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.

165 Responses to Kidney stone myths

  1. John Holmes says:

    I’m in the middle of internally dissolving kidney stones even as I type. This article is correct, there is no medicine that dissolves stones. However, the local grocery store has the three ingredients you need to be free from passing any stones. A pound of asparagus, a six pack of soda pop containing phosphoric acid, and a gallon of spring water. I passed one stone, ever; the first one. With this combo, I’ve avoided passing dozens of stones rver since over the years.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I just had my second procedure for kidney stones. The first procedure was called a lithotripsy which is soundwaves to break up the stones and unfortunately there’s a chance they didn’t break all of them up during the procedure which is why I had to go back a second time. I had a second lithotripsy and a stent put in my ureter & the stones removed during surgery from the doctor. I wanted to share my experience so others would know what to expect. The lithotripsy was absolutely no problem but having a stent put in and that second procedure being a little bit more invasive what is more difficult. I was not prepared that it would take a couple of weeks to feel better and to have the frequent urination and pain to subside. I took Percocet and ibuprofen around-the-clock to feel better. I am almost 2 weeks out of my surgery and just now starting to feel a little bit better & less pain meds thankfully’ Each procedure room is about $6000 so be prepared for that. My final step is to find out what type of stone I have so that I can change my diet.

  3. Dheeraj Upadhyay says:

    My name is Dheeraj Upadhyay. My mother has stones in her right kindey of size 10.7mm. She just had a surgery of gallbladder & stones removal (less than a month). She has sugar as well. The doctor advised us for another surgery of removal kidney stones which i don’t want. As per the doctor, the size of the stone is big & not possible to remove it without surgery.

    Is it possible to remove the stone without surgery & with the help of medicines ?

    Request you to kindly reply & advise accordingly.

  4. Coetta says:

    We are so confused. So many different charts show different items being low medium high or extra high oxalate. It is hard to figure out which one to follow to keep your activate low. What is the best harden list to follow?

    • Dr. Mike Nguyen says:

      I agree that knowing what to eat to limit your oxalate intake can be confusing. I generally recommend avoiding oxalate excess but don’t recommend trying to significantly limit oxalate as this is very difficult to do and is not necessarily useful for all patients. However, for patients who are identified to have high urinary oxalate on a 24 hour urine collection, oxalate intake is more of a concern.

      For more information and real world advice on managing oxalate in your diet, I would suggest you take a look at The University of Chicago’s page on how to eat a low oxalate diet.

  5. Doug Symes says:

    I heard on the radio of a trucker that ate only junk food
    and had a bad case of kidney stones, he was told by his
    Friend who also did this and succeeded,to
    drink a couple of bottles of mineral water a week, after
    6 months the stones were gone.When I was diagnosed
    with kidney stones, I decided to try it and the stones I had
    disappeared after 6 months, my urologist couldn’t
    believe it .

  6. Kodza says:

    Researchers propose new treatment to prevent kidney stones
    Modifier appears to dissolve crystals of the most common kidney stone

    so google article to disolve myth fm truth

    Date: August 8, 2016

  7. Rajvardhan says:

    I have one stones in my both kidney of 4mm and 4.5mm. Does food also causes stone formation? I am very scared by remembering the pain,so I am little bit worried and feared. While passing through urine does it hurt.

    • Suzanne says:

      Let me tell you. I just passed a 3 mm and thought I was going to die! I gave birth to a breech baby that tore me from stem to stern and didn’t utter a cry. The stone, however, I moaned LOUDLY!!!

  8. John says:

    I woke up in the night with terrible pains in my lower back, I could not get comfortable and the next night it was worse, in addition I kept on feeling that I needed to go to the loo, but would only pass a little water. It got worse and in desperation searched the web for information. As soon as I read about the vinegar treatment It made sense to me and I started off with Malt vinegar with water, Not the best taste but I was getting desperate! Within a day or two I felt much better, and switched to Apple Cider Vinegar. It worked for me.
    To my mind, the increase in acid consumption makes the body balance up by urinating the excess and as it passes through the kidneys it starts to dissolve the stone. This works for Calcium stones – and these are the most common stones.
    (I do not know why anyone would drink olive oil unless they are getting mixed up with gall stones which are completely different problem) hope this helps!

    • Grandma Roses says:

      The acid in your stomach, that your body produces every day, is much more acid than any vinegar. If that acid is not enough to work on your kidney stones, no other acid will, either.

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