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How Halloween Candy Can Haunt Your Kidneys

October 25, 2023 | By: Dr. Aaron Bey

In the classic Halloween special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” all the children receive candy from their neighbors, except for our hapless hero. Charlie Brown gets rocks.

Hey, it’s better than stones.

Recent research indicated that candy can contribute to kidney stones. A study released in August suggests that the more sugar we eat, the greater our chances of developing these painful little formations.

How much sugar? According to the study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, people who get more than 25% their total calories from added sugars are at an 88% higher risk of developing kidney stones, compared with those who took less than 5% of their calories from added sugars.

For comparison, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 advises that all added sugars should equal less than 10% of total calories.

Not-So-Fun-Size Facts: What Makes Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are formed from an overabundance of minerals, salts, and other waste in the urine. Eventually, this waste crystalizes to form stones in our kidneys. The most common stones are from calcium or uric acid:

  • Calcium stones can have genetic or metabolic causes. They can also be linked to foods with oxalates (in some nuts, legumes, dark leafy greens), as well as sodium and animal proteins.
  • Uric acid stones typically form in people who eat a lot of animal proteins (red meat, poultry, eggs), those who are dehydrated or lose too much fluid due to diarrhea, and those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

Symptoms of kidney stones include severe pain on either side of the back, blood in the urine, and nausea due to the pain.

So How Does Our Halloween Haul Fit In?

Sugar is, in a way, rock candy. Research shows that added sugars can reduce the amount of urine our bodies produce and result in higher levels of urinary calcium – the perfect combo for stone formation.

Further, an overabundance of sugar can lead to other health problems that are shown to contribute to stone formation. These conditions include diabetes, obesity, and resistance to insulin.

More than a half a million people visit emergency rooms each year for kidney stone problems.

Stone Risks Vary Among Adults

Your risk of being among those half million emergency room visits could depend on various factors. Adult males are slightly more likely than women to develop stones. Health conditions including chronic diarrhea, dehydration, inflammatory bowel disease, high blood pressure, and gout also can raise chances.

When it comes to the effects of added sugar, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated that Native American and Asians are more likely to develop kidney stones when eating large amounts, compared with Hispanic, non-Hispanic White, and non-Hispanic Black people.

Lastly, those who have had stones, even just one, are 50% more likely to develop more in the following five to seven years.

Semi-Sweet Advice on Stone Prevention

So, how much sugar is safe to eat to avoid stones?

The American Heart Association recommends adult males consume no more than 36 grams of sugar daily, or nine teaspoons. That equals about 150 calories. Women and children should strive for no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons), or 100 calories. For context: A 1.86-ounce Snickers candy bar contains 28 grams of sugar. A bag of Skittles, 45 grams. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, 39 grams.

So, after Halloween, try to limit yourself to one fun-size candy bar daily, or an apple. You won’t experience a sugar rush, but it sure beats getting a rock.

The Urology Group offers state-of-the-art, outpatient treatments for the care of kidney stones. You can learn more about our treatments, and how to prevent and detect stones, on our dedicated web page, here.

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