Are you seeking ways to improve your body’s ability to combat both viral and other infections and age-related degenerative diseases? One of the most important things you can do is help it detoxify the wastes that bombard it daily. Supporting your kidneys with healthy lifestyle choices and nutritional supplements is valuable insurance for optimal health now and in years to come.
Kidney Purpose and Function
The kidneys are two bean-shaped, fist-sized major organs on either side of the spine. They are part of the renal system, which also includes the ureters (ducts that carry the urine created in the kidneys to the bladder), bladder (pear-sized; allows storage and controlled release of urine), and urethra (transports urine from the bladder out of the body). In addition to enabling the body to remove waste as urine, the kidneys: (1) filter the body’s blood (1- 1.5 gallons, 40 times/day) of toxins and waste materials before returning it to the bloodstream and heart with its vitamins, amino acids, glucose, hormones and other vital substances, (2) maintain overall fluid balance, (3) regulate and filter minerals from blood, and (4) create hormones that help produce red blood cells (erythropoietin), promote bone health (vitamin D), and regulate blood pressure (renin).
Due to their complex structure and constant exposure to toxic waste, the kidneys are susceptible to a variety of complications, including chronic kidney disease (CKD), kidney stones and cysts, and acidosis (blood becomes too acidic due to the kidneys’ failure to excrete acids). These and other kidney conditions can cause various symptoms, such as difficult or painful urination, frequent urges to urinate, eye puffiness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, reduced appetite, muscle cramps, foot/ankle/hand swelling, and dry/itchy skin. Signs of kidney stones include extreme persistent back pain, fever/chills, vomiting, or urine that is smelly, burns upon urination, contains blood, or is cloudy.
~ Chronic Kidney Disease and Its Complications, Prim Care. 2008 Jun; 35(2): 329–vii, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474786/.
Renal Dysfunction: Risk Factors and Testing
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 33% of adults in this country are at risk for kidney disease but are unaware of the risk factors. The fact that kidney disease increases the risk of developing life-threatening complications from COVID-19 makes it even more important to test the kidneys regularly to prevent, diagnose, and treat it. It is well established that the most common kidney disease risk factors include: (1) pre-diabetes and diabetes; (2) high blood pressure; (3) chronic heart disease/failure; (4) family history of kidney failure; and (5) being African American, Hispanic, or American Indian. Research has shown that oxidative stress (OS), an imbalance in the body between antioxidants and the production of reactive oxygen species is present even in early stage CKD, increases as CKD progresses toward end stage renal disease, and is exacerbated in dialysis patients (thought to be triggered by dialysis-related factors, chronic inflammation, and malnutrition).
Kidney function is evaluated through these urine or blood tests: (1) Urinalysis – screens for the presence in the urine of protein, blood, or creatinine (a waste product from muscle breakdown); (2) Serum Creatinine Test – since the kidneys maintain blood creatinine in a normal range, elevated creatinine level (women > 1.2 mg/dL, men > 1.4 mg/dL) indicates impaired kidney function; (3) Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) Test – measures the amount of nitrogen, a breakdown product of protein, in the blood (kidney damage is not the only cause of elevated BUN tests; aging, pregnancy, a high/low protein diet, and common medications, such as steroids, high-dose aspirin and some antibiotics, can skew this test); (4) Estimated GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate) (Normal eGFR = 60 mL/min or higher) – indicates how well the kidneys are filtering waste by taking into account creatinine levels, age, gender, race, height, and weight; and (5) Urine Albumin Test (N < 30 mg/g) – checks the urine for the level of albumin, a protein normally only found in the blood that can pass into the urine when the kidney filters are damaged; a level over normal can indicate kidney disease even if eGFR is normal.
Kidney-Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Living a healthy lifestyle is the first step toward maintaining ongoing kidney health. When kidneys are healthy, a supportive lifestyle generally includes: (1) an organic Mediterranean or other plant-based diet that is rich in healthy fats, adequate amounts of protein (ideally, mostly fish, chicken, turkey, eggs), and protective, detoxifying vegetables and fruits (onions, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, apples, and berries), and low in sugar/simple carbohydrates, salt, and pro-inflammatory gluten and dairy; (2) staying hydrated with at least 64 ounces of water/day, up to half one’s body weight in ounces; (3) no smoking or recreational drugs, and low alcohol intake; (4) avoiding overeating and being overweight/obese; and (5) maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood sugar.
Regular continuous or repetitious exercise that works large muscle groups (cycling, swimming, weightlifting) and stress management activities (yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, meditation) are also critical for long term kidney health.
Dietary Supplements that Support Renal Health
Regardless of the presence of any risk factors, taking measures to prevent kidney disease or alleviate its symptoms is a beneficial proactive approach to increasing longevity. While space limitation allows for only a brief discussion of available kidney-protective nutritional supplements, some of the key, most science-supported nutrients are noted below.
Berberine (BBR): This nitrogen-containing compound, which can be extracted from various plants (including goldenseal and Oregon grape), has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for numerous ailments. In a 2019 animal study, researchers concluded that BBR is potentially therapeutic in diabetic kidney disease due to its ability to suppress excess generation of ROS in the mitochondria (cell powerhouses), mitochondrial dysfunction, and fat accumulation/deficient breakdown and use of fatty acids.
Milk Thistle: The high level of silymarin (a mixture of antioxidant/antimicrobial flavonoid complexes) in this herb increases glutathione and SOD levels, supports cell repair and regeneration, and combats inflammation. Scientific evidence indicates that silymarin guards the kidneys against the toxic effects of drugs, including chemotherapy, benefits diabetic nephropathy, and may support prevention of nephropathy-induced premature death in diabetics.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): ALA is an antioxidant that a healthy body normally makes. As a dietary supplement, lab and human research has proven its ability to: (1) block the oxidative damage caused by ischemia (inadequate blood supply) and reperfusion (the restoring of blood flow following injury), which commonly cause acute kidney failure; (2) prevent or mitigate against drug-induced kidney damage; and (3) improve diabetic renal function by lowering sugar levels and reducing OS. It is noteworthy, however, that not all researchers agree on the beneficial impact of ALA supplementation on OS, inflammation, and red blood production in dialysis patients.
Vitamin B6 (especially as P5P or Pyridoxamine): Animal studies have established that this member of the B complex family combats: (1) advanced glycation end products (AGEs), proteins or fats that are damaged and become harmful when combined with sugar, and advanced lipoxidation end-products (ALEs), both proven to greatly damage the kidneys; (2) high blood pressure; (3) diabetic nephropathy; (4) increase in creatinine in blood plasma; and (5) abnormal levels of excretion of urinary protein and albumin.
CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10): This antioxidant, critical to the formation of cellular energy (ATP) and mitochondrial metabolism, is found in high levels in the kidneys, heart, and liver. Human studies have shown that CoQ10 concentration in the plasma of CKD patients is depressed, and research indicates that its supplementation can decrease OS, improve mitochondrial function, and reduce adverse cardiovascular events in both dialysis and non-dialysis kidney patients. Animal studies have also shown that CoQ10 can protect kidney tissue from numerous nephrotoxic drugs.
Other dietary supplements deemed to support optimal kidney function include: (1) omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil (anti-inflammatory); (2) vitamins E (especially Gamma E) and C (antioxidants); (3) resveratrol (antioxidant; anti-inflammatory); (4) vitamin D3 (antioxidant/OS inhibitor) (5) N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)(antioxidant/OS inhibitor; replenishes glutathione stores; anti-inflammatory); (6) curcumin (from turmeric)(antioxidant; anti-inflammatory); and (7) chanca piedra (for kidney stones; increases excretion of magnesium, potassium; decreases urinary oxalate and uric acid).
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.
Submitted by Erika Dworkin, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®, Owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe (860.646.8178), 378 Middle Turnpike West, Manchester, CT, www.cthealthshop.com, nutrition specialists trusted since 1956. Erika is available for consultation and to speak to groups, including on Zoom.
All statements in this article are practice- or scientific evidence-based and references are available upon request.