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Supporting Kidney Function

Illustration of urinary systemThe kidneys are the Cinderella organs and are often overlooked although they work away ceaselessly and without fanfare or complaint. They excrete the acidic and toxic by-products of the breakdown of protein which include ammonia and urea. They also regulate electrolyte levels and water within the body thus controlling blood pressure and blood pH, stimulate the production of red blood cells and are involved in the conversion of vitamin D to its active form, calcitriol.

Each kidney contains a million functional units known as nephrons which filter out massive quantities of fluids from the blood stream which are then subjected to a process of selective reabsorption back into the body as a result of circulating hormones. Although 180 litres of filtrate is produced daily, 99% of this is reabsorbed producing only 1 litre of urine a day on average.

The kidneys are subjected to a massive toxic load as they process toxic metals and other water soluble toxins and their delicate mechanisms can be irreversibly damaged. According to studies done by Murray Vimy and his team at the University of Calgary, kidney function is reduced by 50% after placement of the first amalgam filling. This is because the body will preferentially attempt to excrete mercury in the urine.

The capacity of the kidneys to repair and regenerate is strictly limited unlike that of the liver and intestines which is why the programme of detoxification outlined in The Natural Recovery Plan primarily utilises detoxification via the digestive system rather than in the urine.


TCM and the kidneys

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney meridian is associated with the psoas and trapezius muscles. The psoas muscles run internally within the lower back and spasm in this muscle may cause the chronic lower back pain familiar to fibromyalgia sufferers. Whereas weakness of the psoas muscles can cause leg and foot problems and weakness. The trapezius muscles run from the base of the skull to the shoulders and spasm in these muscles can cause chronic neck and shoulder pain. 

The alarm point associated with the Kidney meridian is at waist level on the back just a few centimetres in from the side of body. If these points are tender to touch they require tapping to discharge excess energies, but also indicate that the kidneys are under stress.

The Kidney meridian starts on the balls of the feet and runs up the inside of the legs to end a few centimetres either side of the midline on the clavicles and rubbing these points regularly also helps to reset not only the Kidney meridian, but the entire energy meridian system. 

Signs that the kidneys are struggling may include low back, neck or shoulder pain, dark rings under the eyes, an inability to rest, skin conditions such as acne and eczema, hearing problems and tinnitus, early waking, loss of appetite, osteoporosis, gout and muscle and joint stiffness. 


Dietary support for the kidneys

The following foods are supportive of kidney function and should be included in the diet where possible: 

  • Plenty of whole foods and fibre.
  • At least 8 glasses of water a day.
  • Kidney organ meat from organic sources.
  • Foods rich in vitamins A and E such as green peppers, leafy green vegetables, wheat germ and green peas.
  • Foods with a high magnesium-to-calcium ratio such as barley, bran, corn, buckwheat, rye, soy, oats, brown rice, avocado, banana, cashew, coconut, peanut, sesame seeds, lima beans and potato.
  • Chamomile and green teas which prevent the formation of kidney stones and act as diuretics.
  • The juice of cranberries, loganberries and blueberries are beneficial and can be diluted with water. Avoid the cranberry drinks that contain added sugar. 
  • Generous amounts of ginger, parsley and thyme can be added to foods and these have detoxifying and antioxidant effects on the kidneys.
  • Watermelon and/or its juice.
  • Lemon juice added to foods and drinks is low in potassium, alkalises the blood and flushes the kidneys. Warm water with a little lemon first thing in the morning is especially beneficial. 
  • Pumpkin seeds.
  • Finally, some suggest supplementing vitamins B2, B6 and magnesium to promote optimal kidney function.


Foods to avoid

The following stress the kidneys and should be avoided:

  • Smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Eating fatty and processed foods.
  • Chillies, alfalfa sprouts and star fruit all contain substances that are toxic to the kidneys. 
  • Excessive amounts of high purine foods such as meat, fish, poultry and yeast. 
  • Black tea, cocoa and chocolate are all high in oxalic acid which promote the formation of kidney stones.
  • Meats, bread, cereal, pastas and carbonated drinks are all high in phosphates and these can also contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
  • The natural sweetener, stevia which should also be used sparingly as in any significant quantity it can be nephrotoxic.
  • The supplement ginkgo biloba which has been shown to decrease blood flow to the kidneys and may raise blood pressure. 
  • Noni juice which has been reported to cause kidney problems in some people. 
  • Taking aspirin or the anti-inflammatory herb willow bark from which it is derived are best avoided as they are known to decrease kidney function. 
  • Fluoride in toothpaste and in water is known to adversely affect kidney function so switch to a natural fluoride-free toothpaste and filter your domestic water if you live in an area where the water is fluoridated.
  • Keep your kidneys and your feet (the origin of the kidney meridian) warm ie: wear jackets or coats when required, avoid crop tops and do not walk on cold floors in bare feet. The Germans particularly recognise this fact and produce kidney belts designed to keep the kidneys warm.


Herbal supplements for the kidneys  

Milk thistle This herb has been used since Greco-Roman times as a herbal remedy primarily for liver problems, but also acts as a diuretic and supports kidney function.

Nettle leaf This contains a wide range of nutrients including chlorophyll, beta carotene, vitamins A, B2, C and E, calcium, potassium, and iron. Nettle has been shown to increase the elimination of the waste product, uric acid, to act as a diuretic and also to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions. It is used to manage cystitis and the symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, particularly in combination with saw palmetto. Nettle leaf is best taken as a non-alcoholic tincture.

Parsley This too is loaded with nutrients such as chlorophyll, vitamin C and iron which aid the elimination of waste products like urea, and uric acid, and so helps relieve the symptoms of gout and arthritis. It also acts as a diuretic which lowers blood pressure. It should not be used during pregnancy or in women with painful menstrual periods. 

Astragalus This is one of the favoured herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for regulating the water balance of the body and for promoting kidney health and has been the subject of extensive research.

Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A, B, C and D and have been used for centuries to treat water retention and kidney problems, but also aid liver function. 

Poria is a Traditional Chinese Medicine herb that acts as a mild diuretic and is used to eliminate excess water within the body.

Couch grass acts as a diuretic and is also used to treat urinary tract infections such as cystitis. It can also help to dissolve kidney stones and is effective in reducing inflammation and swelling of the prostate gland.

Rehmannia This is the most important herb for kidney and adrenal health in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acts as a kidney tonic and diuretic.

Uva ursi or bearberry is considered to be one of the best urinary antiseptics. Used extensively in herbal medicine since the 2nd century, it is primarily used to help disinfect the kidneys and to control the symptoms of kidney and bladder infections such as cystitis. It can also be used to help with enlargement of the prostate gland and to regulate urine production. Uva ursi should not be used by pregnant women or for more than 10 days at a time. 

Horsetail is high in silica which is used for tissue repair in the genito-urinary system and also acts as a diuretic. It has been found to particularly help reduce the levels of lead in the body. Horsetail helps improve bladder tone in incontinence and also to reduce the swelling of benign prostate enlargement. It is used to treat cystitis and other urinary tract infections, water retention (especially if associated with the menopause) and arthritis.  

Corn silk contains a lot of vitamin K and potassium and has soothing and antiseptic actions within the genitourinary system. It is used to treat acute or chronic inflammation of the urinary tract such as urethritis and cystitis, enlargement of the prostate gland and night time urination. Corn silk also acts as a diuretic and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat oedema and water retention.

A variety of other herbs including marshmallow root, juniper, red clover and goldenrod and TCM remedies such as alisma and dioscorea may be also included in blends specially formulated to promote optimal kidney function.


Further resources

You might also be interested in the following: 

Read button

The Kidneys

Synthetic Chelating Agents


Research: Mercury and the Genitourinary System

Testing for Toxic Metals

Urinary Incontinence

Amalgam/Mercury Detox: 3 Top Tips

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Back and Neck Pain

Body Basics for Fatigue Syndrome Sufferers

For a step-by-step approach to detoxifying the toxic metals that underscore chronic, serious and degnerative illness please refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Urinary System: The Nephron

Mercury Detox: 3 Top Tips


Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page


Kidney supplements: Article summary

This article examines the various foods, drinks and supplements that support kidney function and also looks at the foods and supplements best avoided.


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine August 2011 Issue 20. Copyright Alison Adams 2011. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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