Kidney stones. The mere mention of this nasty condition and its notorious reputation is enough to make many people wince.
For anybody who has experienced the pain of kidney stones, it is doubtlessly something they would go to some lengths to avoid repeating.
We now know there are certain dietary choices that affect your chance of developing kidney stones, especially in what you choose to drink. How about coffee? Does coffee increase the likelihood of them forming? How does it affect the chances of them returning after the first instance?
Here we will look at these questions and more to determine whether you should cut down your coffee consumption to try to avoid this nasty affliction.
What are kidney stones?
Before we look at the effect of coffee on the risk of kidney stones, let’s take a step back and think about what they are.
Kidney stones are a build-up of solid material in the urinary tract. Also known as urolithiasis, they usually form in the kidney; smaller ones can be passed naturally in urine without the sufferer ever becoming aware of their presence (1).
However, if the kidney stone becomes too large before being expelled from the body, it can become lodged in the ureter. When this happens, the result is an excruciating pain in the lower back or abdomen that comes in waves.
This pain is often described as one of the most intense sensations of pain we can experience, and it is for this reason that most people are very keen to avoid developing them (2).
Check out this video for more info.
How are kidney stones formed?
The most common type of kidney stone is formed from calcium oxalate. This means that an elevated level of urinary calcium is associated with an increased risk of developing them. Some studies have shown a higher prevalence of kidney stones in those taking dietary calcium supplements (3).
Higher intake of sodium is also thought to be a factor that leads to the development of kidney stones; however, an increased intake of potassium may lower the chances of them forming.
Those whose diets include a large amount of animal protein are at a higher risk, but there is no conclusive evidence linking kidney stones to vitamin supplements.
Dehydration is thought to promote their development, and genetic factors may also increase a person’s chances of suffering from the condition. Obesity is also thought to play a role in allowing kidney stones to form (4).
Check out this video about diagnosing kidney stones.
Which drinks affect the growth of kidney stones?
One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones is to avoid dehydration by always taking on lots of fluids, especially water (5).
However, not all drinks have the same effect, and some beverages are associated with a higher risk of kidney stones while others are thought to lower the risk.
Before we look specifically at coffee in more detail, it is worth taking a moment to think about the effect a range of drinks may have on their development.
Several major studies have been carried out on the effects of various drinks on the development of kidney stones, and the results from these studies are broadly in agreement.
The first study involved 194,095 participants who were monitored over eight years. Researchers found that for those who consumed the highest levels of sugar-sweetened colas, the increased risk of developing kidney stones was 23% (6).
For those who consumed the highest levels of sugar-sweetened sodas other than colas, the increase jumped to 33%.
On the other hand, the consumption of tea, coffee, wine, beer and orange juice all lowered the risk of developing kidney stones.
Of these drinks, beer had the most pronounced effect on reducing the chance of developing kidney stones, with a 41% lower likelihood. The figures were as follows:
So it can be seen that, far from increasing the rate of kidney stone development, coffee is right in the middle of the list of beverages that actually help reduce the chances of developing them. Decaf coffee also had the same effect, although it was less marked.
Another interesting point to note is that tea is also on the list of beneficial drinks. Tea is known to be high in stone-forming oxalate, and the received wisdom is that those at high risk of developing stones should avoid this beverage (7).
The good news is that this would appear to be false, so tea – as well as coffee – is back on the menu for kidney stone sufferers.
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Why do people think you should avoid coffee?
As can be seen from this study, coffee belongs to the list of drinks that has a beneficial effect when it comes to the development of kidney stones. Then why is it that many people believe you should avoid coffee if you want to avoid developing them?
The answer is probably that coffee has traditionally been given a bad press in relation to health issues across the board.
In the past, excessive coffee consumption has been associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, increased risk of stroke and many more. However, more recent scientific research has shown this not to be the case.
On the contrary, we are now becoming wise to many benefits coffee has in relation to a range of medical conditions (8).
Among others, coffee is thought to reduce the risk of some cancers as well as reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. There are more we could mention, and now we can add reduced likelihood of developing kidney stones to the list.
Another reason why coffee may have come to be associated with kidney stones is that it is a natural diuretic. This means it increases urination and, in turn, can lead to dehydration.
Alcohol consumption is not thought to increase the risk of developing kidney stones and as we mentioned, drinking beer or wine decreases the risk.
However, those who drink very often or indulge in binge drinking may have an increased chance of developing kidney stones for the same reason – this type of drinking is more likely to lead to dehydration, encouraging the development of kidney stones.
This means that coffee drinkers – and regular drinkers of alcohol – can reduce their risk of developing kidney stones by making sure they also drink plenty of water to counter the diuretic effects of the other beverages they are consuming.
Does coffee cause kidney stones?
We have already answered this question with an emphatic “no”, but let’s have a look in a bit more detail at what the research says.
We have mentioned one study that demonstrated the consumption of coffee reduces the risk of developing kidney stones.
A further study at the Harvard School of Public Health involving over 45,000 men found a 10% reduction in the occurrence of kidneys stones associated with moderate coffee consumption. A similar effect was noted in decaf (9).
Other results from a group of 6,033 participants show that coffee drinkers produce higher volumes of urine as well as a lower amount of calcium oxalate in their urine (10).
It has been posited that the reason for the effect coffee has on the potential development of kidney stones is due to the diuretic action of the drink. It is possible that drinking coffee reduces the risk of kidney stones by stimulating the production of urine.
This would also be true of tea, as well as alcoholic beverages. It is interesting to note that beer is associated with the highest reduction of the risk of kidney stones and, as any beer-drinker will attest, is also the beverage that makes drinkers need to use the bathroom the most.
However, this is simply speculation. Although it would seem logical, it is not currently backed up by any scientific research.
Is coffee bad for kidney stones?
The great news for kidney stone-fearing coffee lovers out there is that, far from causing kidney stones, our favorite drink actually seems to lower the risk. Moderate consumption of three to five cups per day can help protect you from this highly unpleasant condition.
It may be that this is due to coffee’s diuretic properties, but due to this, coffee consumption can also lead to dehydration, a known cause of kidney stones.
This means that regular coffee drinkers should take active steps to prevent dehydration by making sure they take on plenty of fluids – the best option being water. This will allow you to enjoy the kidney stone-fighting properties of coffee while eliminating the increased risk due to dehydration.
A helping hand in the fight to prevent a nasty condition
Kidney stones are something nobody wants. If there is anything we can do to reduce our risk of developing them, many people would be willing to try. It turns out that reducing your intake of soda while continuing to drink coffee – and plenty of water – is an effective way to help.
As far as we’re concerned, this is great news. Drink up!
Have you been unfortunate enough to suffer from kidney stones? What did your doctor say? Did they advise you to give up tea and coffee or are you still allowed to drink them? Please leave us a message as we love hearing from you – and if you enjoyed our article, please don’t forget to share!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Daily Cupo, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.