removed through surgery or medication.

Through some tests I found out that my body is excreting extremely high amounts of oxalates. Oxalates are found in a lot of foods, but they are particularly high in several foods including dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards) beets, nuts, coffee, tea, and dark chocolate. These foods are not unhealthy on their own, but when your body is not digesting them properly this can affect your oxalate levels. You can reduce the the risk of kidney stones by monitoring your intake of these foods. However, I have done more research on oxalate levels and it also matters how these foods are prepared. As some of you know, I typically have a green smoothie every morning for breakfast. This would typically involve several cups of raw greens along with some fruit and other vegetables. I loved starting my day with these green smoothies, but I should have headed the advice of “everything in moderation”. Raw greens have high nutritional density, but they can be hard on your body to digest. Therefore in some circumstances, especially those who are susceptible to kidney stones, it is better for  to steam greens to aid in the digestion process. Moving forward, I’ve reduced how often I am having green smoothies, I am rotating my greens that are in the smoothies and I am also steaming them beforehand to help my body digest them more easily.

Citric acid or citrate is found in lemon juice and is a helpful compound that helps break down oxalates. My doctor recommended putting lemon juice in my water to help break down the oxalates in my stomach before it reaches my kidneys. Lemon juice also helps aid other digestion processes and helps balance the ph levels in the body, so even if you don’t have a history of kidney stones it’s good to do! I researched if lemon essential oils had citrate in them, since I commonly put it in my water. However, I found out that the essential oil is made from the rind of the lemon, therefore it does not have any citric acid in it. It still has important health benefits, but not for the purpose I am looking for.

The last recommendation my doctor had was to increase the amount of calcium supplements I am taking. At first this seemed counter-intuitive to me, but it turns out by increasing your calcium intake you increase the likelihood that the calcium and oxalates will bind in your stomach, rather than in your kidneys. By binding in your stomach instead, you’ll just poop them out!

Throughout this whole process, I learnt that despite having mostly healthy habits, I need to be aware of the variety in my diet as well as the frequency of foods. The above dietary modifications are specific to those who are prone to kidney stones, but I still think it’s good to take a hard look at what you’re frequently putting in your body. Sometimes I get in a slump where I prepare the same handful of meals over and over again because it’s easy and I don’t have to think about it. However, I’ve learnt that variety is important and I need to continue to challenge myself to incorporate new things. I am definitely a person who likes routine and consistency, but perhaps this whole things was a kick in the rear to let me know I need to step outside of my routine a bit more often!

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