It can be confusing to know what foods or drinks cause kidney stones. If you have calcium oxalate stones, for example, you need to eliminate many high oxalate foods. You may have also heard from your doctor or a website that you should reduce animal protein such as meat. But what about milk and other dairy products? Does milk give you kidney stones?
Calcium Oxalate Stones, Calcium, and Dairy
There are several varieties of kidney stones, with calcium oxalate stones being the most common. These stones form when calcium binds to substances called oxalates, which are found in many common foods. People suffering from calcium oxalate stones are advised to avoid or reduce their intake of foods such as spinach, almonds, beets, raspberries, and many other common foods that are high in oxalate.
Many people assume that they need to reduce calcium in their diet as well as oxalates. This includes dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, the relationship between dietary calcium and kidney stones is more complicated. It turns out that getting enough calcium is actually essential for preventing kidney stones. Studies show that consuming dairy and other high calcium foods actually reduces the risk of kidney stones.
The reason for this has to do with how calcium binds with oxalates. It’s not calcium itself, which is an essential mineral, that is the problem. It’s where the calcium is and how it’s absorbed. Having too much calcium in your urine contributes to kidney stones. When you eat calcium, however, your body digests it along with oxalates. If you have a calcium deficiency, on the other hand, the body has to release calcium from bones, which can cause calcium excretions in the urine. In addition, oxalates are not properly absorbed and enter the urine.
The bottom line is that you should make sure you get sufficient calcium in your diet, including milk and other dairy products. This is true for all types of kidney stones.
The Best Sources of Dietary Calcium
Calcium is found in many foods aside from milk and dairy. However, many foods that are high in calcium are also high in oxalate. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, soybeans, and many legumes fall into this category. As these are foods you need to reduce with calcium oxalate stones, they aren’t the best source of calcium. You are better off getting your calcium from milk and other dairy.
Should You Take Calcium Supplements?
While calcium from milk and other dairy products is recommended for kidney stones, the same isn’t true for calcium supplements. Calcium in supplement form isn’t absorbed the same way as dietary calcium and can contribute to the formation of calcium oxalate stones. Calcium supplements do not bind to oxalates the way dietary calcium does. Hence, both the calcium and oxalates can pass into the urine and form calcium oxalate stones.
Alternatives For Those Who Don't Drink Milk
Can drinking too much milk cause kidney stones? The evidence says no, that drinking milk is actually helpful for kidney stones. You may, however, have other reasons for not drinking milk or limiting your intake of dairy. For example, if you are lactose-intolerant or choose to follow a vegan diet, you need to make adjustments. Some people who have trouble digesting milk can tolerate yogurt or lactose-free milk. Vegans have more of a challenge. Seaweed and other sea vegetables can be good sources of calcium that are also low in oxalate.
There are also many milk substitutes on the market. However, if you’re on a low oxalate diet, you need to be careful. Soy milk and almond milk are both high in oxalates. You do, however, have other options such as coconut milk, oat milk, and hemp milk. Both hemp and oat milk are also good sources of calcium.
Can We Drink Milk in Kidney Stone Diets?
Most people with kidney stones have no reason to avoid milk. If you want to follow a healthy diet that helps stones pass and prevents them in the future, it’s important to get sufficient calcium from your diet. Milk and dairy products are one of the best sources of dietary calcium.