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Can a Supplement Help Prevent Kidney Stones?

Kidney Stones

Story at-a-glance -

  • More than half a million people in the U.S. hit the emergency room for relief from the excruciating pain of kidney stones
  • Fever and chills, bloody and/or cloudy urine and extreme pain in the lower abdominal area are common symptoms
  • Hydroxycitrate, an extract of the Asian garcinia cambogia fruit, is capable, under certain conditions, of dissolving the crystals and inhibiting kidney stone growth
  • The best ways to prevent kidney stones are to drink plenty of water, limit your protein intake and make sure your body has enough magnesium

By Dr. Mercola

Anyone who's ever experienced the pain (and sometimes agony) of a kidney stone may have thought afterward, "Wouldn't it be great if they came up with something that could prevent that?"

As is so often the case in science, such visualizations are the same as those of researchers. In this instance, a dietary supplement with the power to dissolve the little troublemakers before they wreak havoc in your system may be the solution.

Researchers at the University of Houston (UH) are calling it a possible "prevention tool." You may be thinking that if it could actually do that, it might be more like a wonder drug.

Calcium oxylate crystals, which make up the bulk of these minute-but-mighty troublemakers, are essentially hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys.

The problem starts when they become lodged in your urinary tract and won't budge. One or more may restrict the flow of urine, causing another level of discomfort. According to

"The calcium oxalate crystals that are the most common component of kidney stones, [are the] mineral deposits that form inside the kidneys. They may get stuck in the urinary tract, blocking urination and causing great pain."1

If the stone happens to be small, it may pass through your urinary tract unnoticed. But if it's a large one, it's not pleasant. Daily Mail reported that in Hungary, the largest kidney stone ever recorded weighed nearly 2.5 pounds.2 Needless to say, larger stones require surgical removal.

Kidney Stone Symptoms

The technical location for kidney stones is the tube that connects your kidney and bladder, called the ureter. When they develop, the previously referenced symptoms3 can include:

A persistent urge to urinate

Fever and chills (indicating infection)

Bloody and/or cloudy urine

Pain when urinating

Episodes of pain lasting 20 minutes to an hour

Nausea and/or vomiting

Pain radiating down your side and back to your groin and lower abdomen

Hydroxycitrate From the Garcinia Cambogia: Possible Kidney Stone Prevention

The study, published in Nature4 in mid-2016, described the development of the kidney stone supplement, an extract of a compound called hydroxycitrate from the Asian garcinia cambogia fruit, also known as Malabar tamarind.

Hydroxycitrate is capable, under certain conditions, of not only dissolving the crystals but also inhibiting their growth. If all goes as they hope, hydroxycitrate would be the most dramatic advance in treating kidney stones in three decades.

Scientists expect the supplement will be a viable alternative to potassium citrate (such as the brand Urocit-K5) which, while it's effective in relieving kidney stone-passing pain, often includes side effects that rival the misery of what they they're designed to remedy:

  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac arrest

However, rigorous trials in humans have not yet begun. It's actually just a concept, so far, but one that makes sense. Jeffrey Rimer, lead study author and associate professor of chemical engineering at UH, said he and his colleagues conducted a combination of studies, some experimental.

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Studies Involving Hydroxycitrate

According to Science Daily,6 in studies pitting citrate (CA) against hydroxycitrate (HCA), both inhibited calcium oxalate crystal growth, but the latter was "more potent and displayed unique qualities that are advantageous for the development of new therapies."

"The team of researchers then used atomic force microscopy, or AFM, to study interactions between the crystals, CA and HCA under realistic growth conditions … the technique allowed them to record crystal growth in real time with near-molecular resolution.

[Jihae] Chung [a UH graduate student who worked on the study] noted that the AFM images recorded the crystal actually shrinking when exposed to specific concentrations of HCA.

 Rimer suspected the initial finding was an abnormality, as it is rare to see a crystal actually dissolve in highly supersaturated growth solutions. The most effective inhibitors reported in the literature simply stop the crystal from growing."

What Chung saw turned out to be accurate, precipitating the next step: determining how and why the crystals shrank. Two other study authors applied density functional theory (DFT):

" … [A] highly accurate computational method used to study the structure and properties of materials … to address how HCA and CA bind to calcium and to calcium oxalate crystals.

They discovered HCA formed a stronger bond with crystal surfaces, inducing a strain that is seemingly relieved by the release of calcium and oxalate, leading to crystal dissolution." 7

The next step required that humans be included in the testing, so seven participants took hydroxycitrate for three days, which was long enough for researchers to establish that it was expelled through their urine, one of the requirements for using the supplement as a treatment.

While long-term safety needs to be established, as do dosages and more trials on humans, Rimer believes the initial findings are promising:

"If it works in vivo, similar to our trials in the laboratory, HCA has the potential to reduce the incidence rate of people with chronic kidney stone disease."8

Giannis Mpourmpakis, Ph.D., another study author and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pittsburgh University's Swanson School of Engineering, said:

"We were very excited to identify a molecular-level mechanism under which calcium oxalate grows and degrades in its natural environment. Eventually, this will help us control the crystal's life cycle."9

Stats on Kidney Stones

The healthiest kidneys function in a number of ways for optimum health. Most importantly, they filter all the blood in your body every half hour, removing waste and excess fluid, according to the National Kidney Foundation.10 They also:

Regulate your fluid levels

Activate vitamin D for strong bones

Release the hormone for red blood cell production

Keep blood minerals in balance

Release a blood-regulating hormone

More than half a million people in the U.S. hit the emergency room for relief from what is often termed excruciating pain from kidney stones. Unfortunately, the condition is becoming more and more prevalent. To date, they affect what's estimated to be 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women. Harvard Health reports:

"For many, kidney stones aren't a one-time thing: In about half of people who have had one, another appears within seven years without preventive measures. Most stones occur when calcium combines with one of two substances: oxalate or phosphorous. Stones can also form from uric acid, which forms as the body metabolizes protein."11

Kidney stones also increase your risk of developing chronic kidney disease. Sobering statistics include:

High blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney disease12

Around 26 million American adults have kidney disease and don't know it

One in 3 American adults are currently at risk13

Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Every year, kidney disease kills more people than breast or prostate cancers

Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S.

African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to have kidney failure14

Once kidneys fail, either dialysis or a kidney transplant is required

In 2013, more than 47,000 Americans died from kidney disease15

Every day, 13 people die waiting for a kidney16

Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones

Most doctors know that one of the most prevalent causes of kidney stones (aka nephrolithiasis) is dehydration, so drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to prevent their development. Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity increase the risk.

Another recommendation is to limit your protein intake to one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which would place most people in the range of 40 to 70 grams daily (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 ounces). If you're prone to kidney stones, excess amounts of red meat can be especially problematic because it decreases the levels of citrate, the chemical in urine that helps keep kidney stones from forming in the first place.

Most Americans consume far more protein than they need, which can exacerbate problems with kidney stones. When you consume more protein than your body needs, your body must remove more nitrogen waste products from your blood, which stresses your kidneys.17 Chronic dehydration can result. Doctors also encourage people at risk for kidney stones to pass up foods containing high amounts of oxalate,18 including:

Swiss chard



Sweet potatoes






However, these foods contain high amounts of magnesium, which helps prevent calcium from blending with oxalate, the most common kidney stone type. Magnesium is a mineral that has the capacity to prevent kidney stones — if you get enough.

Magnesium deficiency is estimated to affect as much as 80 percent of the American population. It's been associated with kidney stone development because it plays a part in the way your body handles calcium. Too much calcium can become toxic, so there needs to be a balance.