Do supplements cause kidney stones?

June 4, 2018 Providence Health Team

Congratulations! You’ve gotten in the habit of working out. That’s terrific.

While the benefits of working out are undeniable — you feel stronger, more energetic and better about yourself — there are some things to remain cautious about.

For example, the jury remains out on some of those tablets, shakes, powders and liquids that promise to boost your stamina or provide other benefits. In at least a couple of cases, workout supplements have been linked to kidney stones.

While the research isn’t conclusive, it’s worth bearing in mind as you move forward on your journey to a stronger, more durable body.

What does the research say?

A 2012 study presented to the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society found that calcium and vitamin D supplements could increase a person’s risk for developing kidney stones. 

“The use of calcium and vitamin D supplementation may not be as benign as previously thought,” said principal investigator J. Christopher Gallagher, M.D. He and his team studied healthy, postmenopausal women aged 52 to 85.

While the 12-month study didn’t include any cases of kidney stones, it did show a significant number of cases of elevated calcium in the blood and urine. And other studies have found that such elevated calcium levels can contribute over the longer term to the formation of kidney stones.

“People should not exceed the guidelines suggested by the Institute of Medicine, which are 800 international units of vitamin D, and 800-1,200 mg per day of calcium,” Dr. Gallagher told Renal & Urology News.

More generally, health experts have expressed concern about the health effects of a variety of unregulated dietary supplements. The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in 2007 published a review of effects of supplements and kidney function. 

“Patients do not always comprehend the potential dangers of consuming these products,” the authors wrote. While most of the research data was derived from individual case reports and couldn’t generate conclusive findings, they said, “circumstantial evidence, in some cases, is strong and warrants caution. Dietary supplement use should be monitored closely in patients who have or (are) at risk for renal dysfunction.”

Resources to help you understand the risks

The National Kidney Foundation offers a helpful backgrounder on diet and kidney stones, which are formed when crystals accumulate in the urine. The foundation offers some tips to help prevent the formation of kidney stones. They include:

  • Drink water. Staying hydrated “is one of the best measures you can take” to avoid kidney stones. Drink at least 12 cups of fluid daily. Check out these 5 easy ways to “eat” your water.
  • Talk with your health care provider about your diet. Sometimes, she will recommend a special diet or medication.
  • Reducing your intake of animal protein, such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese, may help.

You can also read more about kidney stone risk factors and symptoms in more detail in Providence’s Health Library. Kidney stones can cause significant pain with pronounced symptoms, including:

  • Extreme, sharp pain in the back or side that will not go away 
  • Blood in the urine 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cloudy or odorous urine
  • Frequent urination
  • A burning feeling when you urinate 
  • Fever and chills

Kidney stones are serious and require medical attention. If you show these symptoms, talk to your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory.

Learn about the link between healthy food and kidney stones: Kale causes kidney stones, seriously.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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