The Coolest Way To Pass A Kidney Stone—Plus 7 More Things You Didn’t Know About Kidney Stones
Who would have thought passing a kidney stone could be so fun? According to a study recently published in the Journal Of The American Osteopathic Association,
David Wartinger, DO, urological surgeon, professor emeritus at Michigan State University and lead researcher on the study, was inspired to investigate this phenomenon by one of his patients who reported passing three stones on three consecutive rides on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Disney World in Orlando.
Wartinger and study co-author Marc Mitchell, DO, took a silicone model of a kidney filled with urine and three stones (concealed in a backpack—phew!) on 20 rides on the same roller coaster at Disneyland in California, and confirmed Wartinger’s patient’s report. They analyzed their findings and concluded that sitting in the back of the roller coaster resulted in a higher passage rate, likely because there’s more movement there.
But let’s be clear—this trick is best for passing small stones, and it didn’t work on all roller coasters (the old-fashioned, jiggly Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the winner). When you’re wincing and doubled over, the opportunity has passed. “When you have kidney stone pain, you don’t want to get on a roller coaster—you’re way too late to the game,” says Wartinger.
People might know they have smaller stones if they show up as accidental findings on ultrasounds, CAT scans, and MRIs. And because kidney stones run in families, some patients also have radiological testing done to see if they’ve got ’em. If you’re one such person, take a ride and see what happens. As Wartinger puts it: “What do you have to lose?”
Here, 7 more things you probably didn’t know about kidney stones.
Not all kidney stones are created equal.
The ones you’re probably thinking of are calcium stones, which are the most common, according to the Mayo Clinic. Metabolic disorders, dietary factors, and intestinal bypass surgery can increase your risk of them. Then there are struvite stones, which are caused by an infection—such as a UTI—and can grow rapidly. Dehydration, gout, and other genetic factors are to blame for uric acid stones, and, finally, cystine stones are caused by a genetic disorder that causes the kidneys to release excessive amounts of specific amino acids.
The actual stones don’t cause any pain.
Sometimes patients think they can feel the movement of the stone, or its sharp edges, says Timothy Averch, MD, director of the Kidney Stone Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Not so. The pain actually occurs, he says, from a blockage when the stone falls out of the kidney and gets stuck in the ureter—the duct through which urine passes from the kidney to the bladder.
Your peanut butter obsession could cause kidney stones.
If you are predisposed to kidney stone growth, high levels of oxalates in your diet can bind with calcium in your urine to promote the development of stones, according to James Borin, MD director of endourology at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Oxalate-rich foods include spinach, rhubarb, chocolate, coffee, peanut butter, and beer.
Don’t panic if you’re a green smoothie fiend: Wartinger notes that problems crop up when people who are prone to stones eat a combination of these high-oxalate foods over a long period of time. Plus, he notes, “a diet rich in oxalates is only one contributing risk factor to getting kidney stones.”
Where you live could affect the growth of kidney stones.
Did you know that there’s a “Kidney Stone Belt” that extends throughout the southeastern United States, from Virginia to Texas and down through Florida? Urologists believe that the warmer southern climate can cause patients to be more dehydrated, thus increasing the risk for kidney stones. That happens, says Wartinger, because when you’re dehydrated, your body can’t expel all of its waste, which could lead to the development of stones. So it makes sense that the condition is also more common in the summer.
Sex might help you pass a kidney stone.
Not a fan of roller coasters? This trick might be more up your alley. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Urology, sexual intercourse might encourage the passage of small kidney stones. Study authors surmise that this could be due to the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that gives men erections and is also a muscle relaxant. The theory is that the nitric oxide causes a relaxation response that allows the ureter to relax enough for the stone to pass. Results haven’t been confirmed with further research, but why not hit the sheets and find out for yourself?
Calcium is not the enemy.
The old wives’ tale that says patients with a calcium stone should avoid consuming dairy and calcium is just that—a tale. In fact, if you stop consuming calcium, you absorb more oxalates. Averch insists that we also need calcium to keep our bones healthy—especially postmenopausal women. Urologists recommend 2 to 3 servings of dairy a day for individuals with kidney stones.
But steer clear of calcium pills if you’ve got kidney stones, advises Borin. The supplements don’t get absorbed the same way dietary calcium does, and can elevate the amount of calcium in the urine, putting patients at a higher risk for more stones.
Drinking lemonade (or limeade) can help prevent kidney stones.
Maybe Beyoncé was onto something? According to Borin, drinking lemonade (or limeade) can help prevent uric acid kidney stones. Lemon and lime contain a high concentration of citrate, an inhibitor of kidney stone formation. And it can even dissolve a uric acid stone that’s already there by making your urine more alkaline, says Wartinger.