What is chanca piedra?

Chanca piedra is an herb that grows in tropical areas, like the rainforests of South America. Its scientific name is Phyllanthus niruri.

It also goes by a number of other names, such as:

  • stone breaker
  • gale-of-the-wind
  • seed-under-leaf
  • quebra pedra
  • shatter stone
  • chance pierre

The plant has thin, leaf-covered branches and can grow up to about 2 feet (61 cm) tall. It gets the name “seed-under-leaf” because its seed pods, which bloom into small green flowers, grow beneath the leaves.

The entire plant — including the leaves, stems, and flowers — is used to make chanca piedra supplements.

As a supplement, chanca piedra is reported to help with a variety of conditions related to the digestive system, liver, and kidneys.

Supposedly, it contains phytochemicals — or plant compounds — that can increase urine flow, kill harmful bacteria and viruses, and relieve inflammation (1).

However, there’s little evidence that it’s effective.

Chanca piedra is available in teas, liquid extracts, capsules, or tablets.

Benefits and uses

According to some claims, chanca piedra may have several beneficial effects on different body systems. However, there’s little research to support these claims.

Kidney stones

Chanca piedra is best known as a potential kidney stone cure — which is how it earned the name “stone breaker.”

The herb is alkaline, so it may help prevent acidic kidney stones. It’s a less expensive, over-the-counter alternative to prescription potassium citrate, an alkalizing agent that’s commonly used to prevent acidic kidney stones. It may also help you urinate more (2).

In one study in 56 people with kidney stones who took 4.5 grams of chanca piedra per day, researchers found that the kidney stones decreased in size and number in about two-thirds of participants (3).

What’s more, other small human studies have observed some benefit to taking chanca piedra for kidney stones (4).

Stomach ulcers

Chanca piedra extract can kill the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers from Helicobacter pylori in test-tube studies. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to an oral supplement being effective against stomach ulcers in humans (5, 6).

Test-tube studies like these typically involve highly concentrated extracts being applied directly to bacterial cells, which isn’t how oral chanca piedra supplements would work.

High blood sugar

In animal studies, the antioxidants in chanca piedra have been able to improve fasting blood sugar levels, which can help with blood sugar management (1, 7).

Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean that chanca piedra would have the same effect in humans.

More research is needed to understand the effect of chanca piedra on blood sugar levels in humans.

Gallstones

For the same reason it may help with kidney stones, the alkalizing properties of chanca piedra may help prevent gallstones as well. It’s used in some traditional medicine practices as a gallstone treatment (1).

Yet, there’s no scientific evidence to support the use of chanca piedra specifically for gallstones.

Gout

Gout flare-ups can occur when high levels of uric acid build up in the blood. Chanca piedra may help balance out these levels and prevent gout attacks.

Some animal studies have shown a decrease in uric acid levels in animals receiving chanca piedra supplements (1).

Liver disease

Due to its antioxidant content, chanca piedra may improve liver function and help protect the liver from cellular damage caused by free radicals — unstable compounds that can cause damage when they build up in your body in high levels (1).

The herb also appears to be helpful for treating hepatitis B, an inflammatory viral infection of the liver — at least in animal and test-tube studies (1).

Because some other herbs in the Phyllanthus genus exhibit strong antiviral activity against hepatitis B — potentially rivaling that of the antiviral medication interferon — researchers theorize that chanca piedra may have similar effects (1).

Still, most of this research has been done in animal or test-tube studies. More human studies are needed to assess the effects of chanca piedra on liver health.

High blood pressure

Some animal research indicates that chanca piedra may help relax the blood vessels, which could lead to reductions in blood pressure (1).

Yet, one human study noted a slight increase in blood pressure in people taking chanca piedra. More research regarding the effects of chanca piedra on blood pressure in humans is needed (3).

It’s important to note that most of the existing research on chanca piedra has been done in animals or test tubes, using highly concentrated extracts.

Although there’s a small amount of evidence to support the use of chanca piedra for kidney stones in humans, larger and more rigorous human studies are needed to determine if chanca piedra truly has any benefits.

Side effects and precautions

In one human study, some of the reported side effects of chanca piedra supplementation included:

  • abdominal pain
  • painful urination
  • blood in the urine
  • nausea

Abdominal pain was by far the most common, with the others being much less commonly reported (3).

Chanca piedra may also reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so it should be used with caution if you’re on a blood pressure or blood sugar lowering medication (1).

Keep in mind that supplements aren’t regulated by any government organizations, so there’s little oversight to ensure that the label is an honest representation of what’s in the supplement.

If you choose to take chanca piedra, you should buy a supplement that has been independently verified for quality by a third party organization. Some of these organizations include ConsumerLab, NSF International, and United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

Dosage and how to take

In one human study that showed improvements in kidney stones, the daily dosage was 4.5 grams of powdered chanca piedra for 12 weeks (3).

Chanca piedra pills or capsules contain anywhere from 500 to 1,600 mg of the herb per dose, and liquid extracts contain a similar amount.

It’s difficult to tell how much of the herb you would consume from tea, as the amount of the herb that infuses into the tea depends on the temperature of the water and how long the tea steeps.

Chanca piedra can be taken with or without food.

There’s no research on the long-term effects of chanca piedra, so it may be wise to limit the time you take the supplement to 12 weeks or less — a duration that has been studied in humans (3).

Stopping and withdrawal

In the studies that have been done on chanca piedra, there doesn’t appear to be any risks to stopping the supplement suddenly. There are also no reported withdrawal symptoms.

However, because there’s a lack of research, it’s possible that some complications simply haven’t been explored yet.

If you’re experiencing any issues when stopping chanca piedra, be sure to consult a healthcare provider.

Overdose

There’s not enough research available to suggest that chanca piedra overdose is possible.

Still, you should limit the amount you take to the daily dose on the supplement label, as there could be safety concerns with high doses of chanca piedra that haven’t been studied yet.

Interactions

Chanca piedra has the potential to interact with several medications, including:

  • Lithium. Chanca piedra may make you urinate more, which can affect the way your body gets rid of lithium (3).
  • Blood pressure lowering drugs. The herb may lower your blood pressure, which can potentially lead to low blood pressure levels, especially in people who are already on blood pressure medications (1).
  • Blood sugar lowering drugs. Chanca piedra may decrease your blood sugar levels. If you’re already on insulin or other drugs that lower blood sugar, this can lead to dangerously low levels known as hypoglycemia (1).
  • Blood thinning medications. Chanca piedra may inhibit blood clotting, which can lead to severe complications in people who are on blood thinners (1).

Storage and handling

Chanca piedra supplements in any form — tea, extract, or pills — should be kept in a cool, dry place where they won’t be exposed to excessive moisture or temperature changes.

Most chanca piedra supplements have an expiration date that’s set about 2 years after production. To ensure potency and safety, use your chanca piedra supplements before they expire.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

There’s not enough evidence available regarding the safety of chanca piedra during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Therefore, it’s best to avoid it while pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Be sure to consult a healthcare provider if you have any concerns about chanca piedra and pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Use in specific populations

Because little is known about chanca piedra, you should consult a healthcare provider before giving the supplement to children or adolescents.

People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes should also use this supplement with caution, as it may decrease blood sugar levels. In people who are already taking insulin or other blood sugar lowering medications, this could lead to hypoglycemia (1).

Because it may affect kidney function, people with chronic kidney disease or other kidney problems should consult a healthcare professional before using chanca piedra.

Alternatives

Some alternatives to chanca piedra for kidney stones include other alkalizing agents like sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate. Potassium citrate is most commonly used for kidney stones, and it’s available over-the-counter or in prescription strength (2, 8).

Because there’s so little evidence available about the effectiveness of this herb, you should consult a healthcare professional if you have any health problems that you feel chanca piedra may help with.