Surprising Causes of Kidney Stones

Experts estimate that roughly 1 in 10 people in the United States will develop a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime. Despite how common these stones are, most people don’t know much about them or what the risk factors for kidney stones are.

What are common causes of kidney stones?

So, what behaviors or other risk factors can lead to the development of kidney stones? The first cause of kidney stones on this list can fortunately be managed easily enough with a trip to the water fountain…

1. Not Drinking Enough Water

There are many triggers for kidney stones, but the primary reason that they form? A lack of water.

Why does not drinking enough water result in kidney stones?

Kidney stones are the result of minerals and salts hardening together, almost always in the kidneys. One of the most common types of kidney stones? Uric acid stones, which form when the urine is highly acidic.

Now, water helps properly dilute uric acid. So, when someone doesn’t drink enough water, uric acid concentrates in the urine, which increases the risk of uric acid stones.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

There are many warning signs that the body is dehydrated, including:

  • Feeling Dizzy
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Dry Skin
  • Lack of Energy

How much water should someone drink every day?

Most experts recommend drinking 8-10 cups of water per day.

What about food?

It’s not just what someone drinks (or doesn’t) that can cause kidney stones, but also what they eat…

2. Eating Foods that Contain High Amounts of Oxalate

What someone eats can have a direct effect on every bodily process, including urinary processes. That means certain foods can increase the risk of kidney stones. Foods most notable for increasing the odds of these stones are foods rich in oxalates.

What is oxalate?

Oxalic acid is a compound in many plants. When this acid combines with certain minerals, it can form oxalate. In the human body, vitamin C may be converted to oxalate via metabolization.

How does oxalate lead to kidney stones?

Oxalate itself can combine with other substances to form compounds; this binding typically occurs in the colon or urinary tract, including the kidneys. Most often, when oxalate in the human body combines with something else, it is with calcium. This binding—when it occurs in the kidneys—results in calcium oxalate stones, which comprise roughly 80% of all kidney stones.

What are some oxalate-rich foods?

Foods that have a high level of oxalate include:

  • Nuts
  • Spinach
  • Tea
  • Beets
  • Chocolate
  • Rhubarb


Most oxalate in the human body isn’t the result of diet. Rather, most oxalate is produced by the human body itself. So, reducing oxalate from the diet isn’t always the most effective way to prevent this sort of kidney stone. As a result, people who are concerned about their risk for these kinds of stones should first consult with a doctor before making any dietary changes, especially when considering cutting out food like spinach.

What about other foods?

Of course, oxalate-rich foods are the only kinds of foods that may increase the risk of this condition…

3. Eating Excessive Amounts of Animal Protein

Steak may be delicious, but it can also put someone at increased risk of kidney stones.

How can animal protein cause kidney stones?

Animal-based proteins—that is, proteins from animal meat—is high in a compound called purine. Now, research links high levels of purine to increased concentration of uric acid. Remember: increased uric acid can lead to kidney stones.

What are high-purine foods?

High-purine food sources include:

  • Anchovies
  • Organ Meat
  • Red Meat
  • Tuna
  • Sardines

What are some low-purine foods?

Foods low in purines include:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Fruit
  • Fruit Juices
  • Nuts
  • Pasta
  • Rice

What about salt?

When preparing food, it’s important to limit salt, as high-sodium diets can lead to kidney stones…

4. Eating a High-salt Diet

Excessive sodium is bad for the body for many reasons. Not only does it promote the development of kidney stones, but it also is bad for the heart as it can lead to high blood pressure, for example.

How can salt lead to kidney stones?

Salts are full of sodium, and too much sodium in the body can lead to kidney stones.

How, though?

Essentially, lots of sodium leads to higher amounts of calcium in the urine. In the kidneys, this calcium may bind to oxalate, which can lead to calcium oxalate stones, the most common kind of kidney stone.

Furthermore, some research shows that high blood pressure increases the risk of kidney stones. According to the American Heart Association, a high-sodium diet is one of the largest risk factors for high blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of having too much sodium?

Too much sodium can cause symptoms that include:

  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Swelling of the Ankles and Wrists
  • Increased Thirst
  • Frequent Urination
  • Headaches

Can diet and drink alone lead to kidney stones?

While dietary choices can directly lead to kidney stones, there are also medical conditions that can cause them as well…

5. Having Certain Medical Conditions

Believe it or not, not all medical conditions have to be directly related to the kidneys in order to cause kidney stones. After all, many are surprised to learn that high blood pressure is associated with increased risk of kidney stones.

What medical conditions are associated with higher risk of kidney stones?

There are plenty of seemingly unrelated medical conditions that are associated with a greater likelihood of kidney stones, including:

  • Gout
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Why is gout associated with increased risk of stones?

Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when urate crystals—which can form when someone’s blood has high levels of uric acid—form and deposit in joints.

Now, urate crystals don’t have to form and land just in joints; they can also form in kidneys, creating kidney stones.

What are the symptoms of gout?

Symptoms of gout include:

  • Pain in One or More Joints
  • Lumpy Joints
  • Stiff Joints
  • Swelling

So, what about urinary tract infections?…

6. Having a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Gout is associated with a higher risk of kidney stones. UTIs can directly cause them, specifically a variety called struvite stones.

How do urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause stones?

Since UTIs are infections of the urinary tract, someone with this infection can expect plenty of bad bacteria in this region. Now, struvite is a combination of minerals that’s created by (often UTI-causing) bacteria in this tract; in other words, UTI-causing bacteria result in reactions that cause struvites (aka, struvite kidney stones) to form in the kidneys.

What are the symptoms of UTIs?

Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Painful Urination
  • Painful Sex
  • Itching
  • Frequent Urination
  • General Pain in the Abdomen or Lower Body
  • Bad-smelling Urine
  • Cloudy or Dark Urine
  • Bloody Urine
  • Fatigue

Can dietary changes prevent UTIs?

Unfortunately, diet can’t exactly prevent UTIs since they’re infections. However, dietary changes can still prevent kidney stones in other ways…

7. Not Getting Enough Calcium

It may come as a shock that not getting enough calcium can lead to kidney stones when calcium oxalate stones are the most common kinds of kidney stones. So, how in the world can not getting enough calcium lead to kidney stones?

How can too little calcium cause kidney stones?

Calcium + oxalate = calcium oxalate stones, right? Not necessarily. This binding results in kidney stones when it occurs in the kidneys. Particularly, it occurs when there are high levels of oxalate. So, taking in too little calcium can mean an excess of oxalate just ripe for forming kidney stones.

The solution?

Getting enough calcium (just not too much). By getting just the right amount of calcium, there is a greater chance that oxalate can bind to calcium before ever reaching the kidneys, where stones can form.

What are good sources of calcium?

It’s best to get calcium from natural sources like cheese or yogurt, as research suggests that calcium supplements may increase the odds of kidney stones.

What about non-dietary causes of kidney stones?

Daily choices can directly affect risk for kidney stones. An unhealthy choice that can cause kidney stones? It’s coming right up…

8. Smoking

Smoking can damage the body in countless ways; add “potentially forming kidney stones” to that list.

How does smoking cause kidney stones?

The truth is, experts aren’t quite sure how exactly smoking leads to kidney stones, just that plenty of research shows that smokers have a higher incidence of kidney stones than non-smokers do.

That being said, many theories speculate that it has to do with smoking decreasing urine output, which is a contributing factor to kidney stone formation.

What are some tips for stopping smoking?

Stopping smoking is hard. Some ways that may help people not smoke include:

  • Using a nicotine-based product at first to fight nicotine withdrawal
  • Chewing gum
  • Throwing away all cigarettes, ash trays, and lighters
  • Hanging out more with non-smokers
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Avoiding places or actions the former smoker associates with smoking

According to the CDC, roughly 13.7% of adults in the United States smoke currently—that’s about 34.2 million people. As high as that number is, it still isn’t as high as the number of people who admit to the following activity that can also lead to kidney stones…

9. Drinking Too Much Alcohol

One 2015 survey revealed that over 86% of US adults have drank alcohol at some point in their lives. About 56% report having drank within the last month.

How does drinking cause kidney stones?

The primary way alcohol can lead to kidney stones? Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it can cause dehydration. Remember: dehydration can result in kidney stones.

How much alcohol is too much?

The answer to this question will vary by individual, as every single person tolerates alcohol differently. That being said, the CDC generally recommends the following daily limit for adults aged 21 or over:

  • Women: 1 glass/day
  • Men: 2 glasses/day

What’s next?

What’s most important to remember about reducing the chances of developing kidney stones?…

What to Remember to Reduce the Chances of Developing Kidney Stones

Considering 1 in 10 people in the United States will develop kidney stones at some point in their life, it pays to know what behaviors, habits, and medical conditions can place someone at risk for kidney stones.

What are some ways to reduce the risk of kidney stones?

The following methods can greatly reduce the risk of kidney stones:

  • Not smoking
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Maintaining appropriate amounts of calcium
  • Eating a healthy diet low in salt and purine
  • Receiving medical help for conditions like gout and UTIs

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