Home Remedies for Kidney Stones: Myths or Miracles?
Kidneys stones are miserable! There’s no sugar coating this fact. Unfortunately getting relief in a speedy fashion is not always easy.
If you do make it to an ER, then you’re left dealing with a lengthy visit, a big bill and constipation inducing pain medications. It’s no wonder that you’d rather consider a home remedy for your kidney stone.
Unfortunately, the internet is filled with self-proclaimed “experts” who make claims that are not backed in science. Allow us to help. At VirtuCare we partner with board-certified urologists who are kidney stone experts.
Rather than drink your cocktail or beer, olive oil and lemon juice (eww gross) because you “heard it helps kidney stones pass” allow us to separate myth from miracles. We don’t want you wasting time on a home remedy that has no hope of helping your body push out a kidney stone.
Whether you’re actively trying to birth that little rock from your pee hole or hoping to prevent future episodes, let’s review the various home remedies for kidney stones.
Home Remedies for Kidney Stone Treatment
We’ll get to kidney stone prevention shortly, but what if you already have a kidney stone? Are there any home remedies that help kidney stones pass? Better yet, can you dissolve kidney stones?
I’ve heard lots of home remedies for kidney stone treatment from my patients and colleagues. Chugging a beer while standing on your head with an apple cider vinegar chaser. Before you give a keg-stand a try at age 44 (good luck), let’s consult the literature for any evidence.
Kidney Stone Treatment Home Remedy #1: Dissolving the stone
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could eat or drink something and “poof” your kidney stone would disappear? I hate to burst your bubble but this is very, very unlikely.
First, 80% of stones are calcium oxalate stones. These stones are difficult at times to bust up with soundwaves and lasers. In fact there are no prescription medications available to dissolve calcium stones. So don’t think that drinking ACV or lemon juice is going to make these buggers go away.
Next, remember why the stones formed in the first place. There’s something consistently going on with your kidneys and diet. This would be similar to thinking that you’re going to transform from $10k in credit card debt to a millionaire by skipping that Starbucks coffee run in the morning. Kidney stones, like your net worth, do not correct that quickly.
To make a long story short, there is no evidence that any home remedy will dissolve an active kidney stone. With that being said, let’s speculate when you MAY be able to dissolve a kidney stone.
10% of stones, if you recall, are made of uric acid. We have evidence that in as little as 6 weeks, taking potassium citrate (stone preventer) can dissolve uric acid stones completely 60% of the time. Now here are the caveats:
- 6 weeks is an eternity if a stone is trying to pass. So if you’re hurting, find a board-certified urologist to help treat your kidney stone. Dissolving a stone is going to require the “medical plumber.”
- Also, potassium citrate is not exactly a home remedy since it is a prescription medication. You also need a CT scan to prove that the stone is made of uric acid (less dense than calcium stones). Otherwise you’re wasting your time hoping it will dissolve.
- Lastly you would need some way on your own to monitor your urine pH (acid-base balance). Dissolving a stone only works if your urine is acidic (pH <6) and the home remedy raises the urine pH.
In other words, there are too many minor miracles that would need to occur for you to successfully dissolve a kidney stone with a home remedy.
Can I dissolve a kidney stone with a home remedy? Myth. Odds of dissolving a stone are one in a million with a home remedy.
Kidney Stone Treatment Home Remedy #2: Helping the stone pass
Hopefully you’ve let go of the notion that you’ll be able to dissolve a kidney stone on your own. But is there something you can do to help a kidney stone pass?
I had a colleague who’d tell his patients to drink beer when they got a kidney stone. You don’t hear doctors prescribing Bud Light very often to patients. To be clear, here at VirtuCare we are not recommending alcohol consumption as a treatment for kidney stones.
Why would he have recommended beer then? From a theoretical perspective, beer is a diuretic due to the fluid volume and alcohol. The logic is that drinking beer will “flush” or push out the stone.
However there is no evidence that drinking any specific beverage will help a kidney stone pass.
In fact over hydrating may make the kidney stone pain worse. Kidney stones hurt because they are blocking the flow of urine and put a back pressure on your kidney. The more you drink, the more urine you make, the more times you feel the kidney stone.
I’m not recommending complete avoidance of fluids, but don’t think that drinking a gallon of anything is going to be a home remedy for kidney stones.
The biggest predictors of passing a stone are stone size, location and your previous ability to birth a stone from your pee hole.
Is there a home remedy for passing a kidney stone with a home remedy? Sorry, it’s a myth. Drink enough fluids to stay hydrated but don’t think you can flush out the stone with a cerveza or two.
Home Remedies for Kidney Stone Prevention
They say that prevention is the best medicine. At VirtuCare we 100% agree. Before we get started, let’s review how kidney stones form so you can better understand how you might be able to prevent stones.
Kidney stones are literally stones, rocks, or pebbles that form in the plumbing portion of the kidneys. When the ratio of minerals to water is too high in the kidneys, then the minerals crystalize and form stones (supersaturation is the fancy doctor term).
Think of it like adding salt to a pot of water. Salt is sodium chloride for those who need a chemistry refresher. Two minerals. When there’s enough water you dissolve the salt crystals and they disappear. Not enough water? The sodium and chloride stay connected and sink to the bottom of the pot.
The most common minerals that form kidney stones are calcium oxalate (80% of stones). There are also calcium phosphate, uric acid, and struvite stones to name a few. The common theme in all stones is too many minerals and not enough water.
With all of this in mind, home remedies for kidney stones should start with reducing the crystals and increasing the water.
When patients ask me the best way to prevent kidney stones I tell them the top 3 things they should do are drink more water, drink more water and drink more water. Dull but effective.
The American Urological Association (AUA) guidelines for the management of kidney stones recommends that you aim for a goal of 2.5 L of urine output a day. That’s a lot of tee tee. Since the average bladder holds 300-400 ml of urine, this means going to the bathroom at least 6-8 times a day with a full bladder.
Now fluid in does not always equal tee tee out. You can lose water from sweating and breathing (insensible losses in medical jargon). So during the summer or heavy exercise you may need to drink more.
You have to balance water intake with spending the entire day in the bathroom. Drinking too much water can also be dangerous. If you aim for drinking 64-80 oz of water a day then you’re probably pretty close to a home remedy for kidney stones.
Is drinking water a home remedy for kidney stones? - Miracle. It’s not sexy, but drinking water is the most effective home remedy for kidney stones.
You want sexy? How about something with an exotic name that’s nicknamed “stonebreaker”. Chanca piedra certainly has appeal, but what is it and does it work?
According to Wikipedia, chanca piedra is also known as Phyllanthus niruri, which “is a widespread tropical plant commonly found in coastal areas.” It is also “known by the common names gale of the wind, stonebreaker or seed-under-leaf.”
Chanca piedra has been used in South America for many years to treat a variety of illnesses including kidney stones. One study in Brazil examined the use of “stonebreaker” in patients with calcium kidney stones. Compared to a sugar pill, chanca piedra significantly lowered urine calcium levels in patients with high baseline urine calcium levels.
But what if you already have a stone and truly want a “stonebreaker”. Researchers took 60 patients with average kidney stones of 5 mm on CT scans (the most accurate test to measure kidney stones) and placed them on a combination of chanca piedra, magnesium and vitamin B6. 3 months later 40% of patients had no kidney stones and in another 21% the stones were smaller.
Unfortunately long-term studies addressing the safety and efficacy of chanca piedra are lacking. A casual search of online reviews report some GI issues like diarrhea, however non-FDA supplements should always be used with caution.
“Stonebreaker” as a home remedy for kidney stones? - To be determined. Some studies are promising but long-term effects of taking chanca piedra are unknown. Always consult a physician before starting a medicinal supplement.
Maintain a healthy weight
If heart disease, cancer, depression and chronic pain aren’t strong enough motivators to maintain a healthy weight then how about kidney stone prevention? Obesity has been linked to kidney stone formation.
There are multiple reasons why obesity is linked to kidney stones. One reason is dietary. If you’re eating processed foods and sugar then you’re increasing your weight along with the sodium and uric acid excretion by your kidneys. Sodium and uric acid cause kidney stones.
Obesity is also a state of inflammation. This causes everything from changes to the healthy bacteria in your gut to something called metabolic syndrome. I won’t bore you with too much science but needless to say losing some weight can be an effective home remedy for kidney stones.
Weight loss as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Miracle. There’s no doubt that being overweight or obese increases your risk for kidney stones.
I know what you’re thinking and the answer is “no”. Horsetail is actually a plant (Equisetum arvense) with reported uses in treating: fluid retention, bladder leakage and kidney stones. Horsetail has diuretic properties (fancy doctor term for flushing out fluids from the kidney) so it makes sense that it might prevent kidney stones.
Unfortunately there is no research to back up any claims as a home remedy for kidney stones. There is evidence however that horsetail can cause a thiamine deficiency (one of the B vitamins). It also can interact with certain blood pressure and diabetes medications.
Horsetail as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Myth. Data is lacking, there are potential side effects and let’s be honest . . . who wants to tell friends that they take something called horsetail?
Reduce soda intake
Pop, soda or Coke. Whatever you call it, avoid it. Soft drinks have the triple whammy effect on your kidneys.
First, most contain acid (phosphoric acid in colas) which in high enough quantities can literally dissolve your bones. Since your bones are mainly composed of calcium, and calcium is excreted by the kidneys, more calcium in the urine equals more kidney stones.
Second, fully loaded soda (aka not the diet stuff) contains fructose. Fructose is the most evil of all the sugars for a multitude of reasons. As if you didn’t need another reason to avoid artificial sweeteners, fructose has been shown to increase the risk of kidney stones due to increasing the excretion of multiple stone minerals.
Lastly, drinking even diet soda is linked with insulin resistance and obesity. As we reviewed above, a healthy waistline is a great home remedy for kidney stone prevention. Other than an occasional treat, there is no reason to drink soda. Period.
Avoiding soda as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Miracle. This stuff is terrible for your body in so many ways. Plus it’s a very common cause of kidney stones. Kick the soda habit for good.
Apple cider vinegar
It’s surprising how many patients I’ve had tell me they decided to start drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV for the cool kids) everyday to prevent kidney stones. This is definitely not a topic covered in our urology training. I was long overdue to investigate whether ACV is a legit home remedy for kidney stones.
Although I couldn’t find any definitive evidence supporting ACV consumption specifically, one study demonstrated that vinegar intake in a rat model decreased calcium (stone former) and increased citrate (stone preventer) levels in the urine. Another review from China suggests that intake of fermented vinegar may decrease kidney stone formation.
If you’re thinking that the acid from ACV will “dissolve stones” then you’re going to be disappointed. Remember that your stomach is already full of acid. Drinking a couple tablespoons of ACV is probably not going to change the acid-base balance of your urine. We’re pretty sure it won’t taste great and may cause some heartburn though.
The internet experts swear by the use of ACV as a home remedy for kidney stones. Any benefit is likely from the gallon of water you need to chug to counteract the mouth puckering acid.
Apple cider vinegar as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Myth for now. At least ACV is safe so if you can tolerate “shots” of vinegar everyday then by all means indulge.
Low oxalate diet
Oxalate is a mineral found in our diet. 100% of urine levels come from what we eat except in rare genetic disorders. Unfortunately you’ll never see oxalate on a food label. And unless you’ve visited with a urologist, you’ve probably never heard of oxalate.
If you remember, 80% of calcium stones are calcium oxalate stones. The more oxalate you consume, the higher the likelihood of forming calcium oxalate stones.
So what foods contain oxalate? Believe it or not the biggest culprit is spinach. Rhubarb is really high as well but who’s eating rhubarb everyday?
The practical foods to avoid as home remedies for kidney stones include:
- Nuts (almonds, peanut butter)
- Soy (milk, tofu, soybeans, soy sauce)
Ugh, all the fun stuff. It’s beyond the scope of this article to do a further deep dive into a low oxalate diet so check out these recommendations from the University of Chicago. But I will leave you with an effective tool that allows you to enjoy some of these foods in moderation.
If you eat calcium at the same time as a food that’s high in oxalate then the calcium oxalate will combine in your gut. When this happens, your body does not absorb the oxalate and your kidneys are protected.
How can you accomplish this? Have yogurt with your spinach or drink a glass of milk while snacking on almonds. Any dairy product or calcium supplement will do.
Another sneaky source of oxalate is vitamin C. Despite what you’ve been told, the health benefits of vitamin C supplements are overblown. There’s no evidence to suggest it prevents colds, cancers or heart disease. And let’s be honest . . . who’s the last person you met who said “I just got over scurvy last week?” (scurvy is caused by a vitamin C deficiency and is exceedingly rare).
Bottom line is if you have a history of kidney stones, drop the vitamin C from your medicine cabinet.
Low oxalate diet as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Minor miracle. Restrictive diets are tough to follow. The best way to know if your oxalate level is too high is to schedule a visit with a urologist for a 24 hour urine test.
Cranberries have been a well known home remedy for urinary tract infections. Somewhere along the way Dr. Google passed along the myth that cranberries are a home remedy for kidney stones. They are not.
In fact cranberries contain oxalate. The same oxalate that CAUSES kidney stones. One study showed that cranberry extracts raise urinary oxalate levels by over 40%.
Cranberries as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Myth. Cranberries are more likely to cause kidney stones so avoid these tart little puckers.
Adequate calcium intake, low sodium intake
I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, enough with the minerals, I hated high school chemistry. Hang in there, you’re doing great!
So speaking of calcium, I’m sure you’ve heard the old wives’ tale, “if you’ve had a kidney stone you have to cut out milk, ice cream, and yogurt because they contain calcium!” Wrong.
Cutting out calcium from your diet does NOT prevent calcium stones. In fact, a low calcium diet is paradoxically associated with a HIGHER risk of kidney stones. Wait what?
Up to a certain volume, calcium intake does not correlate with calcium excretion by the kidneys. Meaning normal calcium intake does not lead to calcium excretion by the kidneys. Now this doesn’t mean you should go down that gallon of ice cream or pop a bottle of TUMS (calcium carbonate) for your heartburn. Excess calcium can lead to stones.
However too little calcium allows oxalate absorption from your diet to go bonkers. Remember, oxalate comes from our diet and forms calcium oxalate stones. Also, remember my trick of eating calcium at the time of oxalate to decrease absorption. Well the opposite is true as well. Cut out calcium and oxalate levels go up.
Make sense? If not then don’t worry. Just remember that you don’t have to cut out dairy from your diet. Aim for 1000-1200 mg of calcium intake a day. Similar to Goldilocks, you want your calcium intake not too high nor too low. Aim for “just right”.
Now what about sodium? Sodium leads to more calcium excretion from the kidneys and therefore more kidney stones.
I can already hear you saying “but I don’t add salt to my food?” That’s because you don’t need to add salt. If you eat take-out from restaurants, the deli section, the pantry or the freezer then you’re already consuming loads of sodium
If you’re cooking fresh meals then good for you. But for heaven’s sake don’t under season your food. A few pinches of salt on your dinner never caused a kidney stone.
Lemon and olive oil
I’m a fan of classic food combinations: peanut butter and jelly; chocolate and strawberries; lemon and olive oil. Wait? Lemon and olive oil?
Dr. Google must have come up with this home remedy for kidney stones because it’s missing from the urology textbooks.
Now the lemon part I’ll give you. Lemons contain citrate a known stone preventer. We very commonly recommend squeezing lemon in water or making fresh lemonade as a home remedy for kidney stones.
I’m lost on the olive oil. Although it’s essential in a nice lemon vinaigrette for your kale salad, simply drinking olive oil with lemon does not sound appealing.
There are no studies directly looking at olive oil consumption and kidney stones. The Mediterranean diet is high in olive oil but no studies examining the risk of kidney stones have been performed.
Lemon and olive oil as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Miracle and myth. Lemons “yes”, olive oil “no” for kidney stones. We certainly are fans of eating both for numerous health and taste reasons. But you can save yourself the pain from gulping spoonfuls of lemon/olive oil alone.
Low animal fat, high fruit and vegetable diet
Up to this point we’ve focused on home remedies for calcium kidney stones. However 10% of kidney stones are made from uric acid. Uric acid is a by-product of animal meat and is associated with gout (a painful arthritis from excess uric acid in your joints).
When you consume excess meat (sorry carnivores) urinary citrate levels decrease. This can increase your risk of kidney stones, specifically uric acid stones. I’m a fan of high protein/fat diets so one trick is to stay well hydrated and drink a lot of water with that bone-in ribeye (medium rare of course).
Fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to lower stone risk as well. Be sure to check the oxalate content of your produce (remember no spinach or rhubarb). In general though, fruits and veggies are healthy and are a great home remedy for kidney stones.
Low animal protein, high fruit and vegetable diet as a home remedy for kidney stones? - Miracle. There are a gazillion diets out there. For kidney stone prevention alone remember moderation is the key and lots of water can overcome any “indulgences.”
Home remedies for kidney stones - final thoughts
There’s a lot to unpack from this topic. Unfortunately the internet is full of too many kidney stone myths including home remedies for kidney stones.
If you are concerned that you already have a kidney stone then visit with a urologist today. At VirtuCare we can prescribe medications and order imaging tests when necessary. If possible avoiding the ER is always a good idea but we can help guide you to see if a trip is needed.
If kidney stone prevention is your M.O. then we can help as well. A 24 hour urine test can be performed from the comfort of your home. You can then schedule a follow up visit with a VirtuCare specialist for a deeper dive into why you’re forming stones and how you can supplement one of the many home remedies for kidney stones.
Passing a stone is painful enough. Getting accurate medical guidance shouldn’t be as well.