Kidney stone myths

Some commonly held beliefs about kidney stones can be considered myths, without any supporting evidence. Other beliefs we consider controversial and are likely to also be incorrect based on expert opinion.

Myth 1. I got a kidney stone because of my calcium intake.

Despite the fact that calcium is a major component of 75% of stones, excessive calcium intake is very rarely the cause of stone formation. In fact, several studies have shown that restricting calcium intake in most stone formers actually increases the number of stones they develop. Find out more on our page on calcium intake.

Myth 2. I can take something to dissolve my stones*

This myth has an asterisk because it is actually true in select cases.

For the majority of stones formers, including those with calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate stones (80% of stones), there is no medication available that can successfully dissolve their stones.

In select patients with uric acid stones (5-7% of stones) or cystine stones (1-3% of stones), medications can potentially be used to help dissolve their stones. However, even in these cases, surgery is still sometimes required to remove or treat the stones.

Myth 3. Cranberry juice will help me prevent stones.

While cranberry juice can help in the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections, it does not seem to have an overall beneficial effect for stone formers. Instead, ingestion of cranberry juice results in a mixed effect on urinary factors which probably leads to no benefit or potentially increased stone risk for most patients (Gettman et al, J Urol, 2005).

Myth 4. Drinking this olive oil and lemon juice will help lubricate my stone and help it pass.

Besides sounding awful tasting, we are not aware of any studies showing that drinking this combination (or other similar home remedies) can improve stone passage. There are however some medications that have been shown to speed stone passage in randomized studies.

Infographic of how common kidney stones are in the United StatesMyth 5. Not many people get stones.

Stones are actually more common than most people realize. 1 in every 11 Americans will experience a stone in their lifetime.

Myth 6. Water is the only fluid useful to help prevent stones.

Research suggests that it is the volume of fluid you drink that is most important, not the type of fluid. Some fluids previously felt to increase stone risk (tea, coffee, beer) actually seem to decrease risk. Cola drinking also doesn’t seem to increase risk. We talk about it more below. The bottom line for those trying to keep their fluid intake up is that for the most part you can drink what you want.

Myth 7. Kidney stones are related to gallbladder stones (gallstones).

Although both are considered stones and have the word “bladder” associated with them, gallstones and kidney stones are not in any way related.

Myth 8. I shouldn’t be getting kidney stones because no one in my family has had them.

While those with a family history of stones are at 2.5 times greater risk of forming a stone than individuals without a family history, the majority of new stone formers actually do not have family history.

Controversy 1. My soda drinking is causing me to form stones.

The belief that soda drinking is associated with increased kidney stone formation is supported by a study of 1,009 males randomized to refrain from or continue 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 (Coca Cola) while citric acid is most commonly used in fruit flavored sodas (Sprite). Based on this study, avoidance of cola drinks is recommended by some physicians as a way to avoid stones.

More recent 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. The authors found that cola intake did increase stone risk but that this appeared to be because individuals with higher cola intake also has other dietary factors that would increase their stone risk. 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 cola drinking seems to be mixed. Kidney stoners who want to play it safe might want to avoid colas and choose other beverages. They can also choose colas which don’t use phosphoric acid. (You can check this by reading the ingredients list on the side of the bottle or can). Some brands we’ve found that don’t use phosphoric acid include Pepsi Natural and Red Bull Cola.

Controversy 2. The bad (hard) tap water in my town is causing my stones.

It seems intuitive that drinking “hard” tap water, which contains more dissolved minerals (such as calcium and magnesium), might increase stone risk. However, most studies on the subject show that the type of tap water (hard versus soft) either doesn’t seem to make a difference or that soft water, and not hard water, is actually associated with increased stone risk (Schwartz et al, Urology, 2002).

Based on available research, the quality and source of your tap water likely makes little or no impact on stone risk. Putting in a water softener system may actually increase your risk! We like drinking filtered water, but only because it improves the taste.

130 Responses to Kidney stone myths

  1. Krista says:

    I’ve passed 7 kidney stones, starting from age 17, and some what I call “grit” (tiny stones that sting but don’t make me want to die). I’ve lived various places since my first stone. Sometimes I had stones, sometimes I went years with none. After a few years, I moved back to the place I had my first stone, my parents house. Within a year, I had another. It finally hit me! The ONLY times I had kidney stones was while I lived in my parents house. We have hard water here. I started drinking bottled water and have not had one since (about 6 years). I don’t want to drink bottled water due to the risks of plastic, but kidney stones hurt too much for me not to. While I don’t think it is the answer for everyone, if you have hard water, don’t rule it out!

  2. Kiran says:

    I had multiple occurrences of kidney stone.
    First, in 2005. I had constant tendency to pass urine and even if I pass I used to feel again at the next moment. Ultrasound scan didn’t show anything. As you may already know, ultrasound scan requires you to drink a lot of water and fill the bladder. After the scan, they tell you to pass urine. While I was passing urine, the flow suddenly stopped. I knew the stone is on its way out even they couldn’t find out. It came our with so much effort by the evening. Such a relief.

    Fast forward to 2007, pain in the abdomen. Thought it is gastric problem. The pain went down to the balls, x-ray shows stone stuck in ureter. Had to undergo cystoscopy to break it and take it out. Some remained in kidney.

    2009 – Another round of pain, this time had to undergo a procedure to break the stones using shock waves, was painful.

    2010 – Used to have lot of American Chopsey and I think the excess of tomatoes caused the oxalate to form multiple stones. Passed at least 4 stones of the size of black pepper in 1-2 hours. phew.

    2013 – Another pain on the back. Again cystoscopy to remove it from ureter. Even after the procedure passed another stone.

    Now – Feeling the stone in the kidney, thus searching for remedies. Phew I am a stone quarry.

  3. Nancy says:

    Healthy 32 year old female, no family history of kidney stones, and I drink lots of water all day, no soda, etc.
    I had my first kidney stone in April this year. Yesterday at work I was told that the water fountain I’ve been using regularly for 5 years to fill my water bottle is unsafe to drink. Management has known this for longer than I’ve worked there and never bothered to post a sign or disable the fountain.
    My coworker uses the same fountain and he’s currently out sick with his first kidney stone.
    Anyone have any thoughts on this? Would unsafe water cause kidney stones?

  4. Patty says:

    I have a 6mm x 4mm x 7mm calcified calculi stone currently in the ureter :( plus 2 x 3mm 3mm stone in each kidney. A friend told me to drink warm water with 2 tblspoons apple cider vinegar with 1 tea spoon honey. I’ve been drinking about 6-8 of these starting yesterday. Before that I was drinking lemon water for 2 days. I’m too scared to do lemon n olive oil because of the size and have been trying to dissolve it before doing oil/lemon incase it hasn’t reduced in size. Does anyone know how effective apple cider vinegar is at dissolving a stone ? And how long should I drink it ?
    I’m so scared of the pain as I’ve had them twice before. First having a stent placed n passed a 2nd last oct. the pain was worse than giving birth.

    • sylvie says:

      My dad had kidney stones as you mention it is awfully painful.
      Now my turn, I have a 1.7cm in the kidney and gravel in the bladder :(
      So I am desperately trying to buy what my dad Has been drinking, to try dissolving the stones and it is ” Aubier de Tilleul ” I taped it on my computer and it is called, Sapwood or basswood, this did work for dad.
      As Surgeon was preparing dad for the operation to take them out but couldn’t find any his stones! they were Gone :)
      I am trying desperately to find some of this tea but here in NZ there is nothing it is more likely you would have this in the states.
      Good luck and wish you to get better very soon oxo sylvie

  5. Michelle says:

    Will also still keep praying!

  6. Michelle says:

    I wonder about that too, Joseph, because most MD’s just prescribe painkillers (to take as necessary), tell you to go home & drink plenty of water & it “should” pass freely… They never do even offer the possibility of using non-pharmaceutical solutions – even if they are not at liberty to suggest/recommend them. Mine reduced from 20mm to 10mm so I’ve been officially discharged from the clinic, i.e. requiring no more regular visits to urologist. That was 3 and a half months ago… the pain in my left side (waist high) is back, continuous over the last 24 hours… the pressure of it generates all the way down to my left heel. It’s a calcium based stone. Over the past week, I’ve been drinking apple cider vinegar in water at night – I wonder if that’s why it’s moving and whether it’s a good sign.

  7. says:

    Have had three occurrences of Bladder Stones, first about seven years ago. Had Enlarged Prostate and a stone that grew to about the size of ‘a small apple’ eventually removed by surgery after suffering for eighteen months waiting for elective surgery. In the interim was hospitalised on four occasions with incredible pain caused by urinary blockage. Eventually (Cesarean) surgery to remove stone in conjunction with TURP. Constant Antibiotics to overcome constant UTI caused by irritation of bladder. Ten days in hospital.
    Second stone about three years ago (in TURP bladder neck cavity) removed by Laser.(3×1.4cm)
    Current stone, same location as previous (2.1×2.5×3.6cm) waiting for surgery, have been having pain and discomfort since Sept 2014 although initially was being treated for UTI with Citravescent and Antibiotics constantly, was correctly diagnosed on 13/4/2015 due for surgery 20/7/2015 postponed till 17/8/2015 on antibiotics still. Friend told me about ‘Lemon Lime juice and Cayenne pepper’ drink AM each day at least half hour before food, commenced 21/7/2015 have been pain free since 24/7/2015 (discontinued antibiotics 20/7). I dont know if the stone is dissolving or what but at least without pain and recovering urinary control of bladder and not wetting myself, was using sanitary pads and had to be within 10m of toilet up till about 2 days ago. Hope to have an MRI to see if Stone is dissolving???

  8. ary says:

    I’ve passed two kidney stones in the past, and I had a cluster of them forming in one

    Drinking half a squeezed lemons mixed with a pint of MINERAL water two-three times daily removed my regular morning kidney pain.

    I live in London and the water is very “hard” – lots of calcium in it. Putting half a squeezed lemon in hard water definitely softens it (breaks the calcium down), and therefore, why would it be a myth to assume it doesn’t work to some extent on humans?

    Actually, it’s not a myth. It works. Myths are things that are said to work but don’t.

  9. Jesse says:

    My first stone, in 1985, was due to reduced fluid intake; on the advice of a ‘nutrition’ store I stopped drinking water with meals… but didn’t replace it with fluid while not eating. Surgeon said the advice was bad. I passed that 6.6 mm calcium oxalate stone after being given a shot in the butt. Several subsequent smaller stones were passed using oxycodone at at home and drinking a couple liters of diet cola. (I finally stopped drinking iced tea after work to wash down a pound of unsalted roasted in the shell peanuts every week.)

    My most recent stone which broke up on passing, as did several others over the years, seemed to have developed after my wife found this great Lipton decaf tea in quart size bags. I made myself two quarts to keep in a glass jug in the refrigerator; that was gone in less than two days. I made another two quarts, finished them and dropped a stone. It is, of course, possible that one was forming before I drank the iced tea… but I take about three days to drink the two quarts. (It is great iced tea… naturally sweet.) (Memory is a wonderful thing; it enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.)

    I currently have a 5.5 cm silent (non-obstructing) stone that I am hoping will dissolve over time. I’m drinking lite lemonade with extra lemon, an ‘orange drink’ that doesn’t give me gas (it has citric acid) and enough water that I void pale yellow. Regardless of what the current thinking is – in my experience this stone only needs to be reduced by 10% to pass it. Don’t have any oxycodone left, but ER is pretty good about helping you ‘sleep it off’. Haven’t been knocked out since I had my prostate removed eight years ago though, but they should be able to accommodate that.

  10. Linda says:

    My experience with a kidney stone was about 5 years ago, and is still fear to feel that pain again, I ended up hysterical at the emergency and passed a little stone 2 days later! Couldn’t believe how such a little thing could create so much pain.Anyway, my Doctor recommend apple cider vinegar, 1tbs in a glass of water and eventually honey to help with the taste or Lemon juice and it worked, I have another stone and def try the olive oil and lemon mixture.

  11. Teresa Atkinson says:

    i too use the olive oil and lemon juice concoction — i have only one kidney and protecting it is very important to me – lots of liquids – no carbonated anything – no anti-inflammatory meds. I read and read and studied and studied – and came up with the inclusion of the combination as something non-drug related that i could use in my arsenal – this is harmless – actually good for you – and have had no increase in the size of the stone i have and no development of new stones since i started .

  12. Joseph says:

    Very interesting article, thank you. Your thoughts on the lemon juice and olive oil… I recently had a kidney stone attack and my doctor and the RN both told me to use the lemon/oil concoction. They told me that they have yet to have a patient report another stone after using the mixture. Also my best friend was prone to kidney stones, one of which required surgery. He has since used the mixture and told me just yesterday that he has been stone-free for about fifteen years since learning of it. So I wonder if the lack of evidence cited above it simply a choice to ignore a non-pharmaceutical treatment.

    • Michelle says:

      I wonder about that too, Joseph, because most MD’s just prescribe painkillers (to take as necessary), tell you to go home & drink plenty of water & it “should” pass freely… They never do even offer the possibility of using non-pharmaceutical solutions – even if they are not at liberty to suggest/recommend them. Mine reduced from 20mm to 10mm so I’ve been officially discharged from the clinic, i.e. requiring no more regular visits to urologist. That was 3 and a half months ago… the pain in my left side (waist high) is back, continuous over the last 24 hours… the pressure of it generates all the way down to my left heel. It’s a calcium based stone. Over the past week, I’ve been drinking apple cider vinegar in water at night – I wonder if that’s why it’s moving and whether it’s a good sign.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *