Are lemons and limes effective for preventing kidney stones?

Are lemons and limes effective for preventing kidney stones?

You’ve heard the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Passing a kidney stone qualifies as a “lemon” experience - the unbearable, excruciating pain as the stone makes its agonizing journey through your urinary plumbing until it passes on out for good, is not worth repeating. Unfortunately, about half of people who have had one, get to have a duplicate performance at some point over the next few years.

This is where making lemonade or squeezing fresh lemon juice into a tall glass of water comes to mind in possibly preventing kidney stones.  Lemons have the highest concentration of citrate or citric acid – a natural inhibitor of kidney stone formation of any citrus fruit.  Limes are also a very good source of citric acid and are another viable means of preventing kidney stones. 


Each year more than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stones problems.  It is estimated that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives.  A kidney stone is a hard object made from chemicals in the urine.  Our urine has various wastes dissolved in it and if there is too much waste and not enough liquid, crystals begin to form.  These crystals can grow into stones which eventually make their way through the urinary tract.  But if the stone is large enough, it can get stuck blocking the flow of urine resulting in tremendous pain. 

Citric acid – what it is and how can it help?

Not to be confused with ascorbic acid which is another name for vitamin C, citric acid is a natural component of many fruits and fruit juices but is not a vitamin or mineral.   It is does appear to have a protective benefit for people with kidney stones as it can inhibit stone formation and can break up small stones that are beginning to form.  The more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are from forming new kidney stones. 

How does citric acid prevent kidney stones?

To prevent kidney stone formation, the conditions have to be unfavorable for this.  This is where citric acid comes in.  In its natural form, like how it is found in citrus fruits, citric acid does not alkalinize the urine as citrate does.  Instead, it prevents small stones from becoming a problem by coating them and preventing other material from attaching and building on the stones.

Best food sources of citric acid

Citric acid is found most prevalent in citrus fruits and juices.  Lemons and limes have the most citric acid while oranges, grapefruit, and berries do contain appreciable amounts.  It is possible to prescribe pharmacological doses of citric acid as potassium citrate to be an effective treatment for kidney stones.   But this treatment is costly and may require up to 12 tablets a day.  This is where using natural citric acid can be of use.  A half-cup (4-ounces) of pure lemon juice each day provides about the same amount of citric acid as does a pharmacological dose does.  

In addition to increasing your citric acid intake, it is also strongly advisable to drink adequate fluids, especially water (at least ten 8-ounce cups per day) to work as a powerful means of decreasing your risk of developing kidney stones.

7 easy steps to increase citric acid intake

1.  Eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily – Even though lemons and limes are the best sources of citric acid, increasing your intake of all produce will add citric acid and provide other health benefits.  For example, the potassium, magnesium, and phytate found in fruits and vegetables protect your against forming new stones.  Other phytochemicals in plant foods prevent cancer and other chronic disease.

2.  Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into ice cube trays – Fill ice cube trays almost full of water then squeeze half a lemon lime or more over the tray and freeze.  Use these cubes to add to plain tap water or other beverages. 

3.  Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice directly into water, fruit juice, or tea.

4.  Dilute 2 ounces of lemon or lime juice with 6 ounces of water and drink twice a day.

5.  Use fresh lemon on lettuce or spinach salads

6.  Use freshly squeezed lemon or lime on fruit salads. – Not only does this give a zesty flavor but the acid in the juice will prevent cut fruits, such as apples, from browning with exposure to the air.

7.  Use fresh lemon or lime juice on fish and in marinades for any type of meat.