If you’re like many of my patients, you may have experienced a kidney stone. If so, you know the pain nightmare that they can bring trying to pass them. But, as if that weren’t enough, those kidney stones could be warning you of another possible problem in the future – especially if you’re a woman over age 50. Let me tell you what that health risk is and how you can work now to prevent it from occurring.
What Your Kidney Stones Tell About Your Bones
As people get older, they naturally become at higher risk for bone fractures. There are several reasons for this that don’t involve the number of birthdays you’ve had. One is that, your level of exercise and other physical activity may have dwindled. Without regular exercise, bones may become weaker and more porous, more prone to fractures.
The second reason is that you could have a calcium imbalance. As you might know, calcium is one of the major minerals that help keep your bones, and the rest of you, strong. Without adequate intake of calcium, your body can start to leach calcium out of your bones to use in other body processes. As a result, your bones can’t mineralize properly to stay strong. They start to grow weak and develop an almost Swiss cheese appearance making them prone to fracture.
But on the flip side you may also have too much calcium in your blood and urine. You may have an underlying condition called hypercalcemia where you excrete too much calcium into your blood. This can be the end result of another disorder – hyperparathyroidism, a condition where your parathyroid glands work overtime and create a surplus of calcium in your blood. It’s a condition that’s more common in women.
Your blood filters through your kidneys that work hard to try and remove the excess calcium. What it can clear is dumped into your urine as waste water that exits your body when you urinate. But those filters may not genetically be adequate enough to clear all the calcium. As a result, hypercalciuria – too much calcium in your urine – can result. This condition is responsible for up to 70% of calcium-based kidney stones.
With all that calcium chronically running through your kidneys, stones can form and lodge themselves all along your urinary tract as they try to exit your body. Depending on their size when they’re trying to pass, some may get stuck in the ureters – the tubes leading from your kidneys to your bladder; others can become wedged in your urethra, the tube that leads from your bladder out of your body. You then become painfully aware that you have stones trying to work their way out.
With a large amount of calcium being dumped into your blood from an overactive parathyroid gland, your bones don’t get much calcium either. Most of your calcium stores are literally getting flushed down your toilet each time you urinate. This is a serious condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated before your bones become at risk for a dangerous and/or debilitating fracture.
New research out of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman’s School of Medicine has found a link between serious bone fractures and kidney stones. They found that about 5 years after experiencing kidney stones, you become at much higher risk for osteoporosis and serious bone fractures.
In men with kidney stones, there was a 10% higher risk of serious fractures over a shorter period of their life. The risk was highest in women whose risk ranged from 17% to 52% from age 30 through 70. That’s a life period of about 40 years, the risk getting stronger as a woman gets older.
Bone fractures, especially those of the hip and spine, have a much higher risk of premature death with them. However, recent research out of the Australian Dubbo Osteoporosis Study found that even “distal” type fractures can still up your risk for serious disability, and even a shortened life, through chronic re-fracture.
Distal fracture includes those bones farthest away from the body like wrists, ankles, etc. They can create significant disability in getting around and/or taking care of your personal needs on a daily basis. So, it’s crucial to find out what’s behind your bone weakness and fractures – diet, underlying parathyroid, or another calcium imbalance condition. Even certain drugs can cause you to lose calcium. These can include certain cancer and seizure drugs, antacids, birth control drugs, and higher doses of thyroid medication.
Although hyperparathyroidism can often be a hidden cause of kidney stones, it’s not the only reason. Research has also found that people who take large doses of calcium supplements, and/or regularly get excess calcium through eating a lot of dairy products, also have higher levels of blood and urinary calcium along with higher rates of kidney stones.
In addition, a too high sodium chloride intake can also create too much calcium and kidney stones. Short bowel syndrome can also cause too much calcium to be absorbed into the blood stream with kidney stones developing.
Prevent Kidney Stones and Fractures
There are several things you can do to prevent kidney stones and/or the leach of calcium from your bones.
- Watch sodium intake – limit to about 1200-1600 mg a day. Rebalance sodium by drinking enough water (8 ounces per 1 pound of body weight).
- Watch calcium intake. You don’t need to take additional calcium if you’re getting enough through your diet. Figure out how much calcium you’re getting from your foods. If you don’t eat dairy, you might want to supplement with calcium. But overall intake shouldn’t be more than about 1200-1500 mg a day.
- Be sure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet to balance calcium.
- If you’re a woman over 50, and are developing kidney stones, your doctor may want to check your parathyroid gland function. A simple 24-hour calcium in urine test can tell.
- If you’re a man over 50 developing calcium-based kidney stones you’ll need to monitor the amount of calcium in your diet.
Kidney stones and serious bone fractures are health issues you don’t want to deal with if you can prevent them. They are two conditions that can really sideline you as you get older. Balance your calcium intake from foods and supplements, drink enough water every day, and be sure to get enough exercise to keep bones strong.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
People Who Develop Kidney Stones May Face Increased Bone Fracture Risk, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141023193353.htm
The Deadly News About All Osteoporotic Fractures, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131127110507.htm
Kidney Stones, http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/kidney-stones/causes.html