There is a widespread belief that the consumption of tea can lead to the formation of kidney stones. Maybe you have heard of this, especially when it comes to iced teas that people have come to love so much.
Well, recent studies show that taking tea may not be as harmful as most people think. In fact, even people who have had kidney stones in the past may not have to stay away from this drink. These studies have challenged the presence of oxalates in tea as the main factor in determining the risk of kidney stones.
If anything, they have shown that the compounds in tea can be more beneficial than harmful regarding renal health. One such study undertaken in 2019 shows that the polysaccharides present in tea can repair cells in the kidney.
Note that while these studies favor having tea, not all types of tea are good for you. Some can harm your kidneys, to the point of causing failure in these organs. The best way to stay safe is to research kidney stones and practice moderation in everything you do.
Also, you must stay hydrated. Before we look into how tea affects kidney stones’ formation (or lack thereof), let us understand what they are.
What are kidney stones?
If you have ever watched a program where a member of the cast had kidney stones, then you know one thing: they are painful. These stones are hard deposits that form inside your kidneys comprising minerals and salts.
They can come about due to many factors, including medical conditions, some meds, a poor diet, obesity, and using supplements. These stones are not specific as to the area in which they form. They can do so on any part of the urinary tract from the kidneys to the bladder. A risk factor is when the urine concentration is high such that minerals find it easy to crystallize and bind.
Having them is not usually much of a problem until you have to pass them, which is an excruciating experience. The good thing is that they will not cause much harm as long as you discover them in the early stages. The ease of passing them depends on their state.
Some can come out on their own as long as you drink a lot of water and take some meds. Others require medical interventions such as surgery, more so where other complications are in play. If you have had kidney stones, the doctor will recommend some practices and treatments to prevent the reoccurrence of the same.
Do you have kidney stones?
The thing with kidney stones is that they tend to be sneaky. You will not usually know that you have one until it moves to the kidney or enters the ureters. The latter are the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder.
When the stone lodges in these tubes, urine flow reduces, which can cause swelling of the kidney. That is when the problem begins. Most people experience sharp pain on their sides and backs, as well as below the ribs. The pain moves from the groin to the lower abdomen and can come in waves. Sometimes, the pain fluctuates in intensity. Also, when you pee, you feel a burning sensation.
You can also look out for other symptoms, such as a change in the color of urine. If it comes out pink, red, or brown, you could have a problem. The smell can also change such that it smells bad. You may find yourself using the loo more than often and in small amounts. Where infections are present, other symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting can show.
Note that the pain caused by the stone can change. An example would be where the stone moves to another part of the urinary tract. The pain would follow this movement.
Should you have concerns?
Any of these symptoms is enough for you to seek medical advice. The longer you wait, the more complicated it will be to pass the stone. Also, the symptoms may not be indicative of a kidney stone, but another problem you should uncover.
You should always seek urgent attention if the symptoms are severe – such as pain accompanied by nausea, fever, blood in urine, and difficulty in peeing.
What causes kidney stones?
Now, we are finally at the part you have likely been waiting for all this while. Unfortunately, there is no single cause of kidney stones. Instead, they result from a combination of factors. The more of these factors in play, the more you are likely to suffer this condition.
You see, the stones come about when your urine has a high concentration of crystallizing substances. These include calcium, uric acid, and oxalates. Woe unto you if you have plenty of these. With tea, you will find that most of the concerns surround the oxalates’ presence, as we will later cover.
When you have too many of these substances than your urine can dilute, they start sticking together. And slowly, kidney stones develop.
Can drinking tea cause kidney stones?
You are now aware of what causes kidney stones and what it feels like. We can now focus on whether tea can play a role in their formation. Kidney stone disease is a common health condition that is likely to reoccur after one has had a kidney stone removed. That makes it quite risky to develop it for the first time.
You will find that a huge percentage of people with this disease suffer from calcium oxalate stones. That is about 80% of kidney stone sufferers. Now, the thing with tea is that it contains oxalates. Not all teas have these substances, but most of the teas in the market do. Consider the fact that millions of people consume tea every day, and you will see that this could be a problem.
You cannot avoid oxalates by avoiding tea alone, as these substances are naturally found in many a food. They present as waste products in the blood which the kidney excretes through urine.
Usually, the excretion should be smooth, and no crystallization should take place. The problem comes about when there is a high concentration of oxalates and a lack of liquid in the urine. When this happens, the crystals add up and create stones.
Many people believe that eating a diet high in oxalates can lead to the formation of these stones. Plant products are often high in these substances, including the Camillia Sinensis, from which most teas result.
As such, people usually take it that consuming tea puts them at risk. Is this true? Well, research shows that tea, while containing oxalates, also contains compounds that protect kidneys from damage.
It helps to know how many oxalates are present in tea. The less the fermentation a tea goes through, the less likely it is to be high in oxalates. You will find that green and white teas are low in these substances, while black and kombucha variations are high.
A cup of Pu Erh will give you about 224 mg of oxalates for every 200 ml. Black tea contains 156, green tea has 80, and herbal teas have meager amounts. The number of oxalates can be higher or lower than this, depending on other factors. However, you can work with these amounts as averages.
The question is, can tea lower your risk of getting kidney stone disease? Well, recent studies show that taking moderate amounts of tea, whether black or green, can lower your risk.
It owes to the presence of polysaccharides that have anti-radiation, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties. They have also been shown to reduce the chances of the formation and the recurrence of kidney stones.
A study published in 2019 detailed how these compounds repair renal cells that have undergone some type of damage. In so doing, they reduce the chances of crystal formation on these cells.
Types of tea and their risk of developing kidney stones
Let us look at some of the most popular teas in the market, and what effect these teas have on the possible development of kidney stones:
A huge population of avid tea drinkers swears by this tea, which also happens to have the highest caffeine concentration. A cup of this gives you as many as 90 mg of caffeine. This tea is also much higher in oxalates compared to other teas. However, studies show that if you take it in moderation, you can lower your risk of kidney stones. Two or fewer cups per day should be okay.
Does adding milk help? Well, yes. The presence of calcium allows the oxalates to bind to this mineral. The oxalates end up in the digestive system and pass out of the body in the form of stool. That means that a small amount gets to the kidneys, which lowers your risk.
Taking green tea has been shown to reduce the chances of developing calcium oxalate stones. Studies show that men are more likely to benefit from this reduced risk as compared to women. The thing is that the tea compounds reduce the stability of the crystals formed. That makes it easier for the body to break them down over time.
This tea is not suitable for anyone at risk of kidney stones. Its leaves are rich in oxalates, and given that the ingestion is direct, that might be too much for the kidneys. Green tea may be okay, but that is not the case when there is Matcha infusion.
Given that these teas do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant, they contain low levels of oxalates. That does not mean that all teas of this kind are safe for consumption. You have to understand what the ingredients are and research the oxalates present in the same.
You will come across people telling you to take more fluids to reduce your risk of kidney disease. And they are right, given that dehydration is a leading cause of these stones. However, not all fluids work to your advantage. The use of sweet teas that come ready to drink can harm your renal health. These contain high amounts of sugars, which increase the risk of calcium oxalate stones’ formation. That is more so when they contain fructose.
Teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine. Studies show that moderate consumption of this stimulant can reduce the chances of the formation of kidney stones. It can also prevent crystals from attaching to the kidneys. Research on the same is ongoing.
Can you still drink tea if you don’t want kidney stones?
Taking tea will likely not harm you as long as you do so in moderation. If you go for highly fermented teas such as black teas, your oxalate consumption will increase. And that means you should stick to two or fewer cups each day.
For lighter teas, you can drink as many as five without much of a problem. As long as you are moderate in your drinks, you should be fine. Studies even suggest that taking tea daily can significantly reduce your kidney stone risks.
As you do this, you should also consider other factors such as your diet, water intake, weight, family history, and underlying medical conditions. Remember that kidney stones result from not one but a combination of factors.