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Not so fast.
Imagine, if you must, a pea-sized rock traveling ever so slowly through your kidney and then down the tube connecting your kidney to your bladder. Each time the pebble makes any progress, the tube - called the urethra - gets gouged, resulting in a sharp, excruciating, widespread ache. All the while, your urine is backing up.
Not in a sweat yet? Then picture the stone slowly pushing its way down your urethra - yes, the tube that goes through you-know-what - until it is finally, and this could be a whole month later, shot from your body during urination. Now that's pain - pain that can cause nausea and vomiting.
This instrument of torture is called a kidney stone, and about 15% of men will get one at some point in their lives. They are, unquestionably, the kingpins of internal ache. It's the worst pain a man can have. Women who've had them say they'd rather go through natural childbirth again than have another kidney stone. It feels like a knife that's being twisted inside you.
Kidney stones hurt, but they're often not serious. As long as there isn't an infection, you can wait weeks or even months for a small stone to pass on its own.
Heading Off Pain at the Pass
Here's the important part: Kidney stones are easily prevented. Here are some steps that could stop a stone from developing.
Drink Your Troubles Away: The more liquid you chug, the more urine you'll produce, which means stone-forming substances won't have as great a chance to build up in the first place. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day: two at each meal and one in-between.
Cut back on meat: Many guys don't consider it a real meal until they've sunk their teeth into a juicy rib eye or sirloin. But men who eat more animal protein, which includes lower-fat meats, like chicken, are at greater risk of forming stones because animal protein does three things. It increases urinary calcium secretion and increases uric acid secretion, both of which contribute to stones. And, it lowers urinary citrate, which inhibits stone formation. The recommended daily meat intake is 2 1/2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish.
Pass on the salt: The kidney handles salt and calcium in parallel. If it's motivated to excrete high amounts of salt, that will be paralleled with high amounts of calcium in the urine.
Peel some bananas: Potassium, a nutrient found in fruits like bananas, cantaloupe and apricots, and in vegetables, like lima beans and potatoes, has been linked with a lower incidence of kidney stones. On the other hand, you want to avoid foods with stone-forming oxalates, which include beets, spinach, peanuts and chocolate. Some studies suggest vitamin B6, which is found in kidney beans and sunflower seeds, could have anti-stone effects, but the jury is still out.
Got milk? In the past, doctors have directed men with stones to restrict their calcium intake. They argued that since most stones are calcium based, dietary calcium could only make matters worse. But a Harvard-based study completed in 1993 shows just the opposite might be true. In a four-year study of 45,000 men ages 40 to 75, they found that men who consumed more than four glasses of milk a day had a nearly 50 percent lower risk of developing kidney stones during the next four years than men who consumed less than two glasses a day worth of calcium. The recommendations is three gasses a day or 800 milligrams.
If the stone won't roll
For the most part, treatment of stones is limited to a regimen of medication, fluids, and diet. Once the stone is passed, a day's collection of urine can be tested for mineral makeup and, based on the results, a doctor can prescribe a medication in some cases.
But in about 10% of cases, doctors have to intervene and break up a stubborn kidney stone when it just can't be passed. The most common method if noninvasive lithotripsy, in which sound waves are used to do the deed. With this procedure, you're partially submerged in water while a machine sends shock waves through the water than pulverize the stones. A more recent development is a lithotriptor that doesn't require immersion in water.
In a small number of cases, stones are just too hard or bulky to
crush with sound waves. Only 1% of all doctor-intervened cases
involves open surgery.
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