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Are You Drinking Yourself Toward a Kidney Stone?

Tim Boyer's picture

Scientists report that what you drink may make the difference between developing a kidney stone or not, sometime in your life. In the current issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers have found that people who drink sodas and other sweetened drinks such as fruit punch have a significantly increased likelihood of developing kidney stones.

Kidney stones form from the crystallization of urine metabolites and chemicals such calcium, oxalate, and phosphorus into solid chunks referred to as "stones" within the kidneys. Typically, these stones are usually brown or yellow in color, can range in shape and texture from a smooth ball to a jagged and shard-shaped object, and can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

The problem with kidney stones is that they can block the flow of urine through the ureters and cause severe pain and bleeding. In most cases, a kidney stone passes normally through the ureter on its own; however, if it is too large or becomes stuck, then more invasive (and painful) treatments such as shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy may be required. However, kidney stones whether an inconvenience or a medical problem may not be as innocuous as some believe, but a harbinger of the early stages of a developing kidney disease.

The cause(s) of developing kidney stones are not well-identified, but many health experts generally attribute it to a combination of genetics, diet and not drinking enough water. The incidence of kidney stones is approximately 20% in men and 10% in women.

While developing a kidney stone sometime in your life may appear to be one of life’s unwanted health lotteries, recent news from Brigham and Women's Hospital reports that their researchers have found that some beverages may be more helpful than others when it comes to preventing recurrent kidney stones.

According to a press release issued by Brigham and Women's Hospital:

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"Our study found that the relation between fluid intake and kidney stones may be dependent on the type of beverage consumed," explained Gary Curhan, MD, ScD, a physician in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH and senior author of this study. "We found that higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a higher incidence of kidney stones."

Their findings are the result of analyzing health data involving over 194,000 participants over the past several years who supplied continual updates on their medical history, lifestyle, medications taken and diet.

Analysis of the data revealed that study participants who drank one or more sugar-sweetened colas or sweetened non-cola drinks such as fruit punch per day had a 23% higher risk of developing kidney stones in comparison to study participants who consumed less than one serving per week of sugary beverages.

Furthermore, what the researchers also found was that drinking beverages such as coffee, tea and orange juice, were associated with a lower risk of kidney stone formation.

"Our prospective study confirms that some beverages are associated with a lower risk of kidney stone formation, whereas others are associated with a higher risk," explained Pietro Manuel Ferraro, MD, a physician at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome and corresponding author of this study. "Although higher total fluid intake reduces the risk of stone formation, this information about individual beverages may be useful for general practitioners seeking to implement strategies to reduce stone formation in their patients."

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Reference: “Soda and Other Beverages and the Risk of Kidney Stones” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, May 15, 2013; Pietro Manuel Ferraro, Eric N. Taylor, Giovanni Gambaro and Gary C. Curhan.