Approximately 37 million Americans currently suffer from kidney disease. Those in the early stages of kidney disease do not always present symptoms, making this disease to identify. (R) Your kidney health is essential to filtering waste and water from your blood and removing excess fluid by producing urine. (R)(R) Improving your kidney health naturally, which includes lifestyle changes as well as the addition of a healthy diet, and supplements can support your kidneys and help prevent chronic kidney disease. Can you recognize the ten early signs of kidney disease – If not, it’s crucial that you know these signs.
What is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease is a general term that can refer to any kidney disorder, but it is usually associated with kidney failure. Also known as renal failure, kidney failure is a condition whereby the kidneys become unable to act in their critical role as one of the body’s primary filters. The kidneys are responsible for filtering excessive fluid and toxic wastes from the blood. Life is not possible without functioning kidneys or an artificial system that stands in as a replacement for the kidneys.
You have two kidneys, and they are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist located in the back of your body, behind the upper abdomen, with one on each side of your spine. These organs are one of the true workhorses of the body. They filter and process about 50 gallons of fluid in the bloodstream daily, day in and day out. Toxins and unneeded fluids are filtered out and removed from the body in the form of urine. Other valuable substances are identified and put back into the bloodstream after running through the kidney’s filtration system.
Your kidneys regulate your entire system which includes your bladder, blood pressure, ovaries, estrogen, period cramps, testicles, testosterone, sperm production, uterus, prostate, sex drive, pancreas, spleen, lymphatic system, heart, ligaments, ears, scalp, right / left lower back, upper back, left; shoulder, pectoral, trapezes, elbow; both calves, thighs, biceps, triceps, forearms, wrists, knees, ankles, spine, fingers and toes.
Areas not regulated by your the kidneys are your right shoulder, right pectoral, and right trapezes, all monitored by your liver. Your right elbow represents your stomach. There is never a kidney issue that does not include a liver issue. The two organs work together like a pigeon pair; thus, addressing both simultaneously is always prudent.
Ten Early Signs of Kidney Disease
It is said that only 10% of people with kidney disease know they have it. Experiencing any of these symptoms should prompt you to see a knowledgeable and trusted doctor or healthcare practitioner.
Tired, low energy levels, or trouble concentrating
A critical decrease in kidney function can result in a buildup of toxins and impurities in the blood. Toxin and impurity buildup can cause people to feel tired, weak, making it difficult to concentrate. Another sign of kidney disease is anemia, which also causes weakness and fatigue.
Difficulty in sleeping
When the kidneys aren’t filtering correctly, toxins make their home in the blood instead of leaving the body by way of urine, which can make it difficult to get restful sleep. Many believe there is also a link between obesity and chronic kidney disease. Experiencing sleep apnea is more common in people with chronic kidney disease when compared with the general population.
Itchy and dry skin
Healthy kidneys do many critical jobs. Your kidneys take out wastes and extra fluid from your body, make red blood cells, keep bones strong and work to support the right amount of minerals in your blood. Dry and itchy skin can signify mineral and bone disease that often accompanies advanced kidney disease when the kidneys can no longer keep the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your blood.
The need to urinate more often
If you find yourself getting up often at night to urinate, it might be a warning signal of kidney disease. When your kidney’s filters are impaired, it increases the need to urinate. This may also indicate a urinary tract infection or enlarged prostate in men.
Blood in your urine
When filtering wastes out of the blood to create urine, healthy kidneys keep the blood cells in the body — but when the kidney’s filters are damaged, these blood cells can begin to “leak” out into the urine. Seeing blood in the urine can be a symptom of tumors, kidney stones, or an infection.
If you see excessive bubbles in your urine – especially if they require flushing many times before they go away, can be a sign of protein in the urine. This foam may look identical to foam that is observed when scrambling eggs. Albumin, a protein in urine, is also the exact same protein found in eggs.
Constant puffy eyes
Protein in the urine can be indicative of filter damage, allowing the protein to leak into the urine. The puffiness around your eyes can be an early indication that your kidneys are leaking a copious amount of protein in the urine rather than keeping it in the body.
Swollen ankles and feet
Reduced kidney function may lead to sodium retention, causing swelling in your feet and ankles. Swelling in the lower extremities can also signify heart disease, liver disease, and chronic leg vein problems.
Poor appetite is a very general sign of kidney disease. A buildup of toxins from reduced kidney function can be one of the causes.
Electrolyte imbalances often occur because of lowered kidney function. Lower calcium levels and poorly controlled phosphorus may contribute to muscle cramping, is one example.
Main types of kidney failure — Acute and Chronic
Acute kidney failure
Acute kidney failure happens when the kidneys are damaged by an existing illness, a traumatic injury, or an infection. It is characterized by a sudden loss of kidney function that is most often temporary and reversible. Most cases of acute kidney failure occur while a person is already hospitalized after an accident or major surgery.
Chronic kidney failure
Chronic kidney failure typically comes on slowly over time and may have few or no symptoms until the disease is relatively advanced. The most common causes of chronic kidney failure are hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Chronic kidney failure is permanent and irreversible. Eventually, the disease will advance to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). At that point, the only options for the patient to remain alive are artificial filtering of the blood (dialysis) or a kidney transplant.
What Are the Causes of Kidney Failure?
When oxygenated blood leaves the heart to travel to the rest of the body, one of the first legs of the journey is a trip through the kidneys. From the renal arteries, the blood proceeds through the nephrons, which are the actual filtering mechanisms of the kidney. Each kidney has approximately one million nephrons, and this is where the blood is sorted to separate the toxins from the good stuff. Waste products such as urea, uric acid, and creatinine are steered towards the urine and transported out of the body. Other substances such as sugars, minerals, and amino acids are redirected back into the bloodstream and delivered as nutrients to the body. When this complex system breaks down, these essential tasks are done insufficiently, and kidney failure occurs.
Acute Kidney Failure
The acute form of renal disease often develops very quickly with no apparent warning. It is commonly associated with other critical illnesses such as heart attack or stroke. Its cause is sometimes considered a consequence or side effect of the primary condition. But, many conditions can trigger acute renal failure. These conditions are classified into three main categories: prerenal, intrarenal, and postrenal.
Prerenal conditions are those that impede or interfere with the blood before it reaches the kidneys. They do not actually damage the kidneys; they prevent them from doing their job by not allowing enough blood to reach the kidneys. Prerenal conditions are typically the most common causes of acute renal failure. The list includes:
- Extremely low blood pressure: This can occur due to excessive bleeding, shock, dehydration, major trauma, as a complication of major surgery, or from a blood infection called sepsis. With critically low blood pressure, the blood is not able to effectively reach the kidneys.
- Heart failure: If the heart cannot pump a sufficient amount of blood, it cannot reach the kidneys to get filtered. Typical scenarios for this are a heart attack or congestive heart failure.
- Low blood volume: Certain situations can lower the quantity of blood in your body to the point where enough will not be available to reach the kidneys. Causes for this can include major burns, dehydration from excessive diarrhea or vomiting, or heatstroke.
Intrarenal conditions affect the actual kidney organ itself, whether by hurting its structure, or its ability to function, or both. Common intrarenal conditions include
- Ischemia: This disorder refers to a family of conditions that can damage the kidney by reducing blood supply to the organ. This lack of blood causes the tissues to malfunction and deteriorate.
- Atheroembolic kidney disease: This occurs when blood clots (emboli) travel to the kidneys and accumulate within the arterioles of the organ, causing inflammation and tissue damage. This commonly occurs during cardiac catheterization, a diagnostic/treatment procedure done on heart patients.
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome: This is one of the most common causes of acute kidney failure in infants and children. It is caused by E. coli bacteria that have caused an intestinal infection. The infection produces a toxic substance that triggers swelling in the kidneys’ tiny blood vessels resulting in damage to the organs.
Postrenal conditions affect the flow of urine out of the body after it has left the kidneys and is on the way to the bladder. They usually occur in two forms:
- Ureter obstruction: The ureters are tubes that transport urine and run from the kidneys to the bladder. Kidney stones or tumors in the area are the most common causes of ureter obstruction. When urine backs up into the kidneys, damage and ultimate kidney failure can occur.
- Bladder obstruction: Blood clots, tumors, an enlarged prostate in men, bladder stones, or nerve dysfunction can result in bladder obstruction resulting in kidney damage.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Most chronic kidney disease is caused by progressive illnesses that develop over time. The most common examples include:
- Diabetes: This common malady occurs when the body cannot produce or use insulin properly. Without insulin, we cannot break down glucose, and a severe medical condition can result. One of the side effects of diabetes is damage to tissues in the nephrons that are key to the filtering functions of the kidneys.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure is both a cause and symptom of chronic renal failure. Blood flowing through the kidneys at excessive pressures damages the organ progressively.
- Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited condition that results in the formation of cysts on the nephrons, eventually damaging the function of the kidneys.
- Obstructive nephropathy: This condition is caused by prostate enlargement, kidney stones, or tumors that cause urine to flow backward from the bladder back into the kidney. This “back pressure” can cause progressive damage to the organ.
- Exposure to toxins: Long-term, persistent exposure to chemicals such as lead, fossil fuels, and solvents can cause damage to the kidneys over the years and eventually result in chronic kidney failure.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Failure?
Acute Renal Failure
- Anemia: Kidney damage can result in lowered production of red blood cells
- Edema: Swelling in the face and extremities.
- Lower back pain
- Frequent urination
- Halitosis: Urea in the saliva can produce bad breath and an ammonia taste in the mouth.
- Foamy or bloody urine: Due to excessive protein in the urine.
- Itchy skin: Phosphorous build-up in the blood.
- Stunted growth in children
Chronic Renal Failure
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowish-brown skin
- Decreased alertness
- Muscle cramps and twitches
- A vague sense of unease
- Bloody, tarry stools (an indicator of internal bleeding)
- Itchy skin
Do Your Kidneys Need Help?
- Low back pain, stiffness, or soreness
- Tire quickly or sleepy from 3-7 P.M.
- Left shoulder pain, stiffness, or soreness
- Sore ankles, calves, or feet
- Rough periods or low sex drive
- Bladder infections & frequent urination
- Tinnitus, vertigo, or high blood pressure
- Puffy, red, or dark circles under the eyes
- Clear shapes in your field of vision
- Weak nails that chip or break
- Sore, tingling, or numb muscles
- Thyroid or lymphatic issues
- Swollen, stiff, or sore wrists, knees, or joints
- Scalp irritations or thinning hair
- Weak or sore left side of your body
- Spleen, pancreatic, or weight issues
- History of kidney issues or kidney stones
- Reproductive health issues
Count your YES answers and see below.
0-1 May not be an issue yet.
2-3 A slight concern that can be improved.
4-6 Chronic, may continue to worsen.
7 + Severe help is needed now.
What Conventional Treatments Are Available for Kidney Failure?
The most effective treatment for both acute and chronic kidney failure is dialysis. The big difference is that dialysis for most acute cases can bring the kidneys back to normal in a matter of weeks. On the other hand, dialysis in chronic cases is a life-preserving measure that will go on as long as the patient lives unless they were to receive a kidney transplant. There are three main types of dialysis available:
- Hemodialysis is the traditional form of dialysis, of which most people are aware. Patients are hooked up to a dialysis machine for several hours at a time, usually about twice a week. Their blood is taken out of their body and run through an artificial filtration system. Toxins are removed, some necessary substances that the kidney provides typically are added, and the purified blood is returned to the patient’s body.
- Hemofiltration is a continuous process that is usually used to treat acute renal failure in critically ill patients. This slower process is much easier for these very sick people to handle, and it can generally arrest kidney failure if they survive the primary accompanying conditions. Other nutrients and medications can also be delivered intravenously while the dialysis is occurring.
- Peritoneal dialysis is often used on children or otherwise healthy adults with acute kidney failure. This procedure involves using the lining of the patient’s abdomen (peritoneum) as a filter for the blood instead of the kidneys. This is not a continuous process but is done for appropriate amounts of time on a regular schedule based on the patient’s needs and condition.
Lifestyle & Natural Treatments for Kidney Health
DID YOU KNOW?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use is associated with acute kidney injury. It’s always best to talk with a trusted healthcare practitioner to understand both the benefits and risks of any medications. (R)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and working with a trusted healthcare practitioner to achieve a healthy weight for kidney disease prevention. (R)
Your kidneys are part of the excretory system and help filter toxins and waste from your body. Every hour, your kidneys filter all the blood in your body. The kidneys release three hormones:
- Erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production.
- Renin, which regulates blood pressure.
- Calcitriol, which is the active form of vitamin D.
Although your kidneys are very good at self-cleansing when you give them adequate fluid, their function is absolutely essential, and a cleanse can help rejuvenate and detoxify them. However, signs that it is time for a kidney cleanse include kidney deposits, excessive water retention, recurring bladder concerns, and frequent use of medications.
Other factors include being overweight, chronic fatigue, trouble sleeping, alcohol use, and food or environmental sensitivities. I recommend performing a kidney cleanse three times yearly using Plant-Based Kidney Health. Plant-Based Kidney Health is an enhanced blend of potent, natural herbs and contains antioxidants and other nutrients that cleanse the kidneys and encourage normal kidney function.
Research proves several benefits of exercise for individuals with CKD. A recent meta-analysis found that aerobic exercise is associated with improved cardiorespiratory function, exercise duration, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and quality of life in patients with CKD. (R) Physical activity can also contribute to prevention by improving metabolic risk factors, which may protect kidney function. (R)
Specific dietary patterns that may prevent and address kidney disease include the Mediterranean diet (R) and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. (R) Both diets involve a low to moderate intake of protein, which is associated with delaying CKD progression. (R) One meta-analysis identified healthy dietary patterns that were associated with a lower mortality rate in individuals with CKD. The evidence suggests that the best foods for kidney health include organic vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains — all of which are excellent sources of dietary fiber. Foods to avoid if you have chronic kidney disease include red meat, salt, and refined sugars. (R)
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that may help address one of the complications of kidney disease, cardiovascular disease (CVD). A randomized controlled trial in patients undergoing hemodialysis found that ALA supplementation may increase the activity of certain antioxidant enzymes that protect against oxidative stress and oxidative disorders, including CVD. (R)
Andrographis paniculata, commonly referred to as andrographis, is a medicinal herb that contains andrographolide and arabinogalactan proteins, two active components. Animal studies suggest that these components may reduce hepatic-renal (liver-kidney) alcohol toxicity. In other words, there may be potential for andrographis to protect kidneys against the harmful effects of alcohol. However, further research is needed. (R)
Moringa oleifera, a plant native to India, has nutrient-dense leaves that are used for their therapeutic properties. Research in animals suggests that moringa may prevent kidney dysfunction, as moringa-supplemented diets were found to decrease blood levels of urea and creatinine (waste products). (R) Additionally, animal studies demonstrate that moringa leaf extract may protect against kidney toxicity caused by acetaminophen, a common over-the-counter medication known as Tylenol or Paracetamol. (R)
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid and a precursor to glutathione, a major antioxidant in the body that targets oxygen radicals. (R) A four-month trial assessed the effects of NAC supplementation in patients undergoing hemodialysis. The findings suggest that NAC may benefit hemodialysis patients by reducing oxidative stress and improving outcomes of uremic anemia, a complication of CKD. (R)
Scientific literature suggests that dysbiosis is associated with increased urea toxin levels that may accelerate CKD development. One meta-analysis assessed the effects of probiotic supplementation for at least four weeks on individuals with chronic kidney disease. The analysis concluded that supplementation might protect the intestinal barrier by reducing levels of a urea toxin called p-cresyl sulfate and increasing the levels of interleukin (IL)-6. (R) This signaling protein is proven to promote the growth and regeneration of cells lining the intestines. (R)
Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in berries, grapes, and peanuts, exerts antioxidant, cardioprotective, and kidney-protective activity. In animal models, resveratrol has been shown to protect against kidney injury, including drug-induced injury, diabetic neuropathy, and hyperuricemic damage (from elevated uric acid levels). (R) Researchers propose that resveratrol may target the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with CKD progression, but clinical trials are needed. (R)
The outlook for treating acute renal failure is much rosier than for chronic kidney disease. Most cases of acute can be turned around. In fact, more people with acute renal failure die from the primary condition than from kidney failure. Many acute cases can develop irreversible kidney damage resulting in chronic renal failure, but these cases are the exception.
Chronic kidney disease will shorten the lives of its victims, and dialysis must continue for life. Kidney transplants are an option for some people, but many patients are too sick to tolerate the donated organs. There is also an ongoing shortage of available donors.
Improving kidney health naturally is not difficult. Implementing the suggestions above, including a healthy lifestyle, will give you the best chance to avoid conditions such as chronic kidney disease.