Our kidneys are vital organs that we often take for granted! In fact, the kidneys play many important roles in maintaining health, ranging from activation of hormones to maintaining stable levels of key molecules in the blood to excretion of toxins. As a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I have been trained in the importance of the kidneys and how to look for kidney imbalances, as well as how to improve kidney function through your diet and lifestyle. Read on to learn more about the kidneys and how to improve your kidney health naturally.
How Kidneys Function
Kidneys act as the bodies primary filtration system, helping to filter the blood and remove unwanted waste and toxins. The kidneys are especially important in helping the body get rid of unwanted products of metabolism, including ammonia, urea, uric acid, creatinine, hormone metabolites, water-soluble toxins, heavy metals and more.
In a normal and healthy functioning body,, blood flows into the kidneys, where it is filtered and cleansed of excess fluids and waste products. After the blood is filtered, it returns to the bloodstream, while the toxins are passed out of the body through the urine.
Most consider the kidneys second only to the liver in importance for toxin elimination. However, considering that 20% to 25% of cardiac output goes through these tiny organs, allowing them to filter the blood a remarkable 60 times per day, a case could be made that they are actually more important than the liver for toxin elimination. Our kidneys help rid the body of unwanted products of metabolism such as ammonia, urea, uric acid, creatinine, end products of hemoglobin metabolism, and hormone metabolites; toxins that have been made water soluble by phase 2 in the liver; and direct excretion of industrial toxins, such as heavy metals and a number of new-to-nature molecules. The kidneys are also helpful in excreting nutrients or food constituents when consumed in excess, such as salt, vitamin C, B vitamins, and others.
When there is too much waste in the blood paired with stagnant or impaired drainage from the other organ systems, like the liver or lymphatic system, over time this can lead to poor kidney filtration and issues, and eventually kidney damage.
One of the big challenges for the kidneys is that although they are effective at removing many toxins from the blood, some toxins are difficult to excrete into the urine. This means that these toxins can then accumulate, which can lead to disproportionate damage to the kidneys. An example of this is with the heavy metal cadmium: too much cadmium (i.e from tobacco, the environment or even eating a lot of foods grown in contaminated soil) can overload your body’s ability to excrete it, which can lead to kidney issues.
What Reduces Kidney Function?
While some kidney illnesses don’t have symptoms until late in the course of the disease, some of the more common symptoms of reduced kidney function and kidney disease include lower back pain, frequent urination, swelling of legs, ankles and feet or a swollen face. Some of the causes of reduced kidney function can include the following:
Most people are chronically dehydrated from not consuming enough water or not mineralizing it properly. Especially when you are detoxing or health issues arise, your body needs more water and important minerals (also known as your electrolytes) that include Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Bicarbonate. The balance of these electrolytes is necessary for regulating the amount of water in your body, which is essential for proper kidney function and flushing out the toxins. Make sure you are getting enough water daily!
Heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, lead, chromium and platinum can be toxic at very low doses. The kidney is particularly affected by heavy metals because it can reabsorb and accumulate divalent metals.
Mold & Mycotoxins:
Around 60-80% of kidney stones are actually calcium oxalate stones due to excess oxalate buildup in systems. Oxalic acid has the strongest affinity for calcium and secondarily, magnesium, depleting this very important and crucial mineral for over 300 enzymatic processes that most people are deficient in. Mold and mycotoxins will actually increase oxalate production in the body, which will then lead to kidney stones.
Uncontrolled stress can lead to kidney issues! This is because excess stress can cause an imbalance in blood sugar or blood pressure which will strain the kidneys and deplete magnesium and vitamin B6.
Ways to Improve Kidney Health Naturally
If you are having specific kidney issues, I recommend working with an herbalist or a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner like myself to determine the root causes of your symptoms and come up with a program based on your specific needs. However, here are some general recommendations on how to improve your kidney function naturally.
Foods For Kidney Health:
This includes consuming a lot of alkaline rich colorful fruits and vegetables (cherries are one of my favorites for kidneys!) And make sure you are sufficiently hydrated! I recommend drinking filtered water and adding minerals such as Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Bicarbonate.
Do what you can to reduce stress daily. Try breath work, sunshine, optimizing sleep, laughter, and lots of rest.
Some of my favorite supplements to improve kidney health naturally include:
–Horsetail: Horsetail is a wonderful tonic for supporting the kidneys. It gently increases urine outflow (with a mild diuretic effect), but preserves electrolytes, meaning it doesn’t deplete the minerals the kidney needs to function like some diuretic medications do. Horsetail also helps to strengthen the mucus membranes of the urinary tract so they are less susceptible to irritation.
Horsetail is also mildly anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, so it is a natural choice for infections or inflammatory conditions. In fact, horsetail is also commonly used to help treat urinary tract infections, kidney stone issues, or other urinary tract issues such as interstitial cystitis, bladder prolapse, chronic bladder infection/irritation, or urinary gravel (tiny, tiny stones that can be passed, but cause discomfort).
-B Vitamins: B6 is especially important for supporting kidneys, helping with the removal of heavy metals and reducing oxalates. Indeed, a study found that high levels of vitamin B6 intake may reduce urinary excretion of oxalate, one of the major determinants of risk for calcium oxalate kidney stones. Work with your health care practitioner to determine how much B6 to add into your diet.
–Magnesium: Epsom salt baths, lotions and gels are great for absorption, which helps to ensure a proper balance for optimal hydration.
Herbs can be useful in helping to restore and improve kidney function. Some of my favorites that I recommend to my clients include Chanca Piedra (for kidney stones), Uva Ursi (also known as bearberry), Reishi Mushroom or Dandelion.
Note: Make sure to check in with your doctor prior to using any supplement. Also, don’t just buy any ol’ supplements; ensure they are good quality, preferably from an online dispensary or specialty grocery store.
Want to read more?
Olivier Barbier, Grégory Jacquillet, Michel Tauc, Marc Cougnon, Philippe Poujeol, Effect of heavy metals on, and handling by, the kidney, Nephron Physiol 2005;99(4):p105-1, doi: 10.1159/000083981. Epub 2005 Feb 17. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15722646/
Pietro Manuel Ferraro, Eric N. Taylor, Giovanni Gambaro, and Gary C. Curhan, Vitamin B6 Intake and the Risk of Incident Kidney Stones, Published online 2017 Jul 3. doi: 10.1007/s00240-017-0999-5