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.

35 Responses to Kidney stone myths

  1. faith says:

    3 weeks ago, I ended up in the emergency room, because of a kidney stone. The kidney stone caused sepsis to occur and then acute respiratory failure. I spent 4 days in the ICU and then 4 days in an intermediate room. My urologist placed a kidney stent, which when I have it removed later this month, may need to be replaced. I will never look at kidney stones the same way. this one almost cost me my life.

  2. Paul Berge says:

    After dramatic contact with kidney stone attacks filmmakers at Butter Cow Films, of Indianola, Iowa, produced “CoPay,” a short movie showing the rapid onset and surprising pain of a kidney stone episode. Based on a true event, “CoPay” also showcases the poor treatment the victim received at an unsympathetic urgent care clinic.

    Our goal with “CoPay” is to raise awareness about the serious consequences of kidney stone attacks. The film is aimed at both potential victims and health care providers, who — in the case on which this fictionalized story is based — do not understand the massive discomfort involved.

    “CoPay” premieres online on Vimeo free for anyone to see on Sunday April 6. That April 6 link will be: https://vimeo.com/buttercowinfinipix

    Today, you can preview “CoPay” on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/90437853
    This is a private link for preview purposes only. The password is: copay

    A one-minute “CoPay” trailer is viewable on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/87126777

    Okay, it’s odd making a movie about kidney stones, but if this short film can raise attention, then it’s achieved its goal.

    Feel free to share the April 6 Vimeo link and contact us with any questions.

    Thank you and drink plenty of water.

    –Paul Berge
    Butter Cow Films LLC
    515-360-5235

  3. Courtney says:

    I’ve had stones sense 6th grade (I’m currently in graduate school) My diet has not changed much from high school to college to now. If anything I eat slightly healthier now. In middle and high school I got 1 stone a year consistently. When I moved away to college I only had 1 stone in the entire four years. Now in graduate school, in a new city, I have had 2 stones in less than a year, both got stuck and required surgery.

    Taken that my diet has not drastically changed, the only difference is that the tap water is different in each city. My urologist even mentioned this. I have been drinking only bottled water sense my last 2 and have not had another stone in the past year.

    In my experience and opinion, tap water does make a difference.

  4. Paul says:

    Just curious: anyone cease having stones after adopting a vegetarian, vegan, or macrobiotic diet? Or heavily modifying to eliminate/greatly reduce animal protein intake?

    • Erin says:

      I had a kidney stone about a year ago. I’ve been vegetarian for about 4 months now and just had another one on Sunday…so at least in my experience cutting out meat did not help…

    • Steve says:

      Depends. I’ve been a vegetarian for 30+ years. Passed a few kidney stones (painful). Had stone tested for content (oxalate). Dr told me to reduce oxalates in my diet. Next thing he said, “you a vegetarian?” Vegetarian diet is rife with oxalates. Some nuts, some vegetables, tofu and other soy products, coffee and even more so, tea, extremely high in oxalates.

  5. Nikki says:

    I have had kidney stones for over 20 years. I produce calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, uric acid and cystine stones. I have lost count of the hydros, ureteroscopies, lithotripsy,cystoscopies, stents (currently bilaterally now). I can already tell the ER doctor before my CT scan if it will show bilateral stones, location at the UVJ or not if hydronephros is present and usually to what extent. The only thing I can not predict is how many because they have a tendency to layer. I have tried every trick in the book to no avail. I have passed 7.5mm stones with no meds but with some foul language and had 5mm stone send me to the hospital septic. No rhyme or reason to it all. If you find something that works for you then I say stick with it. If you here of anything new out there post it!

    • Virginia C says:

      I’m only in my 10th yr or so. My history is similar to yours except I only make calcium of and uric acid stones. What does the hydonrphrosis feel like? I have this now, but only slightly. I can’t pass the 8 mm stone I have right now. It’s stuck at the juction. I have a laser lithotripsy on Mon. I’m drinking beer this week. Does that help to resolve them ?

  6. Jim says:

    I’ve had kidney stones regularly for the last 15-20 years, and they get ‘stuck’ on a regular basis. I can feel them progressing down the ‘pipe’, and I can feel when and where they get stuck. Sometimes they are stuck for a day or so, and sometimes much, much longer. Everyone’s ‘pipe’ varies in width as does the flow pressure, which means some people will be prone to blockages, and others won’t. Simple as that. For someone to say ‘well, mine didn’t get stuck, therefore nobody’s can get stuck’ is pure non-sense.

  7. There is a lot of tension in these postings about what does and does not work, but I did not read anything on what the chemical composition of the stones were. Any physician who does not collect the stone, analyze it and counsel the patient on what it is, why it formed and how to prevent it is a fraud.

    Calcium stones, Oxalate stones, Phosphate stones, Cysteine stones and combinations. I would accept that the lemon juice would work for the chemistry that requires an acid pH to put the crystals back into solution, but the crystals that require a alkaline pH would be unaffected. This is basic chemistry yet no one (especially the doctors) are talking about it.

  8. Ed Frazier says:

    I am 69 years old and have had over 30 kidney stones in a 25 year period. No doctor I visited during all that time seemed to know what actually caused them or how to prevent them. They all had their opinions but were not really sure.
    An elderly friend of mine recommended drinking a warm cup of apple cider vinegar mixed with two table spoons of honey every day for a week and then drinking one cup of the same once a week. My kidney stone problem went away and I have never had another one in the past five years.
    During the 25 year period that I had the stones I had at least one stone a year and a few times I had two to three stones a year

  9. M. Kat Mason says:

    I just got my first kidney stone a week ago and passed it in a matter of minutes. I got another one last night and spent the entire night feeling like I was having my third child. I hit the internet and dozens of ‘stoner’ websites recommend lemons including a number of very reputable medical facilities. I started drinking 16 oz of water mixed with the juice of. Lemon. The pain has decreased all day and the final twinge when I urinate has decreased to mildly annoying. I’m gonna go with it works regardless of the nay sayers.

    • Nicole says:

      Don’t you just love the “it doesn’t work”camp? So lame. If it worked, it worked. Doctors can’t explain anything you didn’t pay them to do.

  10. matt says:

    I always know when I’m getting stones, my urine flow slows down quite a bit and there is some pain. But I immediately go out and buy 100% pure lime juice and mix it with olive oil. I drink this mixture and buy morning my pain us gone and I’m peeing like a race horse. Don’t tell me that every time is a coincidence!!

    • Randal says:

      Mr. Matt.

      If it works for you – power to you bro. But In my understanding which may be flawed, two things immediately bring the veracity or your recount into question. In simple terms, to “slow” your “pee” you’d have to have it stuck between the tank and the hose bib so to speak. This is nonsense as the line there is much larger than the ones from the kidneys. Virtually never will a stone get stuck such that the bladder won’t empty as the unobstructed (good) kidney fills the bladder normally and the bladder drains unimpeded. The whole time the other side is causing a fit.

      The plugged side builds pressure as the kidney produces an increasing volume of urine but can’t drain it due to the plugged line. This action stretches the urine-filled tube to a larger diameter which (depending on shape, texture and size) of the stone, allows it to move further down the tube and/or to flow urine around the stone – guess what – increasing the trapped volume behind and/or draining the kidney which drops the pressure inside and in related structures reducing pain felt by the patient.

      If the stone is moving, you never feel it because the pressure isn’t building and the stone is not dragging. If it moves within 12-24hrs, there some pain but if it is too large or has burs that dig in, it can be that the renal cells can only produce urine against a degree of hydraulic pressure resulting in near zero progress, massive pain, cellular and organ damage if left untreated. Massive, massive pain that does not clear for an extended period of time – even weeks.

      I’ll wager you are 100% honest and true in saying you see what you say happens in your observations; but if I put on a costume and dance around a campfire praying the sun comes up like in some old B&W movie – and it does the next morning – it still didn’t happen because of my dance. Yet, every time I danced, it did. Could it be coincidence?

      In short, you in all probability have stones large enough to feel as they hang while passing and the tonic is all in your head. True, the tocopherols or other organic compounds may have an infinitesimal anti-inflammatory effect but it seems this old wives tale is rooted in a belief that olive oil can imbue the kidney stone with new super-slippery mechanical property.

      And to the average Joe who may read this opinion you do get the tubes between the kidneys are teeny tiny like a hair’s diameter inside versus, well a virtual hosepipe in relative size between the outside and the bladder? Perhaps a 1 in a million long football shaped stone can pass into the bladder via one of the smaller ureters and somehow get sideways in the urethra.

      Well, that’s my thoughts. What do I know?

      • M. Kat Mason says:

        Oddly, nowhere in your reply do you state you have experienced kidney stones or that you tried lemon juice as a cure.

        • Melissa says:

          I have suffered from kidney stones for 11 years. Every time I have a bout of stones, I end up passing 10 or more each time. This particular time, I’ve already passed three, with more on the way. Lemon juice, lime juice and every other folk remedy does nothing to decrease the size of my stones or affect the pain of the passing. And I’ve tried it all. I’m guessing that if Randal is visiting a site for kidney stone sufferers, he likely has experience, so your response seems silly and petty. I would be interested in seeing links to those medical sources you mentioned, though.

          • Nick says:

            I have passed a few stones, and every single time my urine slows and I feel like I have to go every 5 minutes. and that is well before the pain starts when it moves from my kidney to my bladder.

  11. Eben says:

    I had a kidney stone 2 months ago and it passed after i went to the emergency room, 2 months later i got one again, actually on the ct scan it shows i have a few

    The one removed yesterday 8th of July 2013 was 5mm big, i have a high acid level in my blood, i had to get a catheter put in as i was unable to urinate by myself, it was a terrible experience, i pray to God that i never have to go through that again

    • Autumn says:

      I had kidney stones when I was 14 and the pain hurt so bad that I fainted in the Emergency Room and they rushed me right on back because I was vomiting and losing consciousness. They quickly gave me a shot of morphine and rushed me to get a ct scan as they were unsure whether it was my appendix or not. Luckily it was only Kindey Stones. I also just left the Emergency Room early this morning, a good 9 years later, from yet another attack . This time the pain was much worse. I felt like I was in labor all over again. The pain started at 2 am and the nurse said that I passed one of the stones at 8:30 am . The pain was unbearable . After a shot of morphine and dilaudid I was relieved but am still very sore from the experience and never wish that kind of pain on anyone.

  12. Nicholas says:

    After my recent and first kidney stone issue I went to the hospital and was admitted overnight, prescribed 30 pain pills and was told I had to wait an indefinite amount of time for the stones to pass on their own if I cant take anymore then there is always surgery. well after my fiance drove me to the store picked up a few fresh lemons, olive oil and mixed it together in a 1:1 ratio, I drank it along with a good helping of water. I was peeing broken up stones by that next morning and felt better immediately after! Why is this not told to us by doctors? I am amazed.

    • LJ says:

      Because they can’t make money by suggesting natural remedies. Only prescription pills and surgery makes them a profit. Most doctors don’t actually care about anyone’s well being.

    • Kim says:

      Did you ever think it could have been a coincidence? I’ve had kidney stones for 19 years, and I’ve passed more stones than I care to remember, and had many lithotripsy surgeries to remove ‘stuck’ stones. I’ve had many many trips to the ER. On one occasion, I passed the stone while I was there. I’d gone to the bathroom with a strainer, and passed the stone right there and then. I showed it to the doctor, he commented on the size and no wonder I’d been in so much pain, and released me to go home. What did I do that time that was different, and caused the stone to pass so quickly? Nothing. It was completely random. What if I had drank the crazy olive oil and lemon juice concoction? Oh hallelujah it would have been a miracle! No my friend, it doesn’t work that way. That’s great that you passed your stone, but it had little to do with your miracle concoction.

    • Mark says:

      Sorry but I don’t believe any of these stories about lemon/lime juice – olive oil etc.dissolving kidney stones. I’ve been getting stones for about 30 years. I get more now than I used too and last year had 12 of them. I’ve been thru lithotripsies, cystoscopies, stents everything. Many trips to the ER also. I’ve read and researched as much as I can and talked to quite a few doctors to try and stop the stones. The only thing i’ve heard about lemon juice is that it possibly can help to prevent them from forming. To say that you can drink some lemon juice and it helps break up the stones that are passing is ridiculous. If that were the case then when you pass your stone try putting it in a cup of lemon juice. According to you it should dissolve. Guess what, putting it in lemon juice would do about the same thing as putting it in water….. nothing. I have been drinking lemon juice for 3 years because it’s supposed to help prevent stones. The acid in the lemon juice is supposed to help prevent stones from forming. I drink a lot of it every day and guess what. I still get stones. According to you drinking it should be disolving the stones in my kidneys. I really wish it did but sorry to say it does not. Also drinking it while i’m passing a stone does nothing. Sorry but the talk of lemon juice or anything for that matter disolving a kidney stone is simply not true.

      • Lynn says:

        What works for a lot of people may not work for ALL. To say it’s false just because it doesn’t work for you is a little close-minded. My brother has controlled his kidney stones for years using fresh-squeezed lemonade ( without any other changes to his diet )…and now he takes an all natural supplement that uses citric acid as the main ingredient. I know several other people who use the citric acid approach in their diet to control their stone formations. My brother has even quit the citric acid and he formed a couple of stones within a couple of months, so , he knows it’s the citric acid helping. Potassium Citrate may help YOU. But, I believe the doc will have to prescribe it for you.

  13. Bob Kennington says:

    I went to distilled water on a hunch, and my kidney stone problem got worse!

  14. Sherry says:

    I’m a 51-year-old female who never had a kidney stone before. I moved to a new city a few years ago and installed a water softener where you put salt pellets in it. A year after that I had dozens of kidney stones for which I had to have expensive treatments for.

  15. Scott says:

    I have been suffering from kidney stones for 32 years now and I have experienced an undeniable spike in frequency of occurence after moving from city to country living (hard tap water vs city soft water). No matter what “studies” suggest, I am not a number on a piece of paper, I am real and the pain is real, the quality of water has a direct effect.

    • Nik says:

      The problem in your single case is that the change was not just in the water hardness. Quality of water includes other things as well. But what’s more important is you moved to another place, which involves way more than just changing the tap water. That is why studies are made to filter out other factors that may contribute to formation of kidney stones. In your single, real, and painful case there may be something else that is responsible.

      • Nicole says:

        pH. It’s all about your body pH. Some people’s urine runs too acid, others too alkaline. Both can cause stones. 6.4 is the ideal pH for human urine and saliva.

  16. MM says:

    Which type of water softener is worse? You have a choice of sodium or more expensive potassium…

  17. Doug McDonald says:

    So, what does cause kidney and gall stones?

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