Kidney Stones

Formation of stones in the kidney or the urinary tract is a frequent problem, affecting 5-10% of Americans in their lifetimes (Pak, 1993).  They develop when substances like calcium oxalate or phosphate, uric acid, magnesium phosphate etc.  are too concentrated in the urine.  Eventually they precipitate out, forming crystals that eventually become stones.  This can be very painful, as the stones move down the urinary tract or out of the kidney via the ureters, and is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention.

There is some evidence that kidney stones are less prevalent in vegetarians, perhaps the result of a more acidic meat based diet leading to more free calcium.  As well, some doctors advise against higher doses of vitamin D3 because there is some weak evidence that increased vitamin D3 increases formation of kidney stones. However, stronger evidence shows that high fluid intake, plenty of fresh fruits and veggies (potassium and magnesium) strongly reduce stone formation.

Therefore, according to the vitamin D council, it is important that people taking vitamin D3 pay attention to water intake and diet to neutralize this kidney stone risk. Considering that higher doses of vitamin D3 have many, many other benefits, including cancer protection, my opinion is that it is best to take it and make the necessary dietary changes so you get the benefits of D3 and the benefits of water, fruits and veggies without increasing the risk of kidney stones.

A protein called osteopontin is a key factor in regulation of bone formation and kidney stones.  Addition of vitamin K2 therefor makes a lot of sense when there is a tendency to form stones because animal studies have found that it upregulates the expression of this protein in the kidneys. Vitamin K2 in conjunction with another protein called osteocalcin basically helps to transport calcium from the bloodstream to bind into and thus stengthen bones. Note that vitamin K2 is found in large amounts in green vegetables, so the dietary suggestions above have a solid scientific basis.

Prevention of Stones

Treatment with varuna bark makes the urine less likely to form stones (Varalakshmi et al., 1990), because it reduces calcium excretion and increases magnesium and sodium excretion (Malini et al., 1995).  It can be used as a tincture, or made as a decoction.  Bruise and boil four ounces of the bark in 1.5 pints of water until it boils down to one pint.  Strain and cool.  Use two ounces two to three times per day (Nadkarni, 1954).

Beggar-lice (jin qian cao or Desmodium styracifolium) gets its name from the small, loose fruits, which cling to clothing.  Japanese researchers have discovered a compound in the plant that decreases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine and increases the amount of citrate excreted, substantially decreasing the likelihood of kidney stone formation (Duke, 1999).

Lemon juice is a very inexpensive form of citrate, and four ounces per day provide sufficient concentration to increase urinary citrate levels and lower urinary calcium excretion.

Also important if you have a tendency to form stones:

• Drink more water
• Cut back on caffeine
• Go easy on sugar
• Avoid phosphoric acid in sodas
• Avoid high oxalate foods like chard, rhubarb, beets, parsley, coffee, spinach, cocoa and black tea
• Take extra magnesium (200-400 mg) and vitamin B6 (100 mg) every day
• Increase fiber in the diet

Treatment of Stones with TCM

Treatment of existing kidney stones is only possible if the stones are small enough. For larger stones I refer the patient to a qualified urologist.  However, using TCM herbs in the case of larger stones can soften sharp edges and make passage les problematic.

A formula is made based on signs and symptoms with some of the major herbs being Lysimachia herb (jin qian cao / L. christinae) to soften the stones, Capillaris herb (yin chen hao / Artemisia capillaris) to remove heat and dampness , Akebia stem (mu tong / A.trifoliata – note: aristolochia species can mistakenly be subsituted for this herb, and should never be used) to drain heat and stimulate urination, and Plantago seed (che qian zi / P. ovata) to help the kidney expel heat toxins.  A unique herb added to TCM formulas is Lygodium spore which is very “slippery. ” During urination, it is thought to coat the stones and allow them slip out more easily and with less pain.