global warming causes kidney stones?

Mr. Writerdd, who has had kidney stones many times, sent me an email today with an article claiming that global warming may cause an increase in the occurrence of kidney stones. I don’t know about you, but this sounds fishy to me:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One more unwanted consequence of global warming may be an increase in cases of kidney stones in areas with rising temperatures, U.S. researchers said on Monday…

They forecast increases of up to 30 percent in kidney stone cases in some areas — meaning millions more people would get the condition. The annual cost in the United States of treating kidney stone cases could increase by 2050 by about $1 billion per year — 25 percent more than current levels, they added.

Anyone have time to look into this further? I’d be interested in knowing more about this. I just don’t see how an average annual temperature change of a couple of degrees can make that much difference to an individual human body.  I mean, do more people get kidney stones in the summer? I have no idea but it seems to me that if increased temperatures increase the likelihood of kidney stones, that we should be having epidemics in summer months. Maybe I’m missing something.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. One cogent question:

    Is there any increase in kidney stones among people in warmer climates, once other factors (such as diet) are controlled for? If no, I’d say this story belongs at the bottom of the rubbish bin.

  2. It looked like a plausible hypothesis when I heard about it, and I’m sure the researchers aren’t saying “this is certainly the case, it’s no speculation!”.

    Basically, it’s not the temperature rise that causes problems, but the fact that larger amounts of area become drier with global warming. With less water available, more people don’t drink enough, which can result in an increase of people with kidney stones. Or at least that’s what they say.

    (wishing that the summers in his region weren’t so humid …)

  3. I checked the NIH website. It would seem that Yoo pretty much got it right. Warmer weather = increased risk of dehydraton leading to greater concentrations of certain substances in the urine which in turn leads to increased occurrence of crystal formation.

    The following is taken from the NIH website:

    Lifestyle Changes

    A simple and most important lifestyle change to prevent stones is to drink more liquids—water is best. Someone who tends to form stones should try to drink enough liquids throughout the day to produce at least 2 quarts of urine in every 24-hour period.

    In the past, people who form calcium stones were told to avoid dairy products and other foods with high calcium content. Recent studies have shown that foods high in calcium, including dairy products, may help prevent calcium stones. Taking calcium in pill form, however, may increase the risk of developing stones.

    Patients may be told to avoid food with added vitamin D and certain types of antacids that have a calcium base. Someone who has highly acidic urine may need to eat less meat, fish, and poultry. These foods increase the amount of acid in the urine.

    To prevent cystine stones, a person should drink enough water each day to dilute the concentration of cystine that escapes into the urine, which may be difficult. More than a gallon of water may be needed every 24 hours, and a third of that must be drunk during the night.

  4. Yeah, it’s essentially that kidney stones are a disease of the chronically dehydrated, and chronic dehydration goes hand in hand with high average temperatures. More hot land = more kidney stones.

    That beings said, I had to shake my head when I heard it on NPR- one of those instances of “yeah, it’s true, but…really? Best you’ve got? We should phase out coal power plants to fight kidney stones?”

  5. I try to look at it more generously; they’re predicting one medical area where we might have to pour more resources into in the future. :)

  6. I thought this was more of a “huh?” kind of story. And it can also be looked at as a warning that global warming will have some very unexpected consequences, and some of them won’t be at all obvious.

    But it also connects to the likelihood of an increase in other public health threats resulting from global warming: increased insect activity, more active microbial populations, and the like.

  7. Studies like this frustrate me a bit; AGW is either a *huge* problem, or it isn’t.

    Getting the polar bears on the endangered species list, decrying the GW component of algae blooms, or discussing the increase in kidney stones seem to be trivial elements compared to nailing down more accurate numbers on how much warming we will be seeing, and what the overal impact is going to be.

    The study itself seems to be internally consistent, though.

  8. If GW is a *huge* problem, though, it is because of a summation of all the smaller problems such as this that are directly and indirectly a result of an increase in global average temperatures. So far as I am aware nobody is predicting that temperatures will rise to the point where we will all spontaneously combust. But there may be minor and moderate impacts to numerous factors that play into a decrease in quality of life for ourselves and our descendants.

  9. It’s TRUE!
    I passed a kidney stone just yesterday, and there is NO WAY that could be COINCIDENCE! (Notice the ALL CAPS for emphasis)
    It MUST BE GLOBAL WARMING!!!!1111eleven11!!!

    Or not.

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