Elevated levels of arachidonic acid in cell membranes may promote the hypercalciuria and hyperoxaluria that are characteristic of idiopathic calcium nephrolithiasis. The intake of n-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may decrease the arachidonic acid content of cell membranes and reduce urinary excretion of calcium and oxalate. It has been proposed that greater intake of EPA and DHA (through dietary sources or fish oil supplementation) may reduce the risk for kidney stone formation.
After excluding subjects with a prior history of kidney stones, we prospectively examined the relation between fatty acid intake (including fish oil supplements) and incident symptomatic kidney stones in 3 large cohorts: the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (N = 46,043), the Nurses' Health Study I (NHS I; N = 92,079), and the Nurses' Health Study II (N = 96,304). Self-administered food-frequency questionnaires were used to assess fatty acid intake every 4 years. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to adjust simultaneously for a variety of risk factors.
We documented 3,956 incident kidney stones during a combined 36 years of follow-up. After adjustment for intake of other dietary factors, no association was detected between the intake of arachidonic acid or linoleic acid (a metabolic precursor to arachidonic acid) and the risk for incident kidney stones. Older women (NHS I) in the highest quintile of EPA and DHA intake had a multivariate relative risk of 1.28 (95% confidence interval, 1.04 to 1.56; P for trend = 0.04) of stone formation compared with women in the lowest quintile. However, this relation was not observed in the other 2 cohorts.
Fatty acid intake is not consistently associated with the development of kidney stones. Greater levels of arachidonic and linoleic acid intake do not increase the risk for developing a kidney stone, and greater intake of n-3 fatty acids does not reduce the risk.