Kidney disease is a major challenge for the world. Although mild kidney dysfunction may often have limited impact on a person’s quality of life, according to the National Kidney Foundation, 1 in 2 people in the US develop some degree of kidney disease at one point in their lifetime. There are many measures we can take to help prevent chronic kidney disease and help reduce risk of progression. Even something basic, such as a person’s water intake, has been shown to affect a person’s risk of kidney disease by 35% according to a 2021 study.
What are the main symptoms of Kidney Disease?
Blood or urine testing is generally required to detect early chronic kidney disease because most people usually do not present with any symptoms. Symptoms usually begin when kidney disease reaches stage 4 or 5. Some of the more common symptoms and signs at these stages are:
Loss of appetite
Fatigue and weakness
Reduced urine output
Muscle cramps and twitches
Swelling in the feet and/or ankles
High blood pressure
What are some types of Kidney Disease?
What do the kidneys do?
Naturopathic Approach to Kidney Support
Given the complexity of the kidneys, the goals for each case vary greatly depending on a person’s blood work, the type and stage of the kidney disease or kidney disorder. For example, a person may lose the ability to effectively expel excess potassium and phosphorus from the body into the urine, leading to elevated levels of these electrolytes. On the other hand, an electrolyte like calcium may be reduced because the kidneys activate our vitamin D, which is used by the intestines to help absorb calcium into the body. Without active vitamin D, calcium levels can drop. Diet can get very complicated and overwhelming quickly as patients may be told to then increase calcium intake, and reduce phosphorus and potassium.
Some of the main goals of naturopathic kidney support are as follows:
Determine and/or treat reversible causes of kidney disease through diet, lifestyle, and other natural therapies
Preserve kidney function and health by managing nutrients and electrolyte balance
Address risk factors associated with progression of kidney disease
Reduce risk of complications, such as cardiovascular disease, by helping the kidneys clear waste products that may predispose individuals
Improve overall nutritional status, as evidence suggests this is associated with improved prognosis
Reduce overall inflammation as research has indicated that reduced inflammatory markers (CRP, IL-6) are associated with improved prognosis
Reduce excessive loss of protein from the body to the urine, because greater loss in protein negatively impacts functional capacity, quality of life, and overall prognosis.
Utilize natural therapies to help reduce side effects of commonly medications used in kidney diseases and disorders
There is a vast amount of information that could be discussed here as there are over 130 studies on natural therapies that have been completed in the context of various stages of kidney disease. Here, we will stick to some dietary strategies, but will not delve into specific therapies as every treatment plan is unique to your state of health and depends on blood work values as well as the stage of kidney disease. Furthermore, if these therapies are given in the wrong context or wrong dosage they could cause adverse effects.
Below we will discuss some of the causes and complications of kidney disease that can be addressed to significantly affect overall prognosis, quality of life and kidney function.
Addressing Blood Sugar (as a cause of kidney disease)
About 40% of chronic kidney disease cases are due to elevated levels of blood sugar (diabetes). If blood sugar appears to be an underlying cause, then there are two components of blood sugar that are worth addressing: the level of blood sugar and the amount of variability (fluctuation) in blood sugar. Blood sugar variability refers to how high the highs are and low the blood sugar crashes go. Both variability and the overall level of blood sugar have been shown to affect kidney disease progression. They appear to damage blood vessels - this is important because the kidney filtration system is made up of many small blood vessels. Data suggests that by properly managing blood sugar through natural therapies, kidney function can be preserved and risk of injury to the kidneys can be reduced. See our previous post on Diabetes for a list of general interventions that can be considered and their relative impact on measure of blood sugar (HbA1c). Studies generally find that the average person with diabetes needs to drop their blood sugar by about a third to achieve remission from diabetes. As discussed in this previous post on Diabetes, a single therapy is unlikely to drop blood sugar by a third, however in combination we often see more significant results.
Addressing Protein Loss
Addressing High Phosphorus
Addressing High Potassium
Addressing Medication Side Effects
There are dozens of potential causes of kidney diseases and disorders. This article only just scratches the surface of supportive management of kidney disease. There are many other causative factors that have not been discussed in detail, such as elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, autoimmune disease and others. Each of these take special consideration and need to be addressed with a comprehensive plan. The best approach to kidney disease involves creating a plan based on careful consideration of all factors involved - underlying causes, personal risk factors for progression, family history, common complications, current medications, and lifestyle. Ultimately, our goal is to utilize therapies that have demonstrated the greatest benefit and safety in regards to the context and characteristics of your case.