Kidneys; The Overlooked ‘Child’
By Mark J Kaylor
It quickly became apparent to me as I began my research efforts for this article on kidney health that there was so much more to this topic than I originally thought. Most of us, if we are at all familiar with what our kidneys do, think of them primarily as the filtering system for our entire blood supply, which it does by filtering our blood through 1 million tiny filters every day, all day. There is good reason that we have two kidneys; this detoxification role is so essential to our very survival that we would literally poison ourselves to death from our own metabolic wastes without the amazing, effective, and ongoing work of these two fist-sized organs.
Our kidneys however, fulfill a number of other key roles in the body, including maintaining healthy electrolyte levels, producing the active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones, and producing crucial hormones including ones that stimulate bone marrow to make more red blood cells and regulating blood pressure. It is virtually impossible not to come away amazed by the complexity, detail, importance, and essentiality of these two small organs once you dig into the topic.
Our Kidneys Under Attack
We unfortunately have a tendency to overlook or take our kidneys for granted – they work hard every day taking care of us, yet end up ignored and under-appreciated while handling a toxic task that leaves them amazingly vulnerable. Basically we give them no mind until they stop operating properly. With ~26 million Americans suffering from some form of kidney disease, it is good to know that there is much we can do to support and protect our kidneys.
So, with regards to kidney health, what are the threats and concerns we need to be on the lookout for? The lack of sufficient water, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and the overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the most common threats to kidney health. There are also a variety of repeated insults and threats that tax kidney function and health over time; these include oxidative stress, advanced glycosylated end products, lipidoxidation end products, inflammation, and an excessive filtration burden. All of the above can be affected to a significant degree with the appropriate diet and supplements.
Cleansing the Blood
In the space of a day, that’s every day, our kidneys process approximately 200 quarts of blood while filtering out about 2 quarts of highly toxic waste (which becomes urine to be excreted from the body). To support our kidneys in this process there is a class of herbs known as alterative, aptly referred to in common parlance as ‘blood cleansers’.
Two kidney supportive blood cleansers stand out; the first is the herb Burdock. While supporting the filtering and detoxification processes, Burdock may help improve kidney function and be useful for kidney stones while acting as a mild diuretic. Nettles can help as well by keeping water flowing through the kidneys and bladder, building the blood as a nutritional tonic, and acting as an antiseptic to prevent pathogen growth.
Prevention, The Best Approach
The CDC has named kidney disease a top 10 cause of death in the US. Two other “top 10” conditions, diabetes and hypertension, also play a significant role in relation to kidney health and function. Because of the severity and risk associated with kidney disease and the importance of its role for health and survival it only makes sense that we take a proactive preventive approach. Here again we have a number of botanical kidney supporting allies that have tonic, preventive actions, that support, protect, and strengthen our kidneys.
First on my list is a traditional Chinese tonic that supports the kidneys not only physiologically and functionally but also energetically, Cordyceps. In traditional Chinese medicine the kidneys are considered the vitality center of the body and Cordyceps is one of the most effective remedies for building this energy. It can help protect the kidneys by increasing the body’s production of key antioxidants, including super oxide dismutase. It has demonstrated clinically to improve overall kidney function. One study looked at patients with chronic nephritis finding that all saw significant improvements. Other Cordyceps supporting kidney benefits include a protective effect against antibiotics, kidney cell regeneration, and in a rat study, mortality improvements in cases of acute renal failure.
There is another medicinal mushroom, Poria, which has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote healthy fluid metabolism and fluid retention, a process traditionally referred to as Damp. Poria supports kidney function by helping to disperse moisture accumulation and stagnation as it restores proper distribution of body fluids.
Ongoing research by Dr. Konno at the New York Medical College has found that Poria also offers a kidney protective action while increasing antioxidant levels in the kidneys.
While not thought of as a conventional tonic remedy Green tea certainly seems to fit the bill with regards to being a tonic for the kidneys with its multiple array of supportive actions. Green tea has been shown to protect against toxicity of various substances and lessen oxidative stress in the kidneys – a leading cause of kidney damage. It also offers some holistic kidney assistance by acting as an ACE inhibitor, supporting endothelial function, and improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
Your Kidney Allies
To go along with our blood cleansers and tonics are a number of allies that have very specific kidney actions and applications. One such ally originating from the rain forests in South America is an herb known as Chanca Piedra, which translates from the Spanish as “stone breaker” thereby giving you a good idea of one of its benefits. A study of 100 people found that 94 of them eliminated kidney stones within two weeks. Chanca Piedra inhibits the formation of calcium crystals and has antispasmodic activity that may ease the passing of the stones as well.
Two Native American herbs also stand out for their kidney supporting actions. Goldenrod assist the kidneys in the filtering process, support overall urinary tract health, and has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antiseptic activities. Hydrangea, a flower widely grown in gardens across America, may help prevent the formations of stones that are associated with infection and smooth the jagged edges of the kidney stones while helping the body utilize calcium more efficiently. It may also help calm kidney pain and distress.
Three foods stand out for helping our kidneys, watermelon, helps you to produce more urine, lemon juice which may help reduce kidney stone formation and lower urinary calcium excretion, and berries, for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions; with a special nod to cranberries and blueberries which help in removing urea and uric acid.
No Time Like the Present
Complicating matters with regards to kidney health and disease is the fact that more often than not it is not recognized or diagnosed until it is far long and much more difficult to treat. This is in part a reflection of how resilient and cable our kidneys are in that they are still able to do their job with as little as 5% kidney function. So don’t wait to reach that dangerous and life-threatening threshold, act now eating a healthy plant-based diet (shown to prevent a number of kidney issues) and begin incorporating your alteratives, tonics, and kidney supporting allies now. And I would be hugely remiss if I forgot to mention the #1 kidney tip: drink plenty of water!