Kidney Disease

Kidney Disease: Overview

There are many types of kidney disease, most of which are potentially serious.  Whether you get kidney disease is mostly due to bad luck, but whether it progresses to end-stage kidney failure does depend largely on what is done about it. Some kidney diseases are genetic, such as Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD).  The kidneys become filled with cysts, which cause the kidneys to become less effective, and eventually leads to kidney failure.  A variant of PKD is not usually detected until adulthood.  This is known as "adult PKD", as the symptoms usually do not occur until patients are well into adulthood.  However, with advances in diagnostic imaging technology, doctors are gradually becoming able to detect these conditions before symptoms appear.

The kidneys, two fist-sized organs weighing about 150gm each, are located on either side of the spine just above the waist and perform a life-sustaining role.  They cleanse the blood and help regulate blood pressure.  Each adult kidney is composed of about 1 million nephrons that drain about 14 calyces.

The kidneys make renin and erythropoietin, and convert vitamin D into its useful form.  More importantly, by forming urine they perform three important functions:
  1. The kidneys excrete the waste products of metabolism.  A patient with any sort of impaired kidney function will have increased creatinine and urea nitrogen in the blood, or azotemia.  If the kidney is adequately perfused, is itself normal, and its outflow not obstructed, blood urea nitrogen levels will remain within normal limits.
  2. The kidneys regulate the body's content of water, sodium, and potassiumHypertension, edema, and/or hyperkalemia may develop in renal disease.  Renal edema is first visible around the patient's eyes.
  3. The kidneys maintain the appropriate acid-base balance of plasma.  Metabolic acidosis is characteristic of severe renal failure.

Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

High blood pressure, anemia, and bone demineralization are common in serious kidney disease.  Renal insufficiency due to underperfusion (dehydration, shock or a failing heart) or due to obstruction is extremely common.  High blood pressure commonly result from kidney problems, and always damages the kidneys to some extent.

Once the kidney is damaged to a certain degree, it continues to deteriorate (i.e., undergo more scarring, notably glomerular sclerosis) even if the underlying disease is cured.  [Lancet 338: pp.419 & 423, 1991]

Kidney Failure: Loss of Renal Function
Acute renal failure usually manifests itself as oliguria plus azotemia.  Hyperkalemia is the main threat to life during the oliguric phase.

Chronic renal failure is the end result of irreversible kidney damage from any cause.  Sometimes the cause of the "end-stage contracted kidney" cannot be determined even at autopsy.  Once a sufficient number of nephrons are destroyed, it causes the remainder of them to die off inexorably.

Anuria, the complete cessation of urine production, is rare in acute renal failure – the major exception being diffuse cortical necrosis.  It may occur late in chronic renal failure.  Much more often though, anuria is due to obstruction of ureters or urethra.

African-Americans are more at risk for end-stage kidney disease, for reasons that include a greater severity and frequency of hypertensive kidney disease in this population.  Whether their problems are neglected by doctors, or treated less skillfully is an open question.  [Ann.  Int.  Med.  155: p.1201, 1995]

Signs and Symptoms

When the kidneys become diseased or damaged, they can suddenly or gradually lose their ability to perform their vital functions.  Waste products and excess fluid then build up inside the body, causing a variety of symptoms, particularly swelling of the hands and feet, shortness of breath, and a frequent urge to urinate.

Symptoms include: increased urination at night; the passing of very small amounts of urine (oliguria); swelling, particularly of the hands and feet; puffiness around the eyes; azotemia (Increased levels of urea in blood); unpleasant taste in the mouth and urine-like odor to the breath; persistent fatigue or shortness of breath; loss of appetite; increasingly higher blood pressure; pale skin; excessively dry, persistently itchy skin.  In children: increased fatigue and sleepiness; decrease in appetite; and eventually, poor growth.

Treatment and Prevention

Since the kidneys need to process a huge amount of daily waste, adequate water intake is essential for them to continue functioning properly.  Using kidney herbs occasionally or going on a kidney cleanse once or twice a year is a good practice to reduce the likelihood of progressive kidney damage or stone formation.

There are many kidney cleansing products available at health food stores.  Any of them should generally be safe to use in moderation.

Prognosis

If left untreated, diseased kidneys may eventually stop functioning.  Loss of kidney function is a very serious and potentially fatal condition.

Spontaneous recovery of renal function is rare but does occur (around 1%, more in patients with lupus) [Am.  J.  Kid.  DIs.  15: p.61, 1990].

Kidney Disease

Information On This Page

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Kidney Disease:

Lab Values - Common

High systolic blood pressure is often a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseHigh systolic blood pressure
High blood pressure commonly results from kidney problems, and often damages the small blood vessels in the kidneys.  When this happens, the blood vessels cannot filter toxins from the blood as easily.

Symptoms - Abdomen

Symptoms - Food - General

Weak/loss of appetite may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseWeak/loss of appetite
Loss of appetite is a possible symptom of kidney disease.

Symptoms - General

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

Abnormal taste in mouth may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseAbnormal taste in mouth
An unpleasant taste in the mouth is a possible symptom of kidney disease.

Symptoms - Skin - General

Itchy skin may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseItchy skin
Excessively dry, persistently itchy skin is a possible symptom of kidney disease.
Lighter/paler skin color may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseLighter/paler skin color
Pale skin is a possible symptom of kidney disease.
Pale facial coloring may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseasePale facial coloring
Pale skin is a possible symptom of kidney disease.

Symptoms - Urinary

Frequent nighttime urination may be a sign or symptom of Kidney DiseaseFrequent nighttime urination
Changes in the frequency of urination, especially at night, may indicate kidney disease.

Conditions that suggest Kidney Disease:

Lab Values - Common

Counter-indicators:

Metabolic

Musculo-Skeletal

Gout / Hyperuricemia may suggest Kidney DiseaseGout / Hyperuricemia
Hyperuricemia is caused by a variety of means, one of which is abnormal kidney function.  In addition, for some individuals gout is a progressive, crippling chronic disease that eventually damages the kidneys.

Organ Health

Counter-indicators:

Skin-Hair-Nails

Dry skin may suggest Kidney DiseaseDry skin
Excessively dry, persistently itchy skin is a possible symptom of kidney disease.

Risk factors for Kidney Disease:

Autoimmune

Lupus, SLE often increases risk of Kidney DiseaseLupus, SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythromatosis)
Diverse kidney problems can arise from the deposition of circulating immune complexes in the kidneys.  Lupus, being an auto-immune disease, causes the immune system to attack the body's own tissues.  The commonly affected organs/tissues are skin, joints, nervous system and kidneys.

Circulation

Congestive Heart Failure often increases risk of Kidney DiseaseCongestive Heart Failure
Renal insufficiency due to underperfusion from a failing heart is more widespread than commonly thought.

Diet

Dehydration may increase risk of Kidney DiseaseDehydration
Renal insufficiency can occur from underperfusion due to dehydration.

Environment / Toxicity

Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness) may increase risk of Kidney DiseaseMercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)
Kidney disease, including kidney failure, is a possible symptom of mercury toxicity.

Metabolic

Anorexia / Starvation Tendency often increases risk of Kidney DiseaseAnorexia / Starvation Tendency
The common medical complications of being severely underweight include kidney damage.

Organ Health

Kidney Stones (Urolithiasis) often increases risk of Kidney DiseaseKidney Stones (Urolithiasis)
A kidney stone that is obstructing will cause damage to the kidneys in the long run if left untreated and may even lead to end stage kidney failure.  Anyone with a past history of kidney stones should have regular screening performed as the recurrence rate is high.
Cirrhosis of the Liver may increase risk of Kidney DiseaseCirrhosis of the Liver
Liver Cirrhosis can lead to kidney dysfunction and failure.

Supplements and Medications

(Past) heroin/morphine use often increases risk of Kidney Disease(Past) heroin/morphine use
Heroin use often leads to heroin nephropathy.
Pain medication use may increase risk of Kidney DiseasePain medication use
Some non-prescription medications – especially painkillers – can potentially cause damage to the kidneys.  This includes traditional Chinese 'herbal' medications.

Symptoms - Food - General

Short-term low-carb dieting may increase risk of Kidney DiseaseLong-term/short-term low-carb dieting or discontinued low-carb diet
Followers of diets such as Atkins' risk kidney damage [New England Journal of Medicine 307 (1982): p.652].  Atkins once wrote "The diet is safe for people even if there is a mild kidney malfunction." We now know this to be false.

In a press release entitled "American Kidney Fund Warns About Impact of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health," their Chair of Medical Affairs Paul W.  Crawford, M.D., wrote, "We have long suspected that high-protein weight loss diets could have a negative impact on the kidneys, and now we have research to support our suspicions." [American Kidney Fund news release, 25 April 2002] Dr. Crawford is worried that the strain put on the kidneys could result in irreversible "scarring in the kidneys."

The Harvard Nurse's Study proved that high meat protein intake was associated with an accelerated decline in kidney function in women with mild kidney insufficiency [Ann In ed 138 (2003): p.460].  The problem is that millions of Americans – as many as one in four adults in the United States – seem to already have reduced kidney function, but do not know it, and would potentially be harmed by high meat diets like Atkins [American Journal of Kidney Diseases 41 (2003): p.1].  The amount of protein deemed "excessive" in the Nurses Study and which furthered their kidney damage is only about half of what one might expect to get on the Atkins Diet.  [Journal of the American College of Cardiology 43 (2004): p.725]

American Kidney Fund chair Dr. Crawford concluded, "Chronic kidney disease is not to be taken lightly, and there is no cure for kidney failure.  The only treatments are kidney dialysis and kidney transplantation.  This research shows that even in healthy athletes, kidney function was impacted and that ought to send a message to anyone who is on a high-protein weight loss diet." [American Kidney Fund News release, 25 April 2002]

Kidney Disease suggests the following may be present:

Autoimmune

Kidney Disease may suggest Lupus, SLELupus, SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythromatosis)
Diverse kidney problems can arise from the deposition of circulating immune complexes in the kidneys.  Lupus, being an auto-immune disease, causes the immune system to attack the body's own tissues.  The commonly affected organs/tissues are skin, joints, nervous system and kidneys.

Circulation

Kidney Disease may suggest Congestive Heart FailureCongestive Heart Failure
Renal insufficiency due to underperfusion from a failing heart is more widespread than commonly thought.

Metabolic

Kidney Disease may suggest Anorexia / Starvation TendencyAnorexia / Starvation Tendency
The common medical complications of being severely underweight include kidney damage.

Organ Health

Kidney Disease may suggest Cirrhosis of the LiverCirrhosis of the Liver
Liver Cirrhosis can lead to kidney dysfunction and failure.
Kidney Disease may suggest Kidney Stones (Urolithiasis)Kidney Stones (Urolithiasis)
A kidney stone that is obstructing will cause damage to the kidneys in the long run if left untreated and may even lead to end stage kidney failure.  Anyone with a past history of kidney stones should have regular screening performed as the recurrence rate is high.

Kidney Disease can lead to:

Musculo-Skeletal

Kidney Disease often leads to Gout / HyperuricemiaGout / Hyperuricemia
Hyperuricemia is caused by a variety of means, one of which is abnormal kidney function.  In addition, for some individuals gout is a progressive, crippling chronic disease that eventually damages the kidneys.

Recommendations for Kidney Disease:

Botanical

Hydrangea is highly recommended for Kidney DiseaseHydrangea
Hydrangea is best known for its solvent properties that help break down and prevent further formation of stones and deposits in the urinary system.  Hydrangea has been used for hundreds of years in folk medicine to contribute to the elimination of deposits in the bladder and kidneys.
Gravel Root is highly recommended for Kidney DiseaseGravel Root
Gravel root is used primarily for kidney stones or gravel.
Goldenrod is highly recommended for Kidney DiseaseGoldenrod
Golden Rod encourages proper kidney function and was used extensively by the Indians for most kidney disorders.
Parsley often helps with Kidney DiseaseParsley
Parsley contains essential oils; the most important one, apiole, is a kidney stimulant.
Bearberry (Uva Ursi) often helps with Kidney DiseaseBearberry (Uva Ursi)
Uva ursi soothes, strengthens, and tightens irritated and inflamed tissues and supports the urinary system by promoting healthy bladder, liver and kidney functions.  Uva ursi neutralizes acidity in the urine and increases urine flow and may reduce bloating and water retention.

Diet

Not recommended:

Mineral

Not recommended:
Potassium is sometimes not recommended for Kidney DiseasePotassium
Individuals with kidney dysfunction may have trouble excreting potassium and should only take potassium supplements under the observation of their doctor.
Magnesium is often not recommended for Kidney DiseaseMagnesium
If you have kidney problems, taking magnesium supplements may make you accumulate the mineral too quickly, which could be toxic.

KEY

Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of
Strong or generally accepted link: is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of; often leads to
Strong or generally accepted link:
is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of; often leads to
Strong counter-indication: often contraindicates
Strong counter-indication:
often contraindicates
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates: strongly contraindicates
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates:
strongly contraindicates
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with
Very useful: is highly recommended for
Very useful:
is highly recommended for
Caution: is sometimes not recommended for
Caution:
is sometimes not recommended for
Often counterindicated: is often not recommended for
Often counterindicated:
is often not recommended for