Gallstones and kidney stones that form in your body can start out as small as a grain of sand and be quite harmless. Left untreated, though, they can grow over months and years to the size of a golf ball and cause extreme pain.
Kidney stones, made up of minerals and other substances that can’t dissolve, develop in the urinary system. Gallstones, clusters of solid material, such as hardened cholesterol, form in the gallbladder. Trapped stones can form blockages that lead to potentially fatal infections. Although medical disorders beyond your control can trigger these stones to form, you can decrease your chances of developing either kind of stone by taking these steps.
Keep kidney stones at bay by drinking at least two and a half quarts of fluid, mostly water, a day. (Add another quart if you have a history of kidney stones.) Urine should be pale in color. Limit “hard” tap water and bottled waters with a high mineral content. Drinking water also helps keep you full and eases food cravings so you can maintain a healthy weight—important for preventing gallstones.
Sound nutrition helps keep your weight in check and your energy up so you can exercise. Being obese or overweight, cycling your weight up and down or trying fad diets that cause rapid weight loss all put you at risk for gallstones. Get adequate fiber and some healthy fat (but not more than 30 percent of total calories) to cut your risk for gallstones.
If you suffer from kidney stones, talk to your doctor about your dietary needs. If your kidney stones are made up of calcium-oxalate (a substance in the urine that forms stones when it crystallizes), your doctor may recommend that you eat fewer oxalate-rich foods such as spinach, beets, strawberries, nuts and nut butters. Limit salt, which in excessive amounts can increase the amount of kidney-stone–forming calcium.
Sedentary lifestyles can cause your bones to release more calcium, which can build up and contribute to kidney stone formation. Regular exercise also helps you keep your weight in check or lose weight wisely (without fad diets) if you need to.
If you’ve already had one kidney stone, there’s a good chance you’ll develop another. Take medication as prescribed and seek treatment if any type of pain develops.