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.

191 Responses to Kidney stone myths

  1. Stephen Scalf says:

    I understand why most sites talk about reducing oxalate-containing foods to prevent kidney stones, because oxalate stones are most common, but for those of us who produce other kinds of stones, the oxalate intake information is pretty much useless.
    Every once in a while, I will pass the classic hard, spiky oxalate stone, but most of mine (thank God!) are softer, white stones that break up much easier. Instead of the blood in the urine, the pre-symptom is kidney ache followed by cloudy urine. As I said, cutting down on oxalates will do NOTHING to prevent this kind of stone.
    I would just ask that those who write about kidney stones acknowledge that there are different kinds of stones, and blanket, generalized statements simply do not apply to everyone.

  2. D.S says:

    FYI if your going to get lithotripsy beware, I had it three times in ten years and found out after the fact. ( on line ) that the shock waves in your kidneys can damage there ability to produce the hormone that regulates your blood pressure thus ending up with high blood pressure, also the shock waves in your paccreus which regulates insulin can stop that process and cause diabetes so talk to the doc before you jump right in.

  3. Boyd Morrison says:

    i love it when people with no scientific background make scientific claims …
    The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

  4. Christine says:

    In the last 5 years, I’ve had several kidney stones….around 6. When I moved to my present condo 2 years ago, I didn’t like the soft water. But I have not gotten ONE kidney stone since moving here. That’s 2 years without a kidney stone! YAY! My dentist told me that hard water contains mineral particulates that make it hard on kidneys and leads to the formation of the stones. He’s kind of a nerd when it comes to medical facts. So if you suffer from stones and have hard water, you might try changing to soft water. It’s certainly worth a try!

    • Joclyn Nelson says:

      IF it were true that those who drink hard water ( especially municipal water ) were more likely to get kidney stones a lot more people would get them. A nephrologist ( kidney specialist ) I saw said there was little difference between the rate of those drinking hard water and soft water, in fact those who drank soft water actually had a higher incident of kidney stones. My fiance had hundreds of kidney stones over a two year period, in part because one urologist told him to drink lemon juice and warm water. When he stopped that, and nothing else changed he has not had one kidney stone in 13 years.

      • Adam Cornwell says:

        What do you put this fact down to? Ie lemon making it worse. Did he have more curates previous to the advice, than he did after stopping the lemon juice? Since there is some evidence that citrates might reduce stones, how do you think this happened? What type of stones were they? I ask because I’m considering having lemon juice every day, after my first stones are removed.

      • Jack Mayhoffer says:

        Since moving to my present city in 2002, (new construction) not only have I developed multiple stones – everyone in my family has as well. Wife, Daughter (16yo), and Stepdaughter(27yo). The 40 years previous to this move has been stone free.

  5. Nwankwor Michael says:

    I was diagnosed of multiple stone on the right kidney,one was about 12mm while the rest were about 2mm and 2.5mm.Also my ureters were blocked according to the investigation report of C.T and IVU scan i went.Later i went for surgery,the stones were removed,remaining one 2mm stone,which was not removed.And it has been causing a lot of pains and recurrent infection in the kidney. I have also tried many of this home remedies to dissolve stone.I have used apple cider vinegar,I have used lemon juice, i take a lot of fluid but to no avail.Now I was recommended for lithotripsy,but am afraid the effect it may have on my kidney.

  6. Seralynn Lewis says:

    While some of the information is well known, it leaves a lot to be desired. We don’t drink sodas…pretty much stopped drinking them over 15 years ago…except an occasional Root Beer which is my favorite.

    It took over a year for the doctors to figure it out. After examining me for colon issues which were non-existent. It took an abdominal x-ray to see that stone, then a cat scan to find out how big it was.

    I was just released from the hospital after FOUR OR surgeries for a 19mm (3/4 inch) kidney stone. My recommendation is that you check out your urologist very carefully. Get a second opinion, and a third if need be.

  7. Ackbar Jeff says:

    The National Institute of Health seems to disagree with your myth #1.

    • Maria says:

      I ran into the same article while doing my researches. But if you think carefully, it doesn’t contraddict Myth #1. Infact, it says that hard water increases risk factors for kidney stones IN PATIENTS WITH IDIOPATHIC NEPHROLITHIASIS. Which is quite acknowledged. If your kidneys work correctly there is no problem in drinking hard water.

    • Christine says:

      Thank you for that link. I suffered from stones for years until I moved to this condo which uses soft water. For the last 2 years, since moving here, I’ve had no stones. To think that if I had known this years ago, I could have saved myself a whole lot of excruciating pain and cat scans.

    • Tunetopper says:

      This website is probably funded by the health insurance industry- it just makes too much sense that hard water would cause kidney stones, and the insurance cos don’t want to pay for surgeries that would cost them a lot of money.

  8. JC Morrison says:

    One small note: there is no clear evidence that drinking cranberry juice helps to treat or prevent UTIs.

    • JH Grismer says:

      Although there may be no clear evidence (you do not cite a source) I can share my personal experience. My first kidney stone occurrence was in 1992 which was accompanied by a UTI. A couple of years later I had another kidney stone occurrence with a UTI. I began drinking cranberry juice every day thereafter and although have had other kidney stones, no accompanying UTIs. I also have a condition called “sponge kidney” which is more prone to UTIs. As a result I will keep drinking my daily dose as a preventive measure. I just had another kidney stone occurrence this past week and no UTI.

    • Cynthia Behr says:

      I agree with JH. Cranberry helped me dramatically. It reduced the severity of the renal colic I experienced before having lithotripsy and laser surgery. Coffee, especially Folgers, and lemonade made my renal colic worse. For 2 years now after the 2 kidney stone surgeries, I have had nearly non-stop renal colic. Chiro, acupuncture, yoga, deep tissue massage, myofascial release, muscle relaxers, and nsaids only help short-term or as a band-aid. I don’t know how to make it go away. Any advice is appreciated. Is anyone else experiencing this post-op?

  9. Carolyn says:

    Wow reading some comments lmao, some people slept through science hey haha.
    Go research- acids, physics, bio chemistry, chemistry, nutrients, minerals, vitamins aw heck while there look up Quantum Physics, vibrational frequencies, atoms, photons, protons, neutrons, neurons & anything else that’ll expand your mind lol. The best thing one can do is research, research, research when you think you know everything remember you don’t & research some more. Question everything! Even what i write, based on years of research & still going, but still – question & research don’t be lazy.
    A glass of any soda a day or every few days isnt going to cause issues if overall diet is adequite, however high intake if the rest of the diet is good can be risky. Though stated ‘some with stones drinking — soda also had bad diets’, well, not all who drink lots of any soda have bad eating habits yet have still had stones, i did not see that stated. Seemes to me research for article was limited, unfinished & biast to the writers wants.
    Excessive intake of any soda & processed food is risk for kidney stones & other illness.
    Sugar a big reason, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, maltose, galacyose & so on, other additives, preservatives ect there’s a recipe for kidney stones. Adult average daily intake of added sugar (not naturally present) should only be approx 6-9 teaspoons, many exceed this up to a whopping 30-40+ teaspoons.
    Manufactured sugar, really isn’t good for us, as addictive as some drugs, causes the same chemical reaction in the brain as a hit of Cocaine & you know what else, sugar is harder to quit.
    In fact, it’s so addictive & causing so many health & mental issues, issues that even lead to death (stats put number of deaths & associated illnesses for sugar higher than drug related, did you also know of all drugs Alcohol is the biggest killer, yes legal & the biggest killer) doctors & specialists are fighting to have it classed a drug.
    Honestly, unless food is fresh & unprocessed it’s a risk to us, especually the way we consume copious amounts of crap…
    FYI – Increased milk/dairy intake IS cause for stones i personally witnessed, discharged from hospital a few hours ago, milk the cause being the only major diet change.
    Humans aren’t supposed to consume dairy anyway, we don’t digest or process it properly, get very little value from it (but hey it tastes good so why not lol), it triggers the body to produce extra muccus & other yuck stuff. Dairy started as a money maker for cattle farm business nothing more. We do properly digest, process, absorb & better benifit from the calcium in fruits & veg.
    I’m usually a tad health & fitness geek, healthy, active, didn’t drink soda, limit junk & fast foods to rare treats & drink lots of water. BUT about the last 6 months (since losing work) slacked off nutrition, having days of very high milk consumption, those days neglecting water (2-3 ltrs of milk daily), craving it everyday the week prior & first 2 days of periods, started to drink soda occasionally (by law in Australia only made with cane sugar not high fructos corn syrup) but became daily with sugar addiction, still not as high as milk consumption…
    Prior, before getting lazy, drank Apple Cider Vinegar daily & warm filtered water with lemon slfilte& honey.. Made own salad dressings with Olive oil, fresh squeesed lemon juice, herbs & spices (not sure if olive oil lubes stones but it can help lube things a bit with pooping troubles), Olive oil and balsalmic or brown vinegar etc. NEVER in my life have i ever encountered stones or pain like i experienced when waking up yesterday morning.
    FINALLY! After all day in hospital, high on probably half the pain killer supply, countless tests no results, 12:30am they opted for CT scan, which found 2 small stones.
    3mm – culprit for the pain as it rode the Kidney Coaster of Death, now free at kidney exit, happily dwells near the entrance of it’s next adventure, deciding when to dive in ride the ‘Bladder Buster Splashtacular’ to complete freedom.
    The other just on 2mm, waiting at top of the kidney could one day too to take the Kidney Coaster of Death adventure if i don’t kill it first.
    Apple cider vinegar, lemons & limes do help dissolve small stones, are awesome for cleansing & detoxing the body. Also help to decalcify other parts of the body & if taken daily prevent stones & bad calcium build up. Always filter water, fluride added to drinking water as well as toothpaste, other foods etc IS VERY TOXIC, should NEVER be ingested, causes bad calcium build up & calcification to parts of the body, NOT the good healthy calcium our body needs that is obtained through fruits & veg.
    Kidney stones, gallbladder stones etc are not the only mineral & sediment build up in the body.
    Due to poor diet, high processed food & fluid intake, excessive milk/dairy consumption, excessive meat eating (particularly eating lots of yummy fat attached to the meaty goodness lol) calcification of the Pineal Gland a gland that produces Serotonin & Melatonin chemicals that regulate sleep pattetns, control conciousness during sleep stages, dreaming and much more. Calcification reduces chemical & hormone production & brings on insomnia, depression, dementia, makes people lethargic & more
    Pineal Gland also produces METAtonin, DMT based chemical every living thing – plant & animal on the planet can produce, only thing is many humans for the most part have lost the ability to produce successfully produce & maintain METAtonin, biggest reason is Calcification of the Pineal Gland another is a counter chemical we’ve learnt to produce attacks METAtonin when released by the Gland.
    A fetus produces this chemical in abundance until birth, by approx age 4-5 calcification slowly sets in, by adulthood for many calcification so bad & worsens till death, a surge of it is released giving the person visions. Decalcification is possible & METAtonin when used can allow for higher self conciouness, ability for more vivid deeper lucid dreaming, enhanced visual meditation, stronger psychic connections & much more, possibly even self healing & prolonged life.
    There’s a portion of our DNA that is dorment, throughout history few have been able to trigger & use parts of their dormant DNA, studying these people & through other studies scientists believe METAtonin is the key to awakening all our DNA, giving us abilities we never thought possible. If you don’t believe me look it all up.

    • Mike says:

      This all makes good sense… I believe you. Thanks so much. I am at the moment in pain with what I think is a growing kidney stone. I had one before that took me 4 days to pass and being injected every 4 hours with pain killer (meth I think), and never want another.Pain was so bad the Meth only lasted about 60-90 minutes and they gave me 2 panadol then lol. Been trampled by horses, 2 head on car crashes, fell backwards of a roof ladder, bleeding ulcers, beaten to a pulp by 3 thugs, and I would rather all the above at once, than this kidney stone again. It reduced me, a fit and healthy strong man, to a crying baby. Now, after a huge change of diet over the last 2 weeks of milk products and meat, I have this pain once more. At the minute I am drinking 2 cans of beer (as well as 6 glasses of water over the last few hours) to try and flush it. So far the pain is manageable, but scared of what it might become. I hope the beer works.I also have sleep problems, so I will certainly take your advise on Metatoonin. Thanks again Carolyn

    • L1ttl3J1m says:

      > fluride added to drinking water as well as toothpaste, other foods etc IS VERY TOXIC, should NEVER be ingested

      > metatonin

      Ya know, right up untill you were unable to restrain yourself from popping these little dead giveaways into your jolly screed, I was starting to think you might aftually know what you were on about.

    • JH Grismer says:

      Look where in particular? You raise some interesting points and I am interested in understanding more about the relationship of the chemical benefits of certain foods and the bad effects of others. I had prostate cancer ten years ago and multiple bouts of kidney stones. I agree that proper nutrition is a key factor. No one else in my immediate family has had kidney stones, so why me?

    • Cynthia Behr says:

      Carolyn, You really should just speak to what you know and what you’ve experienced. You don’t have to be so negative toward people’s comments. Drinking a soda everyday is bad for the body. It affects everyone differently. My body attacks itself when I drink soda or anything containing sodium benzoate, bisulfites and other preservatives. Specifically, I get plantar fasciitis and can barely walk. My joints ache and creak. This started when I was in my 20’s. I’m thankful I figured it out quickly. Sodas are not healthy. I thought you said you did research. hmm

  10. 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.

    • Cynthia Behr says:

      John Holmes, the ‘Beyonce’ diet or other aliases which uses grade b maple syrup and lemon juice also started to make me pass the stones but it was too large to pass. I eventually had to have surgeries.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 .

  15. 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

  16. 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!!!

      • Clovis says:

        Wow. 3mm is not even noticeable for me. I used to pass 5-6mm stones regularly. Only when they got over 7mm did they fail to pass (requiring hospitalization). I moved to the kidney stone capital of the US (Lynchburg VA) and I still haven’t passed a single stone. Why? One beer a day. I don’t know if it’s science or placebo, all I know is that I haven’t had a stone in over two years, when I used to pass one or two every three months. Whatever works, right?

  17. 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.

      • Ernie says:

        the acid in the stomach has nothing to do with the kidneys. I think the vinegar works because of the acetic acid. more acetic acid allows the oxalate to be utilised by the krebs cycle by making oxaloacetate which is used to make asparagine which is used to make many things concerned with metabolism, including connective tissues, so gentle exercise should be part of the treatment.

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