Unless you’ve experienced the misery of kidney stones, you probably haven’t given your kidney health much thought. Yet an estimated 31 million Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD). Of more concern, 9 out of 10 of those with moderately decreased kidney function don’t even know it!
One reason kidney disease isn’t on the radar for most people is that there are typically no symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. When they do appear, they can include a range of vague symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue, trouble concentrating, loss of appetite, swelling in your feet and ankles, trouble catching your breath, dry or itchy skin, insomnia, and urinating more often, especially at night. Because many of these symptoms don’t set off alarm bells, they are easy to ignore—until you’re suddenly diagnosed with kidney failure! Fortunately, with a little awareness and some natural kidney support, you can avoid becoming one of these statistics.
Good kidney health: when things go right
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist that are located behind your lower rib cage on either side of your spine. Vital to your overall health, your kidneys filter waste and toxins out of the blood, shuttling them to the bladder so they can be escorted out of your body via your urine. Your kidneys also regulate your body’s fluid balance, keep the minerals (sodium, potassium, and phosphorus) in your bloodstream in balance, activate vitamin D so it can be used by the body, and release hormones that direct the production of red blood cells and hormones that regulate blood pressure.
With all of these critical tasks, it’s smart to take steps to maintain kidney health, especially if you’re at an increased risk of kidney disease. You may be at a higher risk of CKD if you are:
Among the 84 million Americans with some form of cardiovascular disease (6)
Someone with a family history of kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure
Over the age of 60
African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, or a Pacific Islander
Diagnosed with chronic urinary tract infections
A victim of kidney stones
While some of these risk factors are beyond your control, adopting a few healthy lifestyle habits and adding kidney support supplements to your daily routine can give you an edge against CKD and other kidney woes.
What are the best foods for kidney health?
Lifestyle habits matter when you’re trying to optimize kidney health. While quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, and increasing your physical activity can boost overall kidney health, improving your diet is perhaps the easiest lifestyle modification you can make.
For decades, doctors recommended a renal diet that limited dietary sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. The problem was, this type of diet also reduced some important foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Recent studies point to more well-rounded diets like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet for those with or wanting to prevent CKD. These healthier diets focus on whole minimally-processed foods and low to moderate amounts of protein. As a result, they support kidney health and reduce the risk of related health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
It’s also smart to drink plenty of fluids, particularly water as it helps to clear sodium and toxins from your kidneys. Aim to drink at least two liters of water daily—more if you live in a hot climate, participate in moderate to intense exercise, or have a history of kidney stones.
One of the biggest preventable risk factors for CKD is probably something that’s in your medicine chest right now. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can cause kidney damage when taken regularly for chronic headaches, joint pain, or back problems. This damage can ultimately lead to CKD.
NSAID overuse is the No. 1 preventable cause of kidney disease and while you’re probably in the clear if you only take NSAIDs on occasion, using them daily for pain relief may compromise kidney health. You should check with your health care provider for safer pain-relief options.
6 top kidney support supplements
Whether you are at risk for kidney disease or simply want to optimize these amazing internal filters, here are six supplements that can play a supportive role in helping to enhance your kidney health. If you’ve been diagnosed with some form of kidney disease, it’s smart to check with your doctor before starting any supplement regime.
Alpha lipoic acid
A powerful antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid is made inside the mitochondria (those tiny powerhouses inside every cell in your body) where it helps key enzymes turn nutrients into energy. But alpha lipoic acid plays another critical role—protecting your cells from oxidative damage, including those in your kidneys. This was recently shown in a study that appeared in the journal Inflammation where researchers noted that alpha lipoic acid produced a significant uptick in two other key antioxidants—superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT)—in kidney tissue. This, in turn, reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in the kidneys. But this novel nutrient’s kidney benefits don’t stop there. Another study in the journal Natural Medicine reported that proactively supplementing with alpha lipoic acid may help prevent kidney stones.
This kidney-supportive herb likely isn’t top of mind when you’re indulging in your favorite alcoholic beverage, but maybe it should be. Findings in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggest that two compounds in andrographis—andrographolide and arabinogalactan proteins—protect the kidneys from alcohol toxicity. If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, a beer or two with friends, or the occasional cocktail, taking a dose of andrographis before you drink may provide the protection your kidneys need.
This green superfood comes from leaves of the moringa tree, native to parts of Asia, Central and South America, Africa, and Australia. Considered a medicinal plant for at least 5,000 years in India, moringa was recently found to possess the ability to protect SOD and CAT levels in the kidneys. One study using a model of acetaminophen toxicity found that moringa supplementation reversed both oxidative damage and inflammation in the kidneys. While you can find moringa in capsule form, it’s also available as a powder, making it an ideal addition to your morning smoothie.
Technically known as n-acetyl cysteine, NAC is a precursor to glutathione, commonly called the body’s master antioxidant. It’s also an antioxidant in its own right that protects kidney cells from heavy metals and other damaging toxins. Research shows that NAC can also limit the damage from advanced glycation end products or AGEs. AGEs are formed when glucose (sugar) reacts with proteins in the walls of your blood vessels, including those blood vessels within the kidneys. The resulting damage includes oxidative damage that can contribute to CKD. But proactively including NAC in your supplement routine can help protect against the negative effects of AGEs.
Beneficial bacteria can do more than just enhance your gut health. They can also help protect against the complications of CKD by decreasing inflammation and the production of uremic toxins. This dual action improves kidney function. Probiotics may also protect against leaky gut syndrome, a common condition in people with CKD that allows harmful bacteria to “leak” from the intestinal tract into the blood. Supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic may improve the bacterial balance in your gut, lessen the permeability of your intestinal barrier, and reduce the complications of CKD.
Found in grapes, berries, and peanuts, resveratrol made headlines a few years ago due to its heart-healthy properties. But new evidence has found that resveratrol can also protect kidneys from a variety of toxins—including heavy metals, drugs, and alcohol—that can cause renal injury. (23) Not only does this antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound fortify your kidneys against injury it may also improve renal function once an injury has occurred.
If you’re at risk of kidney disease—and even if you’re not—it’s smart to have your kidney function tested. Then protect these small but mighty filters with healthy habits and one or more of these kidney-protective supplements to help ensure optimal kidney health for a lifetime.