Junk food: Teen boy holding donut and sweet fizzy drink

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NANCHONG, China — Consuming processed foods and beverages such as cookies, cakes, and soda can increase the risk of kidney stones, according to a new study. For the first time, researchers have indicated that consuming higher levels of added sugars, often found in processed snacks, can elevate the chances of this painful condition.

Kidney stones, which affect more than one in 10 people, can cause severe pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and blood in a patient’s urine. Over time, these stones may lead to infections, kidney swelling, and potentially life-threatening renal diseases.

Factors contributing to the condition are adulthood, obesity, chronic diarrhea, dehydration, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and gout. Now, this study is adding excess sugar, a common ingredient in junk food, to the list of kidney stone risk factors.

The researchers highlighted the prevalence of added sugars in products such as soda, fruit drinks, chocolate, ice cream, and other ultra-processed items.

“Ours is the first study to report an association between added sugar consumption and kidney stones,” says lead author Dr. Shan Yin, a researcher at the Affiliated Hospital of North Sichuan Medical College in Nanchong, China, in a media release. “It suggests that limiting added sugar intake may help to prevent the formation of kidney stones.”

kidney stone diagram
Kidney stones reduce the quality of life and can lead to infections and renal disease.
Credit: Mayo Clinic

Over 28,000 American adults’ health data was analyzed by Dr. Yin and the team. Participants reported if they had a history of kidney stones and their daily intake of added sugars was estimated based on recent food and drink consumption. Other considerations included the quality of their diets, intake of harmful foods, and beneficial dietary components such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The team also took into account factors like gender, age, race, ethnicity, relative income, and body mass index (BMI) while calculating the odds of developing kidney stones each year during the study.

Participants with higher sugar intake at the start of the study were observed to have a higher prevalence of kidney stones, lower healthy eating scores, and lower education levels. The average daily added sugar intake was 272.1 calories, representing 13.2 percent of total daily energy intake.

The team discovered a consistent link between the energy intake percentage from added sugars and developing kidney stones. Participants with the top 25 percent intake of added sugars had a 39-percent higher chance of developing kidney stones during the study. Those whose total energy derived more than 25 percent from added sugars had an 88-percent greater chance of having a stone than those who derived less than five percent of their total energy from added sugars. The researchers state that the precise mechanisms linking high consumption of added sugars to an increased risk of kidney stones are still unknown.

“Further studies are needed to explore the association between added sugar and various diseases or pathological conditions in detail,” concludes Dr. Yin. “Nevertheless, our findings already offer valuable insights for decision-makers.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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