A twin study of genetic and dietary influences on nephrolithiasis: a report from the Vietnam Era Twin (VET) Registry

Kidney Int. 2005 Mar;67(3):1053-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1755.2005.00170.x.


Background: Nephrolithiasis is a complex phenotype that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. We conducted a large twin study to examine genetic and nongenetic factors associated with stones.

Methods: The VET Registry includes approximately 7500 male-male twin pairs born between 1939 to 1955 with both twins having served in the military from 1965 to 1975. In 1990, a mail and telephone health survey was sent to 11,959 VET Registry members; 8870 (74.2%) provided responses. The survey included a question asking if the individual had ever been told of having a kidney stone by a physician. Detailed dietary habits were elicited. In a classic twin study analysis, we compared concordance rates in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins. We also conducted a cotwin control study of dietary risk factors in twins discordant for stones.

Results: Among dizygotic twins, there were 17 concordant pairs and 162 discordant pairs for kidney stones. Among monozygotic twins, there were 39 concordant pairs and 163 discordant pairs. The proband concordance rate in MZ twins (32.4%) was significantly greater than the rate in DZ twins (17.3%) (chi(2)= 12.8; P < 0.001), consistent with a genetic influence. The heritability of the risk for stones was 56%. In the multivariate analysis of twin pairs discordant for kidney stones, we found a protective dose-response pattern of coffee drinking (P= 0.03); those who drank 5 or more cups of coffee were half as likely to develop kidney stones as those who did not drink coffee (OR = 0.4, 95% CI 0.2, 0.9). Those who drank at least 1 cup of milk per day were half as likely to report kidney stones (OR = 0.5, 95% CI 0.3, 0.8). There were also marginally significant protective effects of increasing numbers of cups of tea per day and frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables. Other factors such as the use of calcium supplements, alcohol drinking, consumption of solid dairy products, and the amount of animal protein consumed were not significantly related to kidney stones in the multivariate model.

Conclusion: These results confirm that nephrolithiasis is at least in part a heritable disease. Coffee, and perhaps tea, fruits, and vegetables were found to be protective for stone disease. This is the first twin study of kidney stones, and represents a new approach to elucidating the relative roles of genetic and environmental factors associated with stone formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Calculi / etiology*
  • Kidney Calculi / genetics*
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Registries
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic