If you’ve ever had kidney stones, you know that you’ll do just about anything to keep them from coming around again. You may have heard that zinc can help you avoid them. And it’s equally likely that you’ve heard you shouldn’t take zinc because it causes kidney stones. Which is correct?
Well–both! Scientists have found that zinc may help keep large stones from forming, while at the same time promoting the growth of smaller stones. How is this possible?
The Case for Zinc
Kidney stones form through crystallization of minerals in the kidneys. These minerals need to adhere to each other in specific and regular patterns to form a kidney stone. Zinc interferes with these crystallization patterns, limiting the size to which any crystal can grow. This interference in growth patterns leads to smaller kidney stones which are less painful and easier to pass than large stones. Scientists have attempted to replicate these results with other minerals that are commonly found in the kidneys, such as magnesium. So far none of the minerals they have tested interfere in the crystallization enough to keep crystals from growing larger the way that zinc does.
The Flip Side
While zinc does seem to prevent larger kidney stones from forming, it also changes the surface of the crystals, leaving abnormalities that allow new crystals to start growing. The researchers were able to examine the ways these new crystallizations take hold by using in vitro experiments and computer modeling. They also used atomic force microscopy measurements to confirm their findings.
So What’s Someone With Kidney Stones Supposed to do?
The formation of kidney stones is on the rise, causing great pain and increasing medical expenses. Zinc seemed to be a quick and easy way to help eliminate this medical problem. However, with the results of this study, Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston, and a co-author of the study, refers to the effect of zinc on kidney stones as “a double-edged sword.” Until there is more information on how exactly zinc works on kidney stones, a talk with your healthcare provider about whether it’s better to have more smaller stones or fewer larger stones might be appropriate.
Zinc may stop large kidney stones from forming but may be promoting the growth of more smaller ones. Scientists hope to find a way to keep stones of any painful size from forming, or even dissolve existing stones, ending the enormous pain caused every day to patients who have developed kidney stones.