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Remember Rene Russo’s Italian Riviera colored smoothie in the Thomas Crown Affair? The enticing blue-green concoction that made many of us decide—then and there—that we wanted whatever she’s having? While I began drinking green smoothies, I must have used the wrong recipe.

Instead of having a man on my arm like Pierce Brosnan, I wound up with kidney stones.

A couple of years ago I switched from my usual breakfast of Shredded Wheat or Grape Nuts, with almond milk, no sugar, to a slice of Whole Foods’s cranberry walnut bread with almond butter—no added sugar or salt—plus a smoothie made with almond milk, Amazing Grass’s plant based protein powder, a banana, blackberries, strawberries and copious amounts of spinach or kale. It was filling and carried me through the morning and sometimes into the late afternoon.

Everything was great until what felt like lightening passed through my midriff in the middle of the night. I bolted upright—out of a deep sleep—and screamed. It was one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced. The first thing that came to mind was when my oncologist said I didn’t need to come back every six months for a checkup.

“If your cancer recurs,” he said. “You’ll find it before I do. It will be a sharp pain that wakes you in the middle of the night.”

Once I began thinking about his comment, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Since I carry one of the BRCA breast cancer genes, breast cancer can recur in my pancreas, and at 1:40 am I realized the pancreas was somewhere in the vicinity of my excruciating pain. For the next four hours I laid there and replayed this information and wondered if my breast cancer had metastasized, and how would I get through it without someone here to lean on? 

When morning came I called my doctor who scheduled a number of tests, that day, including a urinalysis and an ultrasound. Thank you, God! It was only kidney stones!

Who knew spinach and kale caused kidney stones in some people, even young, healthy females? Dark green leafy vegetables—like spinach and kale—are oxalate-rich foods and can bind together with calcium and crystallize. Coincidently I’d upped my daily dose of calcium. These crystals can build up into hard little masses in the kidney and get stuck there… or elsewhere in the urinary tract… until you “pass them,” which means they exit in your urine. The pain I felt that night was one of those little suckers exiting my kidney.

Since then I’ve had another kidney stone, but I’ve learned they can be prevented by making modest changes in my diet. I’ve stopped eating kale, spinach and “brown things” like coffee, tea, colas and chocolate… Chocolate’s the only brown thing I eat. I’m also drinking more water.

So while I don’t see a Pierce Brosnan in my future—there aren’t many of those out there anyway—I’m still drinking smoothies every morning, just not with kale or spinach.

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  1. I’ve always been suspicious of green drinks. For one thing some have quite a bit of sugar. I drink plenty of water. It doesn’t make your body work too hard and is the best cleanser. In the afternoon a little green tea. It seems to do the trick. So glad it wasn’t more serious.

    • Hi Rebecca, It seems as though there’s always some new health study that results in “a trendy” change to our diet, so I know what you mean about being suspicious of them. The pre-made green drinks you can buy may have lots of sugar, but if you make them yourself, you can control what you put in there. xoxo, Brenda

    • Dating After 50, Since we’re comprised of mainly water, drinking water is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. As we age our bodies respond in not so nice ways if we’re dehydrated. I know about that one as well… Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s great to see you here, Brenda

  2. Holy Crap who knew? I hate when you are doing something healthy and it backfires. I hate the Kale so I feel justified, Ha! Glad you are feeling better and modified your diet.

    • LOL! Holy Crap is right, Haralee. I will say I was eating more than “a serving” of kale/spinach, daily, in my smoothies. Unfortunately I’ve always had a tendency for “if a little bit’s good, a whole lot more is better,” so I shouldn’t be surprised. xoxo, Brenda

  3. I have to agree with Rebecca, too. I drink lots of water and, sometimes, too much because I have to go to the bathroom at least twice a night. I’ve never been a fan of kale, either.

    • Barbara, By itself or in a salad, kale’s not my thing either, but you don’t know it’s there in a smoothie. Interesting you mention water and the bathroom twice a night because my doctor and I were just talking about that. We should stop drinking water a few hours before we go to sleep because it’s important for us to get our refreshing, refueling REM sleep, and bathroom trips can short circuit that. xoxo, Brenda

  4. Oh my goodness, that’s so frightening! Thank you for sharing, and I’m so glad you’re okay, at least not anything more serious than the stones.

    I’ve always been suspicious of the non-stop “leafy greens” push. As much as I love a terrific seasonal salad, I just don’t see the benefit in consuming anything in huge quantities – including water, which makes me nauseous at the 5-6 glass mark, or kale, or coconut oil, or bran, whatever the thing of the day happens to be. I think eating a little bit of a few quality things is a better guideline than even the “not too much, mostly plants” mantra – some days plants are revolting, other days they’re all I eat. Adjusting my shopping and cooking for what is actually appetizing to me and makes me feel well has been enlightening. A simple roast chicken with leeks and carrots is tonight’s menu – no salad, no dessert, etc. This isn’t a hotel, we’re not on vacation, and we’re not high performance athletes. A little protein and a little side are sufficient. I think the current obsession with variety has actually made it more difficult for many people to eat properly, and is causing as many health problems as processed and manufactured foods are accused of doing. Not to mention the waste of unused ingredients. Thanks again for sharing, Happy and HEALTHY New Year!

    • Happy, Healthy New Year to you as well Bayboxwood. While I understand the nutrient needs of a well balanced died, I went overboard with too much kale/spinach. At least I’m not eating too much sugar or too many carbs, which turns to sugar. Inflammation is caused by too much sugar and can create heart disease and diabetes. I see so many men carrying around these giant stomachs, like they’ve got a Volkswagen Beetle strapped around their midriff. They are a health crisis waiting to happen! Your dinner sounds delicious! I appreciate your awesome comment, Brenda

  5. Dang! We get it coming and going! “Eat lots of leafy greens….Take calcium” Who knew it could backfire? I’m so glad you’re ok.

    • Val, I know!! So frustrating when what we think is good for us turns out not to be our friend… In all fairness to kale/spinach… I was eating WAY TOO MUCH! Thank you for reading and leaving me a comment. I always appreciate you. xoxox, Brenda

  6. My friend’s heart attack was caused by: CALCIUM. She had been taking supplements, along with a 10km run each day. She was the fittest woman on the cardiac ward. Blood pressure was perfect, no high cholesterol, perfect weight, lots of exercise. She was the last person you would consider to be a heart attack candidate. But when they did the tests and the stent, they found calcified arteries due to calcium. She actually died and came back to life, but has now got a serious neurological condition and has had to retire completely from work and all forms of fitness except walking. In short: watch what you take! My husband researches nutritional theories, and now we are taking COQ10 and Vitamin K2* which helps to keep the calcium in your bones and not in your arteries. *This only our own personal routine, and not qualified medical advice. Best Xxxx

    • Hi TJ, That’s shocking about your friend! It’s frustrating and downright deadly when we discover the “good things” we’ve been doing is bad for health. Thanks for the info about keeping the calcium in our bones. I will research that. Thanks! Brenda

  7. Oh my gosh, Brenda!! Who would have dreamed? And I’m sorry you had to lay there for hours wondering and thinking… Of course we remember every fact we know that could possibly be relevant about cancer at that point. 🙂 Very thankful it was less serious, but that’s as painful as it gets from what I hear! Grateful you are doing better, and I think you deserve a Pierce Brosnan for all you went through! 😉

    • Dear Beckye, It was a lonely, thought provoking few hours that night that’s for sure. LOL! If “a Pierce Brosnan” walks by, I’ll make sure to introduce myself. Thanks for your well wishes! xoxox, Brenda

    • Hi Amy, The pain from kidney stones makes me think it’s a little bit like getting electrocuted. Sharp, intensely sharp, electric pains! Not sure if my comment posted to your blog, but I love your long coat. Thanks for reading and leaving me a note! Brenda

  8. Doreen!! Yikes! That’s a great rule of thumb to know. I weigh 150 lbs. That’s nine, 8 ounce glasses a day or about 72 ounces. I drink only about 40. Perhaps I should lose some weight!! xoxox, Brenda

  9. Note: The four tiny parathyroid glands are located behind the thyroid (they aren’t the thyroid).

    Glad to know that’s not a problem!

  10. Oh my gosh! Well, there’s some perspective for you – kidney stones are awful until you compare them to pancreatic cancer! I had an attack of gout back in the summer – oxylate crystals being the culprit as well – from all the healthy food I was eating! The pain was excruciating, and I felt so betrayed;) I’ve recently discovered your blog and really enjoy it. Thanks from a new fan in Kentucky.

    • Hi Mary Katherine!! Funny all the side effects we can have from eating healthy. Who knew? I hope you don’t have experience with pancreatic cancer. I’m happy you discovered my blog. Kentucky is some place I’ve always wanted to visit. I hear it’s beautiful. Thanks for leaving me a comment. I look forward to getting to know you. Brenda

  11. Best SMOOTHIE via MEDICAL MEDIUM is WILD FROZEN BLUE BERRI,ES One banana, and 5 Frozen cherries……OR REAL.
    The Blue Berries have to be “WILD”.I get mine at TRADER JOES.

    • Elizabeth, I’ve made this smoothie, and it’s great. Don’t know about “wild” blueberries although when I visit friends in Maine I always fix us a “wild” Maine blueberry pie. No sugar needed, and it’s delicious! Maine blueberries are very tiny and sweeter than any others I’ve had. I will look for the wild frozen blueberries at Trader Joes and give them a try. Thanks so much, friend. xoxox, Brenda

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