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Does Sugar Cause Kidney Stones?

October 23, 2023

You can’t change genetics – one major risk factor for kidney stones.

But easing up on this hard-to-avoid nutrient could help you lower your chances of the painful condition.

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Here’s what the research says.

High sugar intake is known to cause health concerns like obesity and insulin resistance. But one new study has connected sugar with kidney stones.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey followed 30,000 adults over 11 years and found that those who ate the most sugar had a 39-88% higher occurrence of kidney stones.

> Related: 7 Foods That Won’t Spike Your Blood Sugar

High blood sugar is likely the culprit.

High levels of blood sugar causes a series of changes in the body that can increase kidney stone production, says Shaun Hager, DO, of Hartford HealthCare’s Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute in Mystic.

“High blood sugar damages small blood vessels, creating an inflammatory state and causing the pH level of urine to be lower,” he starts. “Low urine pH has been associated not only with diabetes, but also with high blood pressure, heart disease and elevated cholesterol.”

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And that high blood sugar can also cause metabolic syndrome.

“It’s a double whammy – added sugar can cause kidney stones and also lead to metabolic syndrome, which can cause kidney stones,” says Dr. Hager.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that includes

  • Obesity
  • High blood sugar
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

“Your risk of stone formation generally increases as you have more traits of metabolic syndrome and if you have diabetes,” he notes. “One study suggested that three or more metabolic syndrome traits leads to the highest prevalence of stones.”

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But natural sugar isn’t to blame. It can even help.

The study focused on added sugars – sweeteners added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation. But it didn’t put any blame on natural sugars found in whole foods.

In fact, Dr. Hager urges many patients to eat more fruits and vegetables to help prevent stones.

“A diet high in fruits and vegetables is actually good for stone prevention as these foods make the urine less acidic. This increases the amount of urinary citrate, which is one of the best substances for preventing stones,” he explains. “They also promote other stone-inhibiting substances in the urine.”

The exception might be fruit juices, which he adds contain more sugar than fresh fruit.

“I tell a lot of my patients to try and avoid processed, packaged and artificial foods. Instead, try to consume more fresh foods,” Dr. Hager says.