What Causes Kidney Stones in Women

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What causes kidney stones in women? Passing the stones, crystalized hard deposits derived from certain minerals inside the kidneys, would be so painful. Even this is probably the worst pain after active labor & childbirth. The bad news, it seems the incidence in women is increasing steadily, according to the Mayo Clinic study 2018 [1].

Still, kidney stone disease (nephrolithiasis) is more common in men. It is twice as often in men (especially at 30s of age) as women [2]. But since it’s on the rise in women, it’s not bad idea to understand more about how to prevent and reduce the risk of developing the condition.

Poor hydration is one of the main culprits

There are many types of kidney stones. The major types include calcium oxalate (CAOX, which is the most common type), calcium phosphate (CAP), uric acid, magnesium ammonium phosphate (also called as struvite), and cystine (sulfur-containing amino acid).

Image credit to kidneystones.uchicago.edu

Your kidneys need water (fluid) to flush out unnecessary things from the body properly. Keeping hydrated is important to dilute them in the urine, making crystalized stones more difficult to form.

On the other hand, without enough fluid, you’re likely to have low urine volume. As a result, you would make stones more likely to form in the urinary tract and provoke kidneys dysfunction.

In fact, dehydration is a risk factor for all types of kidney stones. In people who’ve already had stones, drinking adequate water would help reduce their risk of stone recurrence by about half — one randomized trial suggests [3].

So make sure to keep hydrated throughout the day. It’s recommended to drink at least 2.5 liters of water per day, especially for people with a personal medical history of kidney stones, according to the American Urological Association guideline.

Your diet plays a big role

In both genders (men and women), diet does have an effect to increase the risk of nephrolithiasis. This makes sense since what you eat can affect your blood properties.

One common culprit is urine containing high level of calcium. Calcium stones are the most common types of kidney stones. They form when calcium bonds together with oxalate (mostly) or phosphate in the urine [4].

What to remember, many times calcium stones are not associated with how much calcium you consume. However, it’s also important to not get calcium intake too high (higher than normal).

Low calcium diet rarely prevents the stones from forming. Instead, blame it on high dietary oxalate!

Should you restrict foods containing oxalate? For people who have had kidney stones, especially calcium-oxalate stones, diet low in oxalate is a must (ask a doctor for more guidance). However it’s hard to avoid oxalate entirely since many foods (including healthy ones such as vegetables) contain oxalate.

But if you’re really at high risk of developing calcium-oxalate stones, restrict the following foods since they have much more oxalate than others: grits, okra, raspberries, spinach, cashews, beets, cocoa powder, French fries, stevia sweeteners, bran cereals, and rhubarb.

In people with kidney stones, diet to deal with the problem during recovery and after treatment may vary, depending on the type of stones you concern. Work with a professional dietitian for more guidance!

And if you just want to keep the risk at bay (let’s say you haven’t had any stone before) — a golden rule is to eat everything in moderation. Also, say “NO’ for salty foods and highly sugary drinks. Furthermore, restrict animal-protein rich foods (red meats for example).

How about obesity?

Obese people may tend to have imbalance properties in their blood, including some that provoke nephrolithiasis. Obesity is definitely bad for your heart health. This is also bad to the kidneys since both the heart and kidneys can affect each other.

More excess pounds (higher level of BMI), including larger waist size, can increase the risk of developing kidney stones. And the bad news, women are probably more vulnerable to get the stones from this added risk factor, according to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [5].

The study showed that the weight scale of more than 220 pounds in women might have higher risk by about 90 percent than women with 150 pounds or lower. Weight gain also increases the risk in men, but probably it’s not as significant as women have.

In this study, researchers have adjusted other variables (e.g. age, how much they drink (fluid intake), and other dietary factors). And the results showed that excess pounds of weight gain were quite significantly linked to the increased risk of kidney stones.

Would post-menopausal hormones increase your risk?

Menopause, typically occurring at late 40s to early 50s, is a normal part of aging in which menstrual period has completely stopped. We can say it is the end of a woman’s reproductive years.

This phase drives lots of changes in the body, which some may affect your urinary system. For example, it’s quite common for women with menopause experience problems associated with bladder control (urinary incontinence).

There are a few reasons why menopause may cause bladder control issues. One of them could be changes of estrogen level. Estrogen is not only important to regulate your menstrual periods, because it also plays a role to keep the lining of the urethra and bladder healthy.

How about post-menopausal hormones? Do they have an effect to make kidney stones more likely? It’s not clear yet. One meta-analysis study showed there was no strong connection between the risk of nephrolithiasis and post-menstrual hormones [6].

Other medical conditions

Several health conditions would cause kidney stones more likely to form in the female urinary tract [7]. These include: