Hide this
kidney stone removal

Story at-a-glance -

  • About 10 percent of the U.S. population ends up in an emergency room at some point as they endure passage of an excruciatingly painful kidney stone, costing an average of $3.8 billion annually in the U.S.
  • Northerners on spring break who happened to ride the same Disney World roller coaster alerted a doctor to the possibility of a new treatment concept for kidney stone sufferers — riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Drinking more water, decreasing excessive protein and fructose intake and avoiding oxalate triggers are ways you can dramatically lower your risk of developing kidney stones
 

Can Kidney Stone Removal Actually Be Fun?

October 08, 2016 | 56,526 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

The first person to figure out this odd factoid probably deserves a gold star: Centrifugal force can render the pain associated with passing kidney stones practically unnoticeable, and it might require a trip to Disney World to do it.

It started with a very observant urological surgeon and professor emeritus at Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. David Wartinger. He has spent a good deal of his several-decade career routing out kidney stones.

Studies show this malady plagues about 10 percent of the U.S. population — hundreds of thousands, actually — at some point in their lives.

Sometimes the kidney stone elimination process goes practically unnoticed, as most of these mineral deposits are relatively small and unobtrusive. Others hang out in your kidneys longer, gaining bulk and threatening a screaming exit on the other end.

Along with the physical agony is the pain in the pocketbook of kidney stone sufferers, which may be just as bad or worse. One estimation is around $3.8 billion every year in the U.S. alone for emergency room visits, treatment and surgical removal.

News Flash: Visiting Theme Parks May Promote Kidney Stone Passage

Here's where the story gets really interesting: Wartinger began picking up on the fact that patients with the smaller variety of kidney stones often reported passing them during a visit to Disney's Magic Kingdom.

What piqued his interest was that these reports often occurred right after spring break, when large numbers of both "snow birds" and students fly to southern climates from the frigid north. Wartinger noted, "This mass migration helped bring it to my attention."

The Atlantic described an interesting anecdote of one man's experience, which supported what Wartinger had already noted:

"The man rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney's Magic Kingdom, and then passed a small stone. Then he did it again and passed another.

And then another. 'That was just too powerful to ignore,' Wartinger said. 'I'd been hearing these anecdotal stories for a couple years, and then I thought, [OK], there's really something here.'"1

Wartinger began compiling his patients' experiences and deduced that what the patients often had in common was that that they'd all taken at least a turn riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Its harrowing turns, dips and drops, the near-miss from a giant boulder and a swooping bat are all part of what's advertised as the "wildest ride in the wilderness."2 There are also stories of people passing smaller kidney stones after bungee jumping.

Kidney Stone Study on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Studies associating kidney stone passing with body movement such as one might experience while on such a ride hadn't been conducted.Wartinger decided he'd take on that extraordinary experiment.

Like a high school biology student's semester project, Wartinger fashioned a silicone kidney from a 3-D printer model of the kidney belonging to the patient who'd lost three kidney stones on his wild Big Thunder Mountain rides. Then he filled his kidney mock-up with stones and (one would assume) "pretend" urine.

Wartinger and study associate Marc Mitchell then flew to Disney World. (Other parks were reportedly conflicted about their dubious intent.) Wartinger and Mitchell set it up with management first upon their arrival.

"We went to guest services, and we didn't want them to wonder what was going on — two adult men riding the same ride again and again, carrying a backpack.

We told them what our intent was, and it turned out that the manager that day was a guy who recently had a kidney stone. He called the ride manager and said, do whatever you can to help these guys, they're trying to help people with kidney stones."

On board the train, the two held the model (still in the backpack) at about kidney height to simulate what a person with a kidney stone might experience.

They'd already decided that if a stone moved from the area of the calyx,3 or small "cavern," of the kidney model, where it started, to the trap just above the ureter, they could consider it "passed."

Fortunately, nothing spilled from the backpack. Wartinger noted in his study narrative that, "Care was taken to protect and preserve the enjoyment of the other guests at the park."

It became clear early on that it made a huge difference in the kidney model's "passing" ability if they sat in the front or the rear during the journey, as "There was a lot more whipping around in that rear car."

The scientific consensus was that during the ride, the stones passed nearly 64 percent of the time.

Wartinger is quick to point out that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad isn't the only one that might instigate kidney stone passage, and that everybody's kidney is shaped differently.

Additionally, if people rode multiple roller coasters and similar attractions, it would most likely help them pass any small kidney stones and associated sediment before they could become the incapacitating and costly propositions so many shudder to recall.

You Don't Have to Ride a Roller Coaster to Prevent Painful Kidney Stones

A study tracking 108 participants over five years determined that people who eat three or four more fruits and vegetable servings a day may be able to lower their blood pressure, cut their drug costs nearly in half and get off some medications altogether.

People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop kidney stones. For the study, the patients were divided into three groups, U.S. News reported:

"One group was treated with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), the standard treatment designed to neutralize the lingering acid that kidney patients typically struggle to excrete. Failure to excrete can lead to abnormally high acid levels, a condition known as 'metabolic acidosis.'"4

Members of the second group were given three or four servings of fruit and vegetables to eat a day, and the third group had no treatment at all. The upshot was those who ate the fruits and veggies fared much better, plus they saved a lot of money, as many of them were able to drop their medications.

Do a Good Job of Protecting Your Kidneys so They Don't Do a Job on You

As a quick review, your kidneys come in a pair and flank your spine just under your rib cage. They're responsible for maintaining proper pH level and electrolyte balance, and producing hormones that make red blood cells and help regulate your blood pressure. They also work closely with your adrenal glands.

Your adrenal glands rest right above your kidneys, and while they produce the hormones so useful throughout your body, such as cortisol and aldosterone, they also help regulate your blood pressure.

Adrenal disorders occur, according to Hormone Health,5 when there's either too much or not enough cortisol, such as Cushing's syndrome, which can cause:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure

When your adrenals produce too much aldosterone, your blood pressure goes up, which could lead to:

Adrenal insufficiency occurs when your adrenal glands don't make enough cortisol, and sometimes, aldosterone. Symptoms include:

Fatigue

Decreased appetite

Nausea

Diarrhea

Muscle weakness

Weight loss

Vomiting


Every day, your kidneys filter up to 150 quarts of blood and flush out waste products through your urine. When you don't drink enough water, you threaten optimal kidney function. In fact, borderline dehydration is one of the most common reasons why kidney stones occur.

When your kidneys aren't functioning as they should, a number of health problems are waiting in the wings to damage your health even further. Signs of kidney trouble include frequent urination, difficulty urinating, a painful or burning sensation during urination and constant thirst.

What to Eat to Optimize Your Kidney Function

To stave off a kidney stone attack, here are a few things to remember:

Eat the right amount of protein. One of the worst things you can do for your health is to eat too much protein. In the U.S. especially, many people eat as much as three to five times more than their bodies really need. One way to gauge a healthy amount is to figure your lean body mass, and eat one-half gram of protein per pound, which is usually between 40 and 70 grams a day.

Watch your fructose intake. Kidney stone formation is associated with a diet high in processed fructose and other sugars, such as what you'll find in soda. Sugar interferes with the way calcium and magnesium are absorbed, and the phosphorus acid in soda acidifies your urine, potentially leading to kidney stones.

Drink more water. The best water to drink is pure and clean. Beyond that, drinking water (as opposed to soda, which isn't even a real substance) is essential for digestion, nutrient absorption and timely elimination. It helps remove toxins (such as those helping kidney stones to form) and helps your blood circulate as it should.

Watch what you eat. Seemingly random foods, including parsley, wheat flour, strawberries, chocolate, soy and nuts, can trigger a kidney stone attack in some people. It's the oxalate content, composed of miniscule crystals, that may help form kidney stones.

Another thing to remember is the importance of potassium if you have kidney disease. Because it's an electrolyte as well as a mineral, it plays important roles in your cells, tissues and organs, your heart and digestion, plus the function of your bones and muscles.

The Next Challenge: Does Big Thunder Mountain Work on Real People?

Wartinger was curious to find out if the rumblings and dives of roller coaster-type rides might actually shake loose kidney stones in real, live subjects. His plan was to do ultrasounds on volunteers with kidney stones before and after, using detailed data for the review boards later examining both his premise and his methods.

That's when it came out that what one would assume had been water in the experiments was actually his own urine diluted with water "to avoid criticism," he explained later. His advice for anyone with a kidney stone smaller than 5 millimeters: Go ahead and give the roller coaster hypothesis a try. It might save you a lot of pain, both in your gut and in your wallet.

Thank you! Your purchases help us support these charities and organizations.