Kidney Stones—Ancient Affliction Still with Us
KIDNEY stones are one of the most ancient afflictions of humankind. Testifying to that fact are mummies and Indian graves of great antiquity. Not only that, but if you have had a bout with kidney stones you know that it can be one of the most painful of all human afflictions.
Ordinarily the pain is caused as a result of the stone’s having lodged in the ureter. This causes excruciating pain in the back or flank and it spreads across the lower part of the body and down to the groin and inner thigh. According to statistics, one percent of all Europeans, Asiatics and Americans are “stone carriers.” In the United States some 200,000 persons are annually hospitalized because of kidney stones.
If you are among those afflicted, most likely you are under forty years of age. And if you have had an attack, then there are four chances out of five that you will not have another. This is especially so if your attack did not require an operation.
In medical terminology, kidney stones come under the heading of “urinary calculi.” The stones may be almost microscopic in size, so-called “sand,” or large enough to fill a whole kidney, and they may be in any part of the urinary system. They are composed of many substances and assume various shapes. In the main there are three kinds of stones, apparently caused by three differing chemical conditions, the most common being the calcium oxalate stones. What initiates the building up of most types of the stones is not known, but certain elements in the urine collect around a nucleus and in time a stone develops.
Just what causes a person to have kidney stones? A specialist speaking at an international symposium on kidney stones said regarding calcium phosphate and calcium oxalate stones, that their “genesis . . . is poorly understood” and their “management quite unsatisfactory.”
However, at the same symposium another speaker stated that the formation of kidney stones was a process involving many factors. Among these factors, he said, were minerals, anatomical, functional, endocrinological disorders and metabolic disturbances (such as overactivity of the parathyroid glands), and those of a bacteriological nature.
And there is considerable evidence that genetic factors are a contributing cause. Thus patients who have the cystine type of kidney stones have been told by certain specialists that it “is not a disease in the ordinary sense. It is a permanent state of affairs due to your having inherited something from both your mother and your father, through no fault of theirs.”
It is also recognized that living conditions have a bearing on the formation of kidney stones. They are far more prevalent in hot and humid areas than in temperate zones. Thus in the southwestern part of the United States the ratio of kidney-stone carriers to population is almost twice that prevailing in the northern areas of the country. A sedentary occupation also seems to favor the formation of kidney stones.
The same can be said of a “higher” standard of living. Thus, among the white population in South Africa, kidney stones are far more frequent than among the native Bantu Africans. This difference may be largely owing to different eating habits. In fact, it is becoming apparent that diet has an important bearing on the formation of kidney stones. For one thing, there has been shown to be a relationship between kidney stones and eating freely of highly seasoned foods, such as Worcestershire sauce (which contains volatile oils and strong spices). Curry is likewise implicated. Thus Fijians whose diet is bland are practically free of kidney stones, whereas natives from India, living on the same island but eating freely of curry, have a high incidence of kidney stones.
Even consuming much carbohydrate-rich food and beverages, such as those containing a lot of sugar, has been shown to have a bearing on the formation of kidney stones. The same is true of eating many dairy products.
What You Can Do
The very consideration of the causes suggests what you can do and what you cannot do as to preventing recurrence of kidney stones. Obviously you can do nothing about the genetic factor itself, but you can compensate for it.
It appears that people in hot and humid climates who do not drink sufficient water to compensate for their profuse sweating are more likely to have kidney stones than those living in moderate climates. So one of the simplest and most effective preventatives is for you to drink a lot of water. In fact, when suffering from a kidney stone attack, the first thing to do is to drink plenty of water. That, together with rest and the use of pain killers, will often bring relief. But in extreme cases, when a ureter becomes blocked by a stone, surgery may be necessary.
If yours is a sedentary occupation, make it a point to get more exercise. In fact, for this reason even patients confined to their beds are urged to move around in bed and not to lie in just one position.
If you tend to form the calcium type of kidney stones, the course of prudence would be to eat sparingly of dairy products such as milk and cheese. And since overindulgence in highly seasoned foods is known to cause kidney stones, use such condiments sparingly.
Among other things being used by specialists to prevent the formation of calcium oxalate stones—the most common kind—is oral magnesium oxide therapy with or without supplemental Vitamin B6. Reports in medical journals tell of physicians having striking success in preventing the recurrence of stones by one or the other of such methods, over a period of years. Of course, all such treatments should be under the direction of a physician fully familiar with that kind of therapy. The same is true of preventing recurrence of certain kidney stones by the use of phosphate salts and antibiotics.
But the simplest and most widely and most strongly urged remedy is for you to drink plenty of water. Physicians have obtained remarkable results by having their patients drink a pint of water every four hours and even breaking their sleep to do so. In fact, that is particularly important, as it seems that kidney stones form especially during the night. Making use of such remedies can do much to keep you from having a second attack.