The Risks of Living in the Kidney Stone Belt

The South is known for its great cooking and sweet tea, but did you know Southerners have a higher rate of developing kidney stones compared to the national average? Read why the South is particularly prone to kidney stones and learn some of the best ways to avoid them below.

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are deposits in the body made from calcium and oxalate or calcium and phosphate; they can also include uric acid, cysteine and magnesium ammonium phosphate. Their stone formation often blocks the flow of urine in the body, which is a main source of the pain associated with kidney stones.


Genetics is a risk factor for producing kidney stones. It is also likely if a patient gets one kidney stone, he or she will have more in the future. Dietary habits that contribute to kidney stone growth include not drinking enough fluids, overabundance of salt, animal protein and high-oxalate foods, and inadequate dairy intake. High-oxalate foods include popular Southern foods such as leafy greens, peanuts, okra, chocolate, and sweet potatoes.

The Kidney Stone Belt

The term “Kidney Stone Belt” refers to a section of the United States in the Southeastern portion of the country where kidney stones are much more common than in the general population. The state of North Carolina is said to have the highest incidence of kidney stones in the U.S., in part due to the diet and weather in the area. The South Eastern region has high obesity rates, a wide consumption of sweetened iced tea, and a long prevalence of hard water. Hard water is formed when water percolates through deposits of limestone and chalk, which are largely made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates.

Studies at the university are looking into the incidence of kidney stones in the Southeast, but they also are finding an increase of kidney stones across the United States. At a meeting of the American Urological Association in May 2012, a study was presented showing that the number of Americans with kidney stones has almost doubled since 1994.

Lowering Risks

To lower your risk factor for kidney stones, reduce or eliminate eating sodium enriched foods and eat the recommended amount of dairy products in your daily diet. Drinking the suggested amount of water per day for your body weight will also greatly decrease your chances of obtaining kidney stones.

Other ways to avoid kidney stones:

  • Heavy exercise
  • Consume recommended amounts of Oxalate (found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains)
  • Reduce sodium intake and increase calcium-rich foods
  • Drink more fresh-squeezed, unsweetened lemonade
  • Cut back on red meat and high-purine foods

For some patients, kidney stones are purely genetic. However, living a healthy lifestyle, full of natural foods and getting plenty of exercise, will greatly decrease your chances of developing painful kidney stones.

If you have any questions about kidney stones, contact Dr. Scott Miller or call at (404) 705-5201.