Scientists have discovered a new possible treatment for kidney stones. Hydroxycitrate, a compound found in many tropical plants, dissolves the crystals that form the deposits. The findings are in a paper just published in the journal Nature.
Kidney stones are hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys. They can cause a lot of pain as they pass through the urinary tract and larger stones may require surgery. More than 500,000 people go to emergency rooms each year because of kidney stone pain. Even with how common kidney stones are, recommended treatments are still very basic. Doctors recommend drinking plenty of water while avoiding foods known to be high in oxalates (such as spinach). Potassium citrate can help prevent the growth of crystals that lead to kidney stones. The supplement can cause unpleasant side effects, however, including vomiting and diarrhea. Many patients can’t tolerate citrate but there isn’t a good alternative.
A previous study had suggested that hydroxycitrate, extracted from plants, might be a good candidate for kidney stone treatment. The supplement is already available commercially but hasn’t been studied much in the laboratory. A team of researchers decided to test the supplement against calcium oxalate crystals, the main component of kidney stones.
The team used atomic force microscopy to observe calcium oxalate crystals in a growth solution. They added hydroxycitrate to the mix to see if it would inhibit crystal growth. The supplement worked even better than expected. Hydroxycitrate didn’t just prevent the growth of crystals, it actually dissolved them. The researchers originally thought they were mistaken but further tests confirmed that the supplement was dissolving the calcium oxalate crystals, even in a supersaturated growth solution.
Hydroxycitrate shows great promise for the prevention and treatment of human kidney stones. The researchers tested the supplement on a small group of people and confirmed that the supplement is excreted in urine. This makes it a viable treatment but future studies will be needed to determine dosage and side effects.
Jihae Chung et al. Molecular modifiers reveal a mechanism of pathological crystal growth inhibition. Nature (2016).