Does soda drinking cause kidney stones?

Kidney stone formers often ask us whether their soda drinking caused their kidney stones. Many have already taken the initiative to cut out all their soda, thinking it will help prevent future stones. So, what’s the real deal with soda and kidney stones?

The belief that soda drinking is associated with increased kidney stone formation stems from a study of 1,009 males randomized to either refraining from or continuing soft drinks over three years by Shushter and colleagues. In their study, those who refrained were 6.4% less likely to form another stone than those who continued their soda intake. Additionally, they observed that those who refrained from sodas acidified by phosphoric acid as opposed to sodas acidified with citric acid had a more pronounced 15% lower likelihood of forming another stone (Shuster et al, J Clin Epidemiol, 1992). Phosphoric acid is most commonly used in colas (such as Coca Cola) while citric acid is most commonly used in fruit flavored sodas (such as Sprite). Based on this study, avoidance of cola drinks was recommended by some physicians as a way to avoid stones.

Other research has however questioned these early findings. In a study of 45,289 men, intake of 21 different types of beverages and the development of stones was determined over six years. In contrast to the prior study, the authors found that cola intake did not increase stone risk when all factors were considered. They concluded that if a person’s diet was otherwise kept the same, the addition of cola would not increase the risk of stones (Curhan et al, Am Journal Epid, 1996).

Overall, the risk of forming stones from soda drinking appears to be questionable. If true, this risk applies to only phosphoric acid containing sodas, found mostly in dark colored sodas. Kidney stoners who want to play it safe can elect to avoid colas and choose non-cola sodas or other non-soda beverages instead. Cola-loving kidney stone formers might choose colas that don’t use phosphoric acid. (You can easily check whether this is in your beverage by reading the ingredients list on the side of the bottle or can). Some cola brands we’ve found that don’t use phosphoric acid include Pepsi Natural and Red Bull Cola*.

In the end, we feel that rather than focusing on the type of fluid they drink, most kidney stone formers are best served by focusing on overall volume-it’s not what you drink but rather how much you’re drinking. That said, given the link between soda drinking and obesity, we feel that drinking water is always a better alternative that has no calories and is cheap if you use the filtered or tap variety.

*We do not endorse (or criticize) any specific soda brands and only use brand names in this article as examples.

About Dr. Mike Nguyen

Mike M Nguyen, MD, MPH, is a urologist and an Associate Professor of Clinical Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, CA. He specializes in the treatment of kidney stones with both surgery and dietary prevention and the in the treatment of kidney and prostate cancer using the latest robotic surgical approaches. He sees patients at clinics located in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and La Canada, CA. He is the founder of the website.
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28 Responses to Does soda drinking cause kidney stones?

  1. Hilty says:

    I suffer from kidney stones for 3 years, had 3 surgeries and finally stop for 3 years,
    The problem is our diet, I have lactose intolerance, and I eat to much greens, I don’t drink soda at all, and still suffer from stones, but finally stop, I start drinking orange juice at morning Fresh orange juice and start drinking almond milk and yogur to increase my calcium intake, the thing is the Oxalatos come out of the body with calcium and if we don’t intake calcium the oxalatos stay in the body and is when we start making the stones, if you suffer from stones start drinking orange juice every morning and other think you have to cut of you diet is strawberries, and make sure to take out the seeds in the tomatoes, avoid spinachs and consume more calcium . That’s my advice, finally for more then 3 years free of calcium oxalato stones, anyone who has experience it, knows what painful it is. Take care everyone ! Wow I

  2. darren young says:

    I,ve been getting stones for over 20 years now the last bout I had kept me off work for 7 month,s while I had them lasered.i had 3 all over 15mm in size one of which was lodged in my surgeon showed me the fragments of stone which were all black and first thing he told me was to avoid all cola,s and dark soft drinks. he then advised me to drink lemon juice as strong as I could take it . that was in 2014 and touch wood I haven’t any stones . you,ve nothing to loose !!

  3. Heidi H says:

    I have had kidneys for three years straight. My urologist said he preferred that I drink cola rather than teas, which seemed strange because of all the chemicals in cola. I cut out cola after my first experience with stones and I am still getting them. Dr finally said that my left kidney does not drain as well as my right because of position of it in my body compared to the right one. I am grateful not to have much pain with stones, but my body is unable to pass them. So on the 22 of Sept I will have my stones broken up for the second time and then physically removed. I wish a solution could be found so that I didn’t get kidney stones anymore. There seems to be more questions than answers.

    • Heidi H says:

      I have also started taking magnesium and Vitamin D3 supplements and I am still getting kidney stones.

    • San Diego Mark says:

      I know how you feel, Heidi. One day, out of the blue, I became a kidney stone pain sufferer. 7 stones that day. And, that’s happened on several occasions. When the studies, that have been done contradict each other, I start to wonder if “the professionals” are just masquerading, with no intention of actually helping the public.

  4. google says:

    It’s going to be end of mine day, except before
    ending I am reading this enormous paragraph to increase my knowledge.

  5. Julie says:

    The magnesium thing has worked for me in the form of Hydrangea supplements. It was used by NativeAmericans for what they referred to as “gravel in the urine”…the brand I use contains magnesium. Not sure if they all do, but mine has helped on several occasions. To my understanding it assists by breaking the stone down to a size that is easier to pass. Hopefully this will help someone else as much as it’s helped me!

    • San Diego Mark says:

      Thanks. That sounds like something that would be worth a try. I’ve never heard anything from my doctor, concerning what type of stone (shape) that I get. ??‍♂️

  6. Richard Mailloux says:

    I currently have had 4 kidney stones sence Oct.. Found out that they are the uric acid kind. Never knew what kind. Always thought they were calcium. A doctor in Florida told me there was a 24 hour urin test. Strange no doctor in NH could tell me this…..
    Passed two still working on two.
    All kidney stones are not equal.
    I have had stones that hurt so bad they feel like someone stuck me with a 6″ knife and twisted it. Others have made me vomit violently. Then you have the stone that just is a dull pain 24 hrs. At a time for months.
    What gives??? How do you stop this?
    Tired and frustrated.

  7. mdm says:

    I do agree that what you drink matters. But the most important thing, pay attention on how much you’re drinking. This is the key point to reduce your risk of kidney stone!

  8. Daily Stabbing Pains says:

    I’m on my fourth kidney stone. I was a big dark cola drinker for decades. The first two stones made me throw up and get diarrhea, put me in the hospital, and took 2 weeks to pass each. I stopped drinking dark cola and they stopped. After a year, I started drinking cola again … first one a day, and then eventually working up to 3 or 4. I got another stone, which took 2 months to pass. I got stabbing pains a couple of times a day that lasted a couple of seconds. I’ve recently tried ginger ale, tonic water, etc. … clear drinks … and got another stone. I’ve had it for a month and it still hasn’t passed. I’m swearing off carbonated beverages altogether for the New Year. I’m 60 and worry about hurting my kidneys permanently.

    • skip says:

      500mgs of magnesium a day has been scientifically proven to reduce reoccurring stones by a whopping 90%. Just fyi, I’m on my second stone and have had 2 nurses tell me about magnesium and one person who had stones about every 18 months. Magnesium seems to be backed up with science. Google it, adding b6 knocks the odds up to about 94%.

    • skip says:

      500mgs of magnesium a day has been scientifically proven to reduce reoccurring stones by a whopping 90%. Just fyi, I’m on my second stone and have had 2 nurses tell me about magnesium and one person who had stones about every 18 months. Magnesium seems to be backed up with science. Google it, adding b6 knocks the odds up to about 94%.!!!!!!!

      • Brandie Barnes says:

        I have had multiple kidney stones. I had one that they had to zap and I just had to have surgery to take out three stones that got stuck together, and I had a stint put in. Thank God I got it out today, if you haven’t had to have don’t! But I told my doctor about some research that I had done to prevent kidney stones and he honestly told me they still don’t really know. He did though tell me that drinking lemonade helps reduce reoccurring.

  9. edgar black says:

    so is caffeine a problem or is it ok to drink like tee’s coffee’s.this is my second time passing kidney stones and ive drank coca cola my 33yr life looking to change my ways so any info would be there any foods or spice’s i should stay away from?

    • Mark says:

      From my experience and research, one should be aware of the oxalate content of whatever food or beverage ingested. One should also drink plenty of water to keep kidneys flushed out and prevent calcium and oxalates from remaining in the kidney for too long as they are prone to causing the formation of stones. Eating foods that contain magnesium balance out calcium and tend to reduce or eliminate kidney stone formation. I have found as well that lemon juice dissolves kidney stones and allows them to pass painlessly from the body. I tend to drink about a quart of lemonade a day and squeeze my own with fresh lemons. Putting a little lemon zest from the peel into the lemonade increases its punch. If I don’t drink the lemon over an extended period, I really pay for it!

  10. Andrew says:

    I usually drink an energy before I work out and have a high protein diet throughout the day. I had two stones (both at the same time) 7 years ago and I am worried that I am going to get another one out of no where. I have cut out the energy drinks, I drink more water than I probably need, but in the back of my mind I am worried one is just lingering and in the works. Since I had one before am I at greater risk? I already know the answer to this, but is there a way to check and see if I have one that is forming?

    Thanks for the help.

  11. Brad says:

    I just had a bout of kidney stones…4 of them…BUT…this was 7 years after my first bout with 3 stones. At that time I did two things…in the 7 years since that first time I RARELY, if ever, drank Coke. (Lost 40 pounds too.) I also put a water filter on our sink tap with our well water that is softened as it comes into our house. So, what happened just before this most recent bout of kidney stones…???…

    Within the last three weeks…I started drinking straight Coke once again. Just a bottle a night…I have no idea why…but I did for roughly three weeks. Also, I used the well water…unfiltered…at the tap for making coffee…and what happens???…kidney stones. Just sayin’ it like it is.

    I’m going back to my filtered water I’ve sworn off Coke once again.

  12. Mark Jensen says:

    I had my first horrible bout of kidney stones 3 weeks ago. First my left kidney went, hurting horribly for 5 hours, or most of a night, then my right one plus the L one in the am. They were coincident with buying 5 cans of sugar free “Rock Star” but I think I was also consuming quite a bit of salt. The energy drink had a form of phosphoric acid. I added a bunch a supplements, but I think magnesium was the significant one, and I have not had any kidney pain since recovering.

  13. Tommy Rogers says:

    Forgot to add that after quitting the soft drink I have been stone free for about 3 years.

  14. Tommy Rogers says:

    For many years I had Uric Acid Stones on a regular basis. I have passed 85 stones that were near BB size or larger, the first one had to be removed by surgery. Have passed numerous small flakes that I did not count. One day at lunch the restaurant didn’t have brewed tea so I drank a certain soda. The next morning when urinating the first time I passed probably as many as 200 small flakes. Took 3 more times for it to clear up, passing lesser amounts each time. I wondered if it was the soft drink so I waited 2 weeks and did the same thing, same results, took 4 times for the flakes to disappear. I am interested with corresponding with anyone that has had several Uric Acid Stones.

    • John says:

      I’m right there with you. . I’ve had a ton of stones. (Going with 100) and uncountable little “flakes”. If I drink a pop, just one, within a day or two I will have a stone. Definately has to do with color of pop too. Dark color is a day or two, clear pop doesn’t seem to do it so I’m not quite sure.

  15. Chad T says:

    I just got out of the hospital 2 weeks ago after being admitted due to a kidney stone. It was the most painful thing I’ve experienced. My kidneys weren’t functioning correctly and I couldn’t pass the stone. My urologist said not to drink any brewed tea or dark cola.

  16. lisa says:

    I drink alot of coca cola and i had kidney stones in 2003, i havent had them since then and i drink about 6 cans of pop a day. I recently had a ct scan and i they have found another kidney stone in my right side, so i would say if it takes ten yrs for one to form and i didnt decrease my pop intake that whether or not you drink pop doesnt matter.

  17. Paul says:

    As a middle aged male who used to get kidney stones – but no longer does – I’d advise ditching pop, period. All flavours. I used to drink 2 liters of ginger ale daily, rarely ever any colas, but had stones fairly frequently. Even cutting back to 1 or 2 cans a day didn’t end the stone problem for me. It was a struggle but once the pop habit was broken my kidney stones stopped. Coffee, tea, water, juices, and wine are all I drink now and my kidneys are doing well.

  18. Jasin says:

    I was recently diagnosed with Kidney stones in the ER. I drank a lot of soda (sierra mist) and high content sugar drinks with very little in the way of water. I certainly hope it was the soda because I don’t have time for any more kidney stones.

  19. S Atwell says:

    So what actually defines the “colas” that are spoken of? Are we talking dark colored carbonated drinks or sodas in general?

    • says:

      Colas refers to phosphoric acid containing sodas, found mostly in dark colored sodas (such as Coca Cola). Fruit flavored sodas (such as Sprite) usually use citric acid instead. Some colas don’t contain phosphoric acid. Check the ingredient list if you are not sure.

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