Stress and Kidney Stones: Dissolve Stress for Kidney Health

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Kidney stones and kidney disease bring on different challenges for different people. But some common feelings show themselves over and over again: stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety are common but often overlooked in kidney patients. But the question still arises- can stress cause kidney stones or other kidney damage And if so, how does a person deal with the stress and kidney stones or damage to precious kidneys? We’ll cover all of this in this article.

This article was written by Shelby Anderson, RDN, LDN, and reviewed by Jen Hernandez RDN, CSR, LDN.

*This article contains affiliate links in which we may earn a percentage of sales at no expense to you. We only ever provide affiliate links for products that we truly believe in and recommend for kidney warriors.

About Stress

While it sounds strange, stress is actually a very important part of good health. It helps us to respond when we feel unwell, like giving us extra energy for “fight-or-flight.”

Stress is a response from the body to internal or external activities. It is there to help us prepare or react to something threatening or challenging. Stress is a normal, biological function of the human body.

Stress can come from an external source, like when a giggly grandchild pops out of the closet for a scare.

It can also come from inside of us, like the looming feeling of stress about upcoming kidney stone or renal test results. This is an example of internal stress.

Stress is also be something that we experience for a short amount of time (acutely) or for an extended period of time (chronically). These types of stress can be helpful or harmful to the body. 

Cortisol

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. When one experiences stress, their cortisol hormone levels increase. Some of the functions of cortisol include;

  • increase blood sugars
  • shift how the body uses blood sugars
  • decreasing/stopping unessential bodily functions (like appetite and digestion)
  • shift the immune response
  • changes to body to break down protein and fats for quick energy
  • supress inflammation

As you may have been able to tell, cortisol essentially helps us in that “fight-or-flight” stage when it comes to a stressful environment.

However, in cases of chronic stress, cortisol levels stay high for too long. This can be unhealthy for the body. Long-term high levels of cortisol are associated with:

  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • chronic fatigue
  • high blood pressure
  • increased levels of pain
  • poor blood sugar control and type 2 diabetes
  • sleep problems
  • weakened immune system
  • decreasing mental clarity

Prolonged, high levels of cortisol can also contribute to anxiety.

About Anxiety

Anxiety, on the other hand, looks a bit more like feelings of uncertainty, dread, or fearfulness that disrupt daily life.

Although it is common in those with kidney disease, anxiety oftentimes goes undetected and untreated. 

Up to 52% of kidney patients on dialysis experience anxiety.

Not only does this decrease the quality of life for those battling kidney disease, but the physical impact can also be detrimental. 

Stress and Anxiety on Kidneys & Health

There is an automatic response when encountering a stressful situation. It is called a stress response. Depending on how stressful the situation is, the body will react accordingly. 

Stress and the Cardiovascular System  

There is a positive relationship between stress and the cardiovascular system (the heart system).

Numerous studies suggest that stress can have a negative effect on the heart- particularly heart rate, blood pressure, and the kidneys. Even when stressed for a short amount of time.

When experiencing what is perceived as a stressful situation, the first response from the heart is an increase in the heart rate.

Next, blood pressure would increase.

The tiny muscles in the walls of the blood vessels get narrower. This results in the force of the blood pumping through the veins to be too high for the vessel walls to handle.

This is what we call high blood pressure, and when we have chronically high blood pressure, it may result in a condition called hypertension

Stress and Kidney Disease

Hypertension is the second leading cause of kidney disease.

Having high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, including the blood vessels in the kidneys. When the vessels in the kidneys aren’t working properly, the kidneys can’t work like they need to.

As mentioned above, chronic stress increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. When high blood pressure develops, the risk of kidney damage increases.

So while it is difficult to prove that stress directly causes kidney disease, the potential outcomes from chronic stress can cause kidney disease and further kidney damage.

Stress and Diabetes

Many people with chronic kidney disease or kidney stones also experience problems with blood sugars. Whether it’s pre-diabetes, type 1, or type 2 diabetes, stress has a significant impact on blood sugar management.

Mental stress, anxiety, and depression have all been shown to indirectly increase hemoglobin A1c.

It has been found that those with these conditions tend to follow their diet and lifestyle recommendations more closely when compared to those that do not have these issues.

Click here to learn more about the renal diabetic diet.

Stress and Weight

Stress has also been shown to have a strong correlation with unintentional weight gain.

The hormones associated with the stress response can increase hunger from an expectation of needing more energy. When this additional energy consumed goes unused, it leads to weight gain.

Obesity is a risk factor associated with a higher incidences of both kidney disease and kidney stones. This is not to say that weight alone will cause kidney stones or kidney disease, but other factors that contribute to unintentional weight gain are likely factors.

Can stress cause kidney stones?

Stress is tricky- it can be harder to measure than other health indicators like the renal function panel or blood pressure because those tests give us exact numbers. 

However, stress is usually measured on a “perceived scale.”

This means the way one perceives the events that happen in life affects stress levels. That can mean different things for different people. 

So, for those that perceive high levels of stress, how does that affect the kidney? 

Many wonder if their kidney stones were caused by stress, or if there is a connection between stress and kidney stones at all.

The Evidence of Stress and Kidney Stones

There is not yet a direct link between stress and kidney stones. But there is some research that may suggest that if we are stressed out, we’re more likely to keep getting stones after we have had them before. 

In one study conducted in 2013, researchers observed that people with calcium oxalate kidney stones were more likely to have kidney stones AGAIN if they had high levels of stress. 

One thing to note about this study is that the “recurrent stone formers” also had higher:

  • blood sugar levels
  • uric acid
  • blood cortisol
  • urine calcium levels
  • risk of metabolic syndrome

A different study conducted in 2013 with calcium oxalate stone formers suggested that those with chronic stress may trigger a biological response from the body that encouraged them to get stones again. 

What about the stress-stone-stress-stone cycle? 

So we asked “can stress cause kidney stones?” but what if we asked, “can kidney stones cause more stress?”

Is there a vicious cycle of stress and kidney stones?  

A study in 2017 took a look at this stress-stone-stress-stone cycle, but they were not able to draw any connection between stress and recurrent kidney stones.  

So does stress cause kidney stones, or do kidney stones cause stress? Is the stress-stone-stress-stone cycle real? Maybe. We still need to do a lot more research in order to say one way or the other. 

How to Cope with Stress and Heavy Emotions

Everyone deals with stress differently. For some of us, taking a brisk walk can help us calm down and think a little bit clearer. For others, getting coffee with a close friend does the trick. 

Sometimes therapy from a qualified professional is the answer. Whatever the preferred method of stress relief, find time for it regularly to reap the benefits. Here are some ideas to help.

Physical Stress Management Techniques

Exercise 

Exercising can be a great way to relieve stress! Pick a favorite type of movement to get the heart rate up.

That can mean biking, walking, going to the gym, tai chi, yoga- whatever you would look forward to! 

Pets

Having a pet or companion animal has been associated with decreased loneliness and anxiety. If you are at risk for falls, looking at pictures of animals or petting a friend or neighbor’s animal can be just as beneficial

Eating Well

Does a diet have to be perfect 100% of the time? No. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t focus on nourishing the body, including the kidneys, properly.

Focus on a balanced diet and don’t overdo it on caffeine.

One of the best ways to improve this area is to work with a renal dietitian. The Kidney Stone Nutrition School is an online course created and taught by renal dietitian Melanie Betz. We have partnered with her in the course to offer this to more kidney warriors!

You’ll get 6 weeks of video content, meal plans and recipes, and worksheets to help you find the best kidney stone nutrition plan for you.

Kidney Stone Nutrition School: an online course taught by a renal dietitian to help stop the stone cycle through diet, lifestyle, and understanding the root cause of your kidney stones.
Click here to learn more about the Kidney Stone Nutrition School online program – taught by a qualified renal dietitian and kidney stone expert!

Mental and Emotional Stress Management Techniques

Deep Breathing & Meditation

Deep breathing, whether through a guided meditation or just a few self-guided deep breaths can do wonders for the body.

So often nutrition and exercise are thought of as having the biggest impact on health, but being connected with breathing can do wonders for health too!

One study found that deep breathing helped reduce stress and improve productivity. Practicing some deep breathing before heading into a big project may help you out a bit!

Gratitude Meditation

6 Ways to Relieve Stress for Kidney Health
1) Exercise
2) Deep Breathing
3) Pet your pet
4) Meditation
5) Eat nourishing foods
6) Practice gratitude journaling

Find a quiet spot. Close the eyes. Take a deep breath and get reconnected. Focus on things to be grateful for in life, big or small. 

Struggling to find gratitude in your life? Download this FREE 4-minute guided gratitude meditation. Get reacquainted with yourself and your body while lowering stress levels! 

De-stress with this FREE Guided Gratitude Meditation!

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    This quick gratitude meditation can be done in the car before or after work, before bed, or any time during the day when you notice you are stressed out. 

    Journaling

    Write it out. It doesn’t have to be anything that you ever show anyone, but writing out emotions, events, fears, joy or whatever is on the mind can help us understand how we are feeling. 

    Gratitude journaling is the practice of writing down things one is grateful for. Examples could include having a place to live, having strong legs that help with walking, or a certain person that means a lot.

    Gratitude journaling has been shown to help improve stress management.

    Grab a cute journal from a favorite small business and start writing. Set a SMART goal to practice gratitude journaling.

    Stress and Kidney Stones: How to manage stress and keep kidneys health
*Free meditation guide available to download!

    The Bottom Line 

    Stress is a normal part of biology and helps protect us. However, stress can become a chronic issue and lead to other health concerns like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, poor sleep and other health conditions that can impact kidney health.

    There is not enough research yet to make a direct correlation between stress and kidney stones.

    However, there is some evidence to suggest that those with chronic stress may be at risk for recurrent calcium oxalate stones. This is important for people that have already experienced at least one kidney stone.

    One option is find healthy ways to cope with the stress that can be beneficial to the kidneys and the rest of the body too. 

    While stress is something to be mindful of, there are some different ways to prevent stones in the first place! 

    Join Kidney Stone Nutrition School

    If you have experienced calcium oxalate or uric acid kidney stones before and want to stop the stone cycle, you need to join Kidney Stone Nutrition School!

    This is an online course that teaches you nutrition and lifestyle fundamentals to prevent another stone from happening, all taught by a renal dietitian.

    Click here to learn more!*

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