This release from the University of Houston says a molecular cousin of a supplement commonly recommended to prevent kidney stones could turn out to be a better option. The wording is generally cautious, making clear that the researchers are merely proposing further study. However, the top of the release is vague about the published research. Readers have to dig down before they are told that the work was primarily a chemistry experiment comparing the commonly recommended supplement, citrate, with a related molecule, hydroxycitrate, and that a small human test was done just to see if hydroxycitrate is excreted in urine, not whether it has any health effects.
The release falls short by not mentioning that the study author quoted holds a patent on the use of a molecule for kidney stone treatment The release also omits any discussion of the price of hydroxycitrate or its potential harms.
The road from lab tests to the clinic is very long and often leads to failure. News releases about early laboratory results that suggest a topic for future study should be clear and specific, at the top, about what has been done and how much remains to be studied. By simply referring to “evidence,” this release starts off too vague
The release could have mentioned the price of the supplement used by researchers. The product is sold as a weight loss aid. The manufacturer’s recommended dose of two capsules taken three times a day costs about $17 per month.
The release merely states that, in lab tests, hydroxycitrate appears to be capable of dissolving a common component of kidney stones and could be more effective than citrate, which is often recommended in addition to diet and lifestyle changes as a way to help prevent kidney stones. There is also a cautionary note at the end of the release (which could have been placed near the top) stating that long-term safety, dosage and additional human trials are needed.
This was a tough call. The release notes that some people are unable to tolerate the side effect of citrate and it says that safety studies of hydroxycitrate are needed, but there is no discussion of what potential harms the proposed treatment might pose.
Readers have to get to the bottom of the release to get a brief description of the research, including the key point that the small human trial was intended only to test whether hydroxycitrate is excreted in urine and not whether there are any health effects. The release would have been better if it clearly noted at the very top that this work is primarily a chemistry experiment, and that there is no evidence yet that this compound dissolves kidney stones in patients.
Also, the photo caption erroneously claims the researchers “discovered a new molecule that has the potential to be a more effective inhibitor of kidney stone formation.” Hydroxycitrate is not new. It has been used in supplements for weight-loss and to lower cholesterol.
The release is in line with common estimates when it states that up to 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women are affected by kidney stones, and that the incidence is rising.
The release fails to disclose that the study’s lead author has patented the use of a molecule for kidney stone treatment, nor does it identify the study’s funding source. The study was funded by grants from federal, foundation and university sources according to the acknowledgements section of the journal article. In addition, the patent disclosure was included in supplementary material posted on the Nature website.
The release provides a brief summary of common advice for kidney stone prevention, including drinking lots of water, avoiding certain foods, and often recommending citrate. The release does not discuss medical treatments for serious kidney stones, but then hydroxycitrate is being proposed only as an additional preventive treatment.
The release notes that, like citrate, hydroxycitrate is available as a dietary supplement.
There do not appear to be any other studies available on www.PubMed.gov that look at hydroxycitrate as a potential kidney stone treatment.
The release generally sticks to careful language about the potential benefits of hydroxycitrate, clearly noting that further studies are needed. However, the release would have been better if the cautionary notes about the need to do human safety and effective trials had been near the top, instead of buried at the bottom of the release.