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.

91 Responses to Kidney stone myths

  1. Lynn Faulkner says:

    I have been in great pain for past 6 months. They found a stone the size of Montana.Had it blasted on Friday. In agony and no meds stop the pain. Ready to give up.

    • Maureen says:

      Lynn Faulkner, I’m sorry you are in pain. I’m concerned about what you mean when you say you are ready to give up. I hope you aren’t thinking about suicide! If you are at all thinking about it, please get help immediately!!!

  2. Jeff Steves says:

    I had surgery a year ago to remove a stone and I’m getting the same pains again only this time I am passing little black flecks and the odd very small black stone. I’m having a scan this week to see if there is a bigger one like before. The frustrating thing is I am doing all the right things, drinking lots of water, lemon juice, I’ve cut down on tea and coffee stopped drinking diet drinks and yet I’m suffering again. I take a suplement every day for my prostate called saw palmetto, I was wondering if taking these suplements may cause the stones? Anyone know any more?

  3. Blair says:

    Looking for some advice, I’m a relatively fit 32 year male who has just experienced the worst pain of my life. Was rushed into hospital on Monday with agonising lower stomach pain which started in my back but came on very quickly. The emergency room doctor diagnosed kidney stones and my urine was very red. I was admitted and a CT scan revealed a 4.5mm stone in my left kidney. The doctors were happy to let it pass naturally and told me for this size of stone around 80% would mange to pass it, I stayed in hospital and over the next three days had waves of unbearable pain. The doctor decided to operate, they couldn’t reach stone so have fitted a stent and said they will get me back in 5/6 weeks time to blast stone and then remove stent. I’m still in a lot of pain in the same region as I was prior to going to hospital and feel terrible with the meds they have given me, is this normal? I thought the stent would have relived pain, my urine is bright red with blood and has been for days.

    • sam says:

      With my stone the pain was unbearable. The blood is normal. My stone was impassable at 11mm. I had the lithotripsy and the stent for seven days. The stent killed me. All i did was urinate blood for those 7 days. Pain meds did nothing. A month later I passed a large piece that did not break completely. It was boroughed into my ureter and was surgically removed. A second stent was put in but made from a different material and much stronger pain meds prescribed. I’ve never seen a dosage that high before. Talk to your doctor about a stronger dosage. Fevers are big red flag something is very wrong. Blood in urine is okay while the stent is in. Best wishes to you Blair. Stay strong!

  4. Alan C says:

    I’d have to disagree with the well water assessment. I had several bouts with kidney stones on both sides (thank God not at the same time). It seemed as when one side was over, the other side would start up. A friend of mine said she had some relative who had stones and the urologist said it was because of drinking hard water. Of course, they tell you to drink MORE water which I did and it made the problem worse. I switched over to distilled water and that was the end of that. I’m not saying it’s the cause in every instance by any means, but I know what it was in my case, as I changed nothing else.

  5. chayah77 says:

    Greetings. While I respect the research done, I am a witness that Olive Oil and lemons do work. I used to get excruciating pain in my side over 5 years ago. I finally went to a holistic physican and she gave me 24hour formula that WORKS. It consist of drinking ONLY mineral water (i used perrier) with the juice of 1/2 a lemon ever hour on the hour (NO food,or liquids for the duration of the process if you want it to work). from 6AM until 4PM. then at PM take 3 cascara sagrada tables or exlax (prefer the cascara). At 6PM take 4oz of pure lemon juice (use fresh lemons only) and lay down for 15mins on your right side. then rise and drink 4oz of extra virgin olive olive (I hold my nose while swallowing, because I get nauseous before I can finish it) and you have to lay down again for TWO HOURS on your right side ( watch a movie to pass the time –IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO NOT MOVE FOR THE TWO HOUR PERIOD). After that you can go to sleep or just relax for the duration of the evening (NO Eating or drinking). When you get up in the morning, drink a glass of mineral water with a pinch of salt, wait 15mins then take an enema of one head of garlic that has been steeped and cooled**. TRust Me, everytime you go to the bathroom you will see the stones floating on top of the water.
    the first time I passed 15 stones, ranging is sizes of a green pea to a quarter, the same afternoon, after I ate, I passed about 10 more. It is a good to massage your stomach while on the toilet, too. I have been using this formula and have passed it on to friends and family and we have have the same success. I hope this is helpful to all the suffers who do not want to go under the knife. Drinking a lot of water, and fiber rich foods are also helpful for me in preventing stones from aggressively returning as this is a part of my spring and winter cleansing. ** GARLIC Enema= peel and smash the garlic and pour boiling water over it to release the oils. let cool before pouring in enema bag.

    • Hmm... says:

      I find it highly dubious that any sort of enema is going to help a kidney/urinary issue. Also, by the time your body digests olive oil, it’s no longer a lubricant that will help you pass a stone. Most likely, the benefits you saw were from the citric acid in the lemon and the increase in fluid intake, which increases the amount of urine you pass, and therefore helps you pass small stones. All the lying on your side for 15 minutes, drinking olive oil, and garlic enemas (LOL) in the world are not going to break up any kidney stones. That’s dilusional.

    • Hmmmm2 says:

      Passing pea size to quarter size stones, 10-15 at a time? Between the enema, passing more from eating, and increase in fiber, sounds like you have something poop related. You do know kidney stones come out in your urine, right?

    • Craig says:

      I’ve passed 7 stones over the years and never had one float….always had to fish them out of the toilet.

  6. James says:

    I have a history of kidney stone, my father has a history as well. I just passed a 6 mm stone today, my largest yet.I get these about once or twice a year. I keep a prescription of Percocet and upon the first signs of having an attack I pop one of these. Begin drinking a lot of water and the goal is to keep my self medicated and ahead of the pain. If I don’t take one and wait I end up in the urgent care in agonizing pain pleaing for my shot of diladtin. This regime has worked well for me. Bad news is the CT scan show several small ones just waiting to ruin my day or days again. This one took 4 days.

  7. Laurie Michalski says:

    I am a “Chronic” kidney stone producer, started in “1978″ and the 1 stone had to be cut from the belly bottom down to remove that stone (ancient history now a days!!) and have had 15 surgeries last one recently as of the date 10/28/14, had 5 in the right side 3 were the big ones described below. I have passed some, but mostly they have gotten so big, I have had to have them surgically removed. I had the laser, the “wave” and the tubal placement in the back to the kidney. I have had more than my share of 10X10X13 and 10X10X12, and 10X10X10 stones that had to be surgically removed, a stent is placed in the ureter tube to keep the flow of urine coming out after surgery, and for men it is a definite for that. My 37 year old son has only had 2 surgeries and passed over 100 stones, he refuses to have surgery unless it is so bad that he feels like DYING!.He started at age 27….The urologist is the only one who should determine if it is too big to pass, as I have passed quite a few big ones to me 4mm and less, by myself, but to me anything over 4mm is a reason to have it removed. They can block the flow of urine and cause kidney failure if not taken care of in some cases. My 5 were doing just this, blocking the flow of urine in the right side. I just had a surgery in June of this year for a stone blocking the flow of urine on the same side, so I am a chronic producer.The MOST important thing is to drink drink drink lots of water especially when you are having an attack, that helps to push it out if you are able. I have tried all the “remedies” to stop production (ha ha) nothing has helped. I have other issues like HBP and HC, diabetes, and I also take a water pill to help with the flow of urine which depletes the potassium levels, so I have to take 8 potassium pills a day. I have forbid myself to go to the emergency room anymore when I have an attack, I have learned to medicate myself at home. The ER just dopes you up, sends you home, and tells you to call the doctor anyway (I saved numerous ER charges this way). I have a standing order to get filled of percocet from my doctor if I need them, for just this reason. As far as a cure or medication to dissolve the stone, this website has actually said, that their is no medicine to dissolve these painful stones. I feel for you and your pain, but YES have it removed!

    • Will says:

      Holy crap man. Multiple times a year? Ive been having my first kidney stone attacks for the last 4 days (my brother and father have had them before) and its unbearable. How have you lasted this long without just killing yourself?

  8. E says:

    I’ve had several stones, 2 opperations, 1 stent which, when I came to in recovery, someone had put a towel on my boys I assume cuz I was leaking. I said I had to pee. so I’m getting up and remove the towel, under which was a long string I didn’t know was there..and the string was of course tied to the stent. I never even felt it when I accidentally pulled the string and the towel off me, stent trailing behind and scaring the heck out of me. what the heck is that? I asked. They were all in shock and said, that was your stent,,,, you just pulled out,,, are you ok? yeah, where’s the bathroom. I gotta go.. doc was there when I got back and said, well we ether have to put you back under and replace the stent or see if you will be ok without it. Guess I was twice lucky, that it healed fine and I didn’t get to feel the stent at all cuz I was still drugged up.
    Then I passed 1. lots of pain. Then I went the next year to the hospital, but once I knew I had one, I chugged real lemon juice , nearly a pint. they gave me something for pain and put me in a room. when I woke up, I’d not slept well night before.. I felt fine. I never felt that one pass or had it removed. The next year, the exact same thing, same hospital, I chugged real lemon juice, loads of pain. that rhino tusk in the back off to one side. unbarable, I got a shot for pain, fell asleep, woke up and it was gone. never felt it pass. For my stones which were a calcium type.. streight lemmon juice, and then a little water, repeat…… it works.

  9. Brenda says:

    I have stage 4 CKD having never had pain in my kidneys before I am now finding the last few weeks they are really aching, not excruciating pain which I know kidney stones can cause cos my partner has just had them, but mine are just aching, I had a kidney scan a few days ago and was told I have some calcium in them, I am trying to find out how I can get rid of the calcium as they are bad enough with the CKD I dont want anything else going on with them. I do generally drink at least 5 pints of water a day more often than not I will add some lime cordial to the water so its not so bland, I also am diabetic and I suffer with gout so I have to be careful what I can eat and drink, I do not drink alcohol but hope I can find something like the lime juice or lemon juice that I can have

  10. Donna says:

    Wow…just went through my first ” stoner” experience..The pain and intensity were horrible. I am so worried now about stent removal and the chance of another episode of reoccurring stones. Also I am very uncomfortable with the stent being in now, while trying to work my 12 hr nursing shift. I bow down to all my patients who have experienced this in the past. I was told by the urologist he removed one stone from near the bladder and still had another in the kidney that was small.

  11. Sam says:

    I’ve had 7 surgeries since December 2012 to remove kidney stones ranging from 1mm to 8mm (my body just can’t pass them); I’m only 25! I’ve seen dietitians, nephrologists, and kidney stone specialists and so far no results. They tell me to stay away from high oxalate foods yet every list I check says something different. I’m starting to think I have an underlying health issue but until they diagnose something, what foods seem to be good to avoid? The only consistencies I’ve found in the lists are chocolate, berries, spinach, nuts, rhubarb, and beans. Has anyone been recommended a good list by their doctor? The kidney stone specialist told me just to “look at all the lists and avoid the foods common on all lists” which was not much help at all.

    • Mhb says:

      Go to and read the section on kidney stones. Many calcium oxylate and all calcium phosphate stones are formed because of a parathyroid problem. Good luck.

    • Brenna says:

      Hello Sam,

      Have any of your doctors looked at your calcium levels or tested you for Parathyroid Disease? I also started having stones around 25 and finally got to a urologist who tested me for Parathyroid Disease. People will tell you it’s not very common and it only happens in older people but that is not always the case. I think it is very under diagnosed. If you have access to all of your lab tests look at your calcium levels. They should never be high. Ever. Find a doctor that is knowledgeable and will test you. I had one parathryoid that was overreacting and pumping out mass amounts of calcium. This is very bad for your body. If you read up about the condition you might find that you have a lot of the other random symptoms. After my surgery the stones stopped. If that is ruled out I would find an endocrinologist. There might also be some adrenal/pituitary issues causing your stones. Good luck! I hope you get some answers soon. I know it’s very frustrating.

  12. Barney says:

    Hello Everyone, I found this mineral water, drank it, and was shocked to see me urinating a small ultra thin crescent shaped dark stone a little smaller than a pin head. I drank some more and again same thing. Third time same thing. Each time maybe an hour or two apart. I didnt really believe it, and was shocked. Seems each time the water was blasting off a sliver of a crescent shaped stone. Any suggestions about what I should do about this water?

    • tonia says:

      what brand mineral water is this? Maybe I misunderstood but I would think this is a good thing if it’s breaking down the stones without the surgery. I’m waiting to schedule my surgery and I am so worried!

    • Doris says:

      Why would you say you “drank this mineral water” and not give the name of it? If its helping you, it may very well help others, but you don’t give the name of it nor respond to the person who asked you the name.

  13. Cloudmann says:

    Yep. I’m one of those unfortunates that’s just prone to stones. Get ‘em about once a year… sometimes twice. I’ve modified my diet multiple ways, cut this and that out of my intake… no effect. Sometimes it’s just being on the bad end of a crap shoot. A good side effect is that my tolerance for pain is considerably higher than it used to be.

  14. Tony Harvey says:

    Great site. I’ve been hospitalised here in the UK three times with renal calculi. Last time meant an op and stent, whose wearing and removal were very unpleasant – though post-stent I’ve had no acute episodes. Pain control was formerly good: Pethidine. Voltarol seems the drug of choice now, but is useless even on a double dose in my experience. I get fed up with nuggests like: ‘take pure water, not tea or flavoured drinks!’… ‘citric acid will dissolve the calcium and rid you of the stone!’… ‘cranberry juice is well known to get rid of them!’… Do people imagine, if you drink ‘pure’ water, it gets straight to the kidneys in unchanged condition , whereas if you flavour it you reduce its effectiveness? Similarly, if you ingest lemon juice, its citric acid is a ‘magic bullet’ that dissolves the calcium in the kidney – as if it didn’t pass through a stomach already filled with a much stronger acidic solution. The cranberry myth – did the producers get that started? People really have no clue about their basic anatomy. What works for me, on getting pre-acute discomfort near the kidney, is to take 4L of fluid, to the point of discomfort. Then the red gravel flows and I’m OK for a while. In older sufferers, the problem could be associated with chronic under-hydration, as thirst gets blunted and inaccurate as we age, unfortunately.

    • mike crall says:

      Am laughing hysterically… “What works for me, on getting pre-acute discomfort near the kidney, is to take 4L of fluid, to the point of discomfort. Then the red gravel flows and I’m OK for a while.”

      I too suffer from the little gravel demons and am in the throws of passing another as we speak. Drink water and let ‘er flow…..

  15. Alan says:

    I am amazed at the number of people who say “X worked for me” when they have absolutely no way of knowing whether it worked or not. The level of scientific ignorance often astounds me.

    Controlled, randomised trails, with a statistically sufficient number of participants, are the ONLY way to determine whether a particular treatment regime works for any disease.

    Continue with whatever fad you wish, but by far the best explanation for your “cure” is random chance. However, as humans we like to think we are in control and we are uncomfortable with the randomness that is constantly present in out lives.

    • Kathleen says:

      Well I’m confounded! Just had a second kidney stone (8mm) attack in 13 years. First urologist said uric acid stone, pushed it back into the kidney and said it would dissolve, placed a stent.
      Very unpleasant and painful consequences after being sent on my way.
      Second urologist said more likely calcium stone, clot in the kidney, said no way would the stone dissolve and the first urologist should have given me stone dissolving medication, swollen kidney, smashed the stone, swollen ureter, replaced stent.
      Hard to find competent medicos.

    • Alan C says:

      I agree that a double blind study with an appropriate number of participants is the only valid way to advance science and medicine. However, one must also remember that 50% of the doctors out there graduated at the bottom half of their class. I think certain things will work for some and not for others. I had some lower back/pelvic issues and went to every doctor, chiropractor, and physical therapist in the western hemisphere (well, slightly exaggerated for effect but not by much) and I got relief from no one. The one thing they all said not to do was put a heating pad on it. After trying everything (including laser) I thought I might as well try the heating pad too. Voila! It was the end of the spasms and I healed pretty quickly after the spasms stopped. After that, I keep a pretty open mind with regard to modern medicine, study or no study.

    • Windy says:

      I am a skeptic in all regards, but will tell you I had constant agonizing pain because of stones & tried “stone breaker” because I had been hoping to pass 2 CT confirmed stones for 4 months. I tracked my pain daily and went from 80% of the day in pain to 1 hour on the day following taking stone breaker. I would love to see scientific research on the herbs in this!

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>