Kidney stones, or renal calculi, are masses made of crystals and are extremely common and very painful.
The most common symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Painful Urination
- Bloody Urine
- Lower Back Ache
- Repeated urge to urinate
It’s important to note that kidney stones have a tendency to recur in patients.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are formed when high concentrations of certain minerals in the urine crystallize to form hard masses i.e. the stones.
These stones could contain calcium, uric acid and oxalates and usually get lodged along the urinary tract and obstruct the flow of urine, resulting in unbearable pain. The pain is intermittent, overwhelming and lasts until the last stone passes out naturally or is removed surgically.
Can Calcium Supplements Increase Risk of Kidney Stones?
In an extensive research conducted by Cleveland Clinic, it was found that calcium supplementation did increase the probability of kidney stone formation. A comparison of urine samples before and after calcium supplementation of 1486 patients indicated that that post supplementation, the urine samples contained lower levels of calcium and oxalate. This hinted that the calcium from the supplements was probably being turned into stones in the kidney rather than being passed out in the urine. It has also been noted in several studies that the intake of calcium through foods does not seem to cause kidney stones.
Can You Take Calcium Supplements and Yet Avoid Kidney Stones?
Yes. Taking your calcium supplement with oxalate-rich meals (lunch and dinner) may help you reduce the risk of stones greatly. Calcium stones are formed when calcium supplements are taken away from food. But many of our foods like green vegetables and fruits contain oxalates, a group of chemicals that the calcium should ideally combine within the intestines and allow the body to absorb the mineral for all the right purposes – strong bones, teeth, heart health, etc.
What Does Research Say?
Research conducted on 91,731 nurses over a 12-year period found that while the women who used calcium supplements indeed had a higher risk of kidney stones, most of them were all taking their supplements separately from their meals.
Researchers of the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine felt that this risk might be reduced by consuming the supplements with meals, particularly meals which contain the most oxalates, i.e., lunch and dinner.
Another study showed that supplementing with magnesium and potassium citrate can protect people with a history of kidney stones from forming fresh calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Important Advice to All Calcium Supplement Users
Calcium supplements are frequently prescribed to men and women above the age of 50, especially to menopausal and postmenopausal women as they are more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis and fractures.
For such people, it is critical to follow the guidelines given below:
- Always take your calcium supplements with your main meals of the day.
- Make sure the calcium supplement is balanced by vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium in the right balance. This prevents the calcium from going to the places it does not belong – to form kidney stones or to harden your arteries.
- The U.S. National Institutes of Health suggests a minimum of 2-3 litres of water per day in order to prevent kidney stones.
- Reduce excess sodium from processed foods or table salt
Don’t abruptly terminate your calcium supplement but instead use the safety guidelines mentioned above and supplement wisely. It may also make more sense to inform your doctor if you have a history of kidney stones and take the necessary precautions to not let further stones form.