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Kidney Stones

Kidney stones

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi, are hard deposits that form in the kidneys. They are composed of various substances that can crystallise and accumulate, such as calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and cystine.

Kidney stones can vary in size, ranging from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. They can be smooth or jagged and may remain in the kidney or travel through the urinary tract, causing pain and discomfort.

The formation of kidney stones can be influenced by several factors, including inadequate fluid intake, certain dietary choices, underlying medical conditions, and genetic predisposition. When the concentration of substances in the urine exceeds the ability of the urine to dissolve them, crystals can form and grow into larger stones over time.

The symptoms of kidney stones can vary depending on their size and location within the urinary system. Common symptoms include severe pain in the back or side (known as renal colic), blood in the urine, frequent urination, a persistent urge to urinate, and pain during urination. In some cases, kidney stones may cause no symptoms and can be incidentally discovered during medical imaging or routine check-ups.

Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size, location, and severity of symptoms. Small stones often pass spontaneously through the urinary tract with increased fluid intake and pain management. Larger stones may require medical intervention, such as medications or herbs to facilitate stone passage, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) to break the stone into smaller pieces, ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy to remove or break the stone, or in more complex cases, surgical intervention.

Prevention of kidney stones involves maintaining good hydration by drinking an adequate amount of the right type of water, adopting a balanced diet low in sodium and oxalate-rich foods, moderating protein intake, and following any specific dietary recommendations based on the composition of the stone.

Diagram of kidney stones
Diagram of kidney stones

What are the kidneys?

The kidneys are vital organs of the human body that perform several crucial functions related to the filtration and regulation of blood and the production of urine. They are bean-shaped organs located in the upper abdominal cavity, one on each side of the spine.

The main functions of the kidneys include:

  1. Filtration: The kidneys filter waste products, excess water, and toxins from the bloodstream. They remove substances such as urea, creatinine, uric acid, and various electrolytes.
  2. Fluid and Electrolyte Balance: The kidneys help regulate the balance of fluids and electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, and calcium) in the body. They ensure that the concentration of these substances remains within a narrow range necessary for proper functioning of cells and organs.
  3. Acid-Base Balance: The kidneys help maintain the acid-base balance in the body by excreting hydrogen ions and reabsorbing bicarbonate ions. This process helps regulate the pH of the blood and prevents it from becoming too acidic or alkaline.
  4. Blood Pressure Regulation: The kidneys play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure. They help control blood volume by adjusting the amount of water and salt reabsorbed into the bloodstream. The kidneys also produce a hormone called renin, which stimulates the release of another hormone, aldosterone, that regulates blood pressure.
  5. Red Blood Cell Production: The kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to various tissues and organs.
  6. Vitamin D Activation: The kidneys are involved in the activation of vitamin D, a hormone necessary for calcium absorption in the intestines. This helps maintain strong bones and normal calcium levels in the body.

The kidneys receive blood from the renal arteries, filter it through tiny units called nephrons, and then eliminate the waste products and excess fluid as urine through the ureters, which connect the kidneys to the bladder.

Maintaining kidney health is essential for overall well-being. It is important to stay hydrated, maintain a balanced diet, and avoid excessive intake of substances that can harm the kidneys, such as alcohol and certain medications.

How do stones develop in the kidneys?

Kidney stones develop when certain substances in the urine become highly concentrated and form crystals. Over time, these crystals can accumulate and grow into larger stones. The exact process of stone formation can vary depending on the type of stone and the underlying factors involved. Here are the general steps in the development of kidney stones:

  1. Supersaturation: The urine contains various substances, including calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and cystine. When the concentration of these substances becomes too high, the urine becomes “supersaturated,” meaning it contains more solutes than it can dissolve. Supersaturation is a key factor in stone formation.
  2. Nucleation: In supersaturated urine, the excess solutes can come together and form tiny crystals. These crystals serve as the initial building blocks of kidney stones. The process of crystal formation is known as nucleation.
  3. Crystal Growth: Once the crystals are formed, they can continue to grow larger if the conditions are favourable. Factors such as the concentration of substances, urine pH, and the presence of other molecules can influence crystal growth.
  4. Aggregation: As the crystals grow, they may begin to stick together and aggregate, forming larger solid structures. Aggregation can occur due to various mechanisms, including the presence of specific ‘proteins’ or other substances that act as “glue” between the crystals.
  5. Stone Formation: Over time, the aggregated crystals can develop into kidney stones of varying sizes and shapes. The stones can range from small, sand-like particles to larger, more solid structures.

Several factors contribute to the formation of kidney stones, including:

  1. Dehydration: Insufficient fluid intake can lead to concentrated urine, increasing the risk of stone formation.
  2. Diet: Consuming a diet high in sodium, oxalate, or purines (found in certain foods) can contribute to stone formation. For example, high levels of oxalate in the urine can increase the likelihood of calcium oxalate stone formation, the most common type of kidney stone.
  3. Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing kidney stones.
  4. Urinary tract abnormalities: Certain structural abnormalities in the urinary tract can create an environment conducive to stone formation.
  5. Medical conditions: Conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, urinary tract infections, and certain metabolic disorders can increase the risk of kidney stone formation.

It’s important to note that not everyone with a high concentration of stone-forming substances in their urine will develop kidney stones. Other factors, such as the presence of inhibitors that prevent crystal formation and aggregation, also play a role in preventing stone formation.

Mineral deposits can cause kidney stones

Yes, mineral deposits play a significant role in the formation of kidney stones. Kidney stones are typically composed of various substances that can crystallise and accumulate in the kidneys. The most common types of kidney stones are:

  1. Calcium stones: These are the most prevalent type of kidney stones, accounting for about 80% of cases. They are primarily composed of calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. High levels of calcium and/or oxalate in the urine can increase the risk of calcium stone formation.
  2. Uric acid stones: These stones form when there are high levels of uric acid in the urine. Uric acid is a byproduct of the breakdown of purines, which are naturally occurring substances found in certain foods and body tissues.
  3. Struvite stones: Struvite stones are primarily composed of magnesium ammonium phosphate. They often develop as a result of urinary tract infections caused by certain bacteria. These stones can grow rapidly and become quite large.
  4. Cystine stones: Cystine stones are rare and form due to a hereditary disorder called cystinuria. People with cystinuria have higher levels of the amino acid cystine in their urine, which can lead to the formation of cystine stones.

The formation of these mineral-based kidney stones occurs when the concentration of substances in the urine exceeds the capacity of the urine to dissolve them. Factors that can contribute to mineral deposits and stone formation include:

  1. Inadequate hydration: Low fluid intake can result in concentrated urine, increasing the chances of mineral crystallisation and stone formation.
  2. Diet: Consuming a diet high in certain substances, such as calcium, oxalate, and purines, can contribute to the increased presence of these minerals in the urine, promoting stone formation. Foods rich in oxalate include spinach, rhubarb, beets, nuts, and chocolate.
  3. Metabolic disorders: Certain metabolic conditions can lead to an imbalance of minerals in the body, increasing the risk of stone formation. Examples include hyperparathyroidism, a condition where the parathyroid glands produce excessive parathyroid hormone, and conditions that affect the absorption or excretion of certain substances in the kidneys.
  4. Urinary tract abnormalities: Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract can create an environment that facilitates the accumulation and retention of minerals, promoting stone formation.

It’s important to note that each person’s situation is unique, and the specific causes and risk factors for kidney stones can vary.

Can kidney stones develop from drinking water?

Drinking water, especially in appropriate amounts, generally does not cause kidney stone formation. In fact, staying well-hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water is often recommended as a preventive measure against kidney stones. Sufficient hydration helps dilute the urine and reduces the concentration of stone-forming substances, making it less likely for crystals to form and aggregate.

On the other hand, inadequate fluid intake and dehydration can contribute to the development of kidney stones. When there is not enough water in the body, the urine becomes more concentrated, which increases the likelihood of mineral crystallisation and stone formation.

However, it’s important to consider the composition of the water you consume. Some cases have been reported where drinking water with high levels of certain minerals, such as calcium or magnesium, might contribute to the formation of specific types of kidney stones. For example, in areas where the water is naturally high in calcium and magnesium, there may be a slightly increased risk of calcium stone formation. However, the overall impact of drinking water on kidney stone formation is generally minimal when compared to other factors such as diet, genetics, and underlying medical conditions.

Chanca piedra
Chanca piedra (Sone breaker)

Medicinal plants used for kidney stones

There are several medicinal plants that have been traditionally used to help prevent, manage kidney stones or support kidney health. It’s important to note that while these plants have been used in traditional medicine, their effectiveness and safety may vary. Here are a few examples of medicinal plants commonly associated with kidney stone management:

  1. Chanca Piedra (Phyllanthus niruri): Also known as “stonebreaker,” Chanca Piedra is a plant traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Amazonian medicine for kidney stone prevention and treatment. It is believed to help break down kidney stones, reduce pain, and promote the passage of stones. Some studies suggest that it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
  2. Nettle (Urtica dioica): Nettle is a plant that has diuretic properties, which means it can increase urine production and help flush out the kidneys. It is believed to help prevent the formation of kidney stones by promoting the elimination of waste and reducing the concentration of stone-forming substances. Nettle can be consumed as a tea or taken in supplement form.
  3. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Dandelion has been used traditionally to support kidney health and promote diuresis. It is believed to help increase urine production and facilitate the elimination of waste products from the kidneys. Dandelion root can be consumed as a tea or taken in supplement form.
  4. Gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum): Gravel root, also known as Joe-Pye weed, has been used in traditional Native American medicine for kidney stone management. It is believed to have diuretic properties and promote the passage of kidney stones. Gravel root is often consumed as a tea or taken in supplement form.
  5. Corn silk (Zea mays): Corn silk refers to the silky fibres found on the ears of corn. It has been used traditionally as a diuretic and is believed to help promote urine flow and potentially aid in flushing out the kidneys. Corn silk can be consumed as a tea or taken in supplement form.
  6. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense): Horsetail is an herb that has been used traditionally as a diuretic and for urinary tract health. It is believed to promote urine production and help flush out the kidneys. Horsetail can be consumed as a tea or taken in supplement form.
  7. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Parsley is a common culinary herb that has diuretic properties. It is believed to help increase urine production and support kidney health. Parsley can be consumed as a food or prepared as a tea.
  8. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary is an aromatic herb that has been used traditionally for various health purposes. It is believed to have diuretic properties and may help support kidney health. Rosemary can be consumed as a tea or incorporated into culinary preparations.
  9. Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): Uva ursi, also known as bearberry, has a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine for urinary tract health. It is believed to have antibacterial properties and may help inhibit the growth of certain bacteria that can contribute to urinary tract infections and stone formation. Uva ursi is typically taken in supplement form.

Again, it’s important to emphasize that the effectiveness and safety of these medicinal plants for kidney stone management have not been extensively studied. They should not replace medical advice or prescribed treatments. If you’re considering using herbal remedies for kidney stones, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide guidance based on your individual circumstances and ensure safe and appropriate usage.

Foods to eat to prevent kidney stones

Dietary choices play a crucial role in preventing kidney stone formation. Here are some general guidelines for foods to incorporate into your diet to help reduce the risk of kidney stones:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water and maintain good hydration. Aim for at least 8 glasses (64 ounces) of water per day or more, depending on your individual needs and activity level. Sufficient hydration helps dilute urine and reduce the concentration of stone-forming substances.
  2. Increase Fluids with Citrus: Citrus fruits like key limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits are rich in citrate, which inhibits the formation of certain types of kidney stones. Consuming citrus fruits or adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to your water can be beneficial.
  3. Moderate Calcium Intake: Calcium is an essential nutrient, and it’s important to ensure an adequate intake. However, excessive calcium intake can contribute to the formation of calcium stones. Aim to meet the recommended daily intake of calcium from food sources rather than supplements. Good sources include leafy greens.
  4. Limit Oxalate-Rich Foods: Some kidney stones are composed of calcium oxalate. If you are prone to calcium oxalate stones, it can be helpful to limit high-oxalate foods. Examples include spinach, rhubarb, beets, nuts, chocolate, and certain teas. However, do not eliminate these foods without medical advice, as they also have nutritional benefits.
  5. Moderate Protein Intake: High intake of animal products, such as red meat, poultry, and seafood, can increase the risk of kidney stone formation, especially uric acid stones. Aim for moderate protein consumption and consider incorporating plant-based ‘protein’ sources like legumes and quinoa.
  6. Control Sodium Intake: High sodium (salt) intake can increase the amount of calcium excreted in urine, which can contribute to stone formation. Limit processed foods, fast food, and excessive salt use. Instead, opt for fresh foods and use herbs, spices, and lemon juice for flavouring.
  7. Increase Dietary Fibre: Consuming an adequate amount of dietary fibre can help maintain a healthy weight and promote proper digestion. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are good sources of dietary fibre.
  8. Moderation with Oxalate and Calcium Combining: Consuming oxalate-rich foods and calcium-rich foods together may help prevent calcium oxalate stones. The calcium can bind to oxalate in the intestines, reducing its absorption. Pairing foods like spinach with a calcium source, such as low-fat dairy products or calcium-fortified foods, may be beneficial.

Remember, individual dietary recommendations may vary depending on the type of kidney stone and underlying conditions. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalised advice and guidance based on your specific needs and medical history. They can help create a comprehensive diet plan that supports kidney health and reduces the risk of kidney stone formation.

Key limes
Key limes

How to dissolve kidney stones naturally

There are some natural remedies that may help support kidney health and potentially aid in the prevention of kidney stones. Here are some natural strategies that are sometimes suggested:

  1. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is crucial to prevent stone formation and promote the passage of small stones. Drinking an adequate amount of natural spring water helps dilute the urine, reducing the concentration of stone-forming substances.
  2. Lemon Juice and Citrus Fruits: Citric acid, found in limes and other citrus fruits, may help prevent the formation of certain types of kidney stones. Citric acid can increase urine citrate levels, which inhibit the formation of calcium-based stones. Adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to your water or consuming citrus fruits may be beneficial.
  3. Herbal Remedies: Certain herbal remedies, such as Chanca Piedra (stonebreaker), have been traditionally used for kidney stone management. While their effectiveness is not scientifically established, some individuals find them helpful. Consult with a healthcare professional before using herbal remedies, as they may interact with medications or have potential side effects.
  4. Dietary Modifications: Adapting your diet to reduce the risk of stone formation can be beneficial. This includes moderating calcium, oxalate, sodium, and protein intake, as mentioned earlier. A registered dietitian can provide personalised guidance based on your specific situation.
  5. Physical Activity: Regular physical activity and exercise can help maintain overall health and may promote kidney health. Exercise can help improve blood flow to the kidneys and support optimal kidney function.

It’s important to note that these natural remedies may not be suitable or effective for everyone. Kidney stone management should be approached in a comprehensive manner, considering individual factors, stone composition, and underlying medical conditions.


  1. Mayo Clinic:
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK):
  3. American Urological Association (AUA):
  4. Cleveland Clinic:
  5. National Kidney Foundation (NKF):

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