The times, they are a 'changing. Until recently, the diseases of childhood meant chicken pox, measles, mumps and the like; but lately, large numbers of kids are getting such "adult diseases" as diabetes, hypertension, and now, kidney stones. In fact, enough children get kidney stones these days that hospitals such as Johns Hopkins are establishing dedicated pediatric kidney stone clinics. That's not a joke! Really, pediatric kidney stone clinics.
Dr. Caleb P. Nelson, who directs such a pediatric clinic at Children's Hospital in Boston, comments: "The older doctors would say in the '70s and '80s, they'd see a kid with a stone once every few months. Now we see kids once a week or less." (In southern states, the rate is two to three times higher. Hmm! I wonder if diet plays a role?) Also, until recently those few children who did present with kidney stones usually had hereditary disorders such as Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, but now 50 percent of new cases have no hereditary disorder causing the problem.
What's provoking the spike in the painful condition? Most likely the same old culprits I usually harp on -- poor diet and bad lifestyle choices. According to Dr. Nelson, "Proposed reasons [for the increased incidence of pediatric kidney stones] include sedentary lifestyle, obesity increase, and processed high-salt diets."
When the kidneys function properly, they process blood as it flows into them, removing waste and potential toxins, balancing key hormones and biochemicals, and maintaining the proper level of acidity in the body -- creating urine as a byproduct. Healthy kidneys cleanse and balance the blood, maintain blood pressure, regulate fluids in the body, sustain the body's pH, and produce hormones needed for bone and blood formation. But for the kidneys to work correctly, they can't be overtaxed by poor diet and toxic exposure, and they need a sufficient amount of water (not soda pop) to help in flushing out waste. When the kidneys don't function optimally, sludge builds up and eventually it can cause stones to form.
Sodium overload presents one of the worst dietary issues from the point of view of kidney function, as Dr. Nelson points out. That's because salt increases the amount of oxalate (a food byproduct) and calcium in the urine, and when oxalate and calcium bind, they create a sludge that resides in the kidneys. Eventually, calcium stones can form. These constitute about 75 percent of all stones. Other types of stones, such as uric acid stones, also form from poor dietary practices.
Kids take in sodium from myriad sources, more now than ever. They get sodium not just from junk foods like chips and fries, but also from mainstay processed foods such as canned soups and luncheon meats, and from popular sports drinks like Gatorade, which contains between 450 and 800 milligrams of sodium per liter, depending on the product. (Seriously, check the label.) The high sugar content -- 56 grams per liter -- doesn't do the kidneys any good, either. (Note: the salt issue, although important, isn't quite as simple as Dr. Nelson would have you believe.)
There's also the fact that many children are chronically dehydrated (in spite of the popularity of the problematic sports drinks), so they aren't supplying enough water to the kidneys for the necessary flushing. When they do drink, if they're not guzzling Gatorade, is dehydrating liquids such as caffeine-based sodas.
Beyond sodium and chronic dehydration, there's the extraordinary burden placed on the kidneys by dietary and chemical excesses. Too much meat, sugar and processed food give the kidneys a workout. Protein and chemicals from medications and toxic exposure can build up, slowing kidney function, increasing acidity and raising blood pressure.
Of course, the same provisos that apply to children also apply to adults, who doctors claim commonly get kidney stones at younger ages than in years past. Studies confirm that diet and excess weight are to blame. One study found that men who gained 35 pounds since early adulthood increased their risk of developing stones by 40 percent, and women who gained that much weight increased their risk by a whopping 80 percent! Although no pediatric studies have been completed connecting weight gain to kidney stones, it makes sense that the same conditions would apply in the case of children.
Although stones cause plenty of pain, pain is not the ultimate problem: it's the fact that stones indicate the kidneys aren't working correctly. Kidneys that aren't working properly cause high blood pressure and damage to other organs. And stones in the kidney's cause inflammation to kidney tissue, which ultimately leads to the destruction of that tissue and of the kidney itself. To avoid kidney problems so early in life (and this applies to you):
- Make sure to stay hydrated with water. If drinking enough, the urine will be pale yellow.
- Eat a balanced diet heavy on vegetables and fruits. Try to eat completely vegetarian at least a few days a week; avoid processed and fatty foods; cut back on salt; and reduce toxic exposure. Note: don't overdo foods that contain large amounts of oxalate, which in some cases can promote the development of kidney stones. Eight foods have been identified as being most likely to raise urine oxalate levels. They are rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, chocolate, wheat bran, nuts, beets, and tea.
- And you might want to ask your pediatrician about trying an herbal formula that breaks up kidney stones and sludge and flushes it out of the body. Check out www.jonbarron.org/detox/barron-report-kidney-blood-cleansing. This can be remarkably effective.