When the Kidneys Start to Fail

The number of kidney transplants done in 1980 was around 3,700. In 2006 there were over 18,000 kidney transplants performed.  Currently, about a half a million people are suffering from renal failure (also known as kidney failure).  Most of these people are undergoing kidney dialysis.  They are told that there is no hope for a cure, but I simply don’t believe it.  In my mind, as long as there is some tissue left to work with, there is a chance to start regeneration and restore function.  It may not be easy, but it is still a possibility.

My friend and business partner, Kimberly Balas, N.D., was on dialysis once when she was younger.  She managed to get herself off of it and I’ve seen other people who were starting to develop renal failure turn it around, too.  So, this article is going to address some of the things that can be done to restore kidney function when the kidneys are failing.

Understanding Your Kidneys

 Just under your shoulder blades are the two bean-shaped organs known as the kidneys.  All day, and all night, these organs work to filter toxic waste from your blood.  To do this, they need water and nutrients, particularly mineral electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

Unfortunately, most people ignore the health of their kidneys.  They poison them, clog them and otherwise overwork them until they start to break down. As a result about 11% of the adult population have chronic kidney disease.

There are about 2.4 million nephrons inside your kidneys, whose job it is to filter about 300 pints of water per day, excreting about 2.5 pints in the urine each day.  Urine is about 96% water.  The more dehydrated a person is, the more toxins have to be concentrated.  This makes the urine caustic and irritating, contributing to kidney and bladder infections, cystitis, irritable bladder and other urinary tract problems.

So, the first thing the kidneys need to be healthy is water!  It’s easy to tell if you’re drinking enough water.  Just look at the color of your urine.  Unless you’re taking vitamins or other substances that color it, your urine should be fairly clear.  Dark colored urine means you should increase your water intake.

Soda pop, alcohol, caffeinated beverages and energy drinks are all hard on the kidneys.  So, avoid them in favor of drinking at least a half an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day to give your kidneys the water they need.  If you’re being exposed to toxic substances, you may need even more.  See my previous Nature’s Field article on hydration.

Damaging the Kidneys

So, what causes the kidneys to fail?  Well basically, they have to be damaged in some way and the most common cause of that damage is toxins.  Just overload your kidneys with toxins and stay dehydrated and you have a recipe for kidney failure.

Kimberly Balas lost a kidney due to acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning. Whenever she was injured in competitive figure skating they gave her this common pain killer.  She had a family history of kidney disease, so the acetaminophen probably aggravated this genetic weakness.

Dr. Balas says that fifteen percent of the people on dialysis are there because of this acetaminophen, but it’s not the only drug that can overwhelm the kidneys.  Ibuprofen and aspirin can also cause renal failure.  The pain-relieving drugs are only meant for occasional pain relief, but many people take them every day for arthritis or other chronic pain.  Other drugs can also stress the kidneys, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy agents.

Diabetes, hypertension and polycystic kidney disease also contribute to renal failure.  Some infections, such as the hantavirus may also attack the kidneys. 

So, if you’re trying to help someone whose kidneys are shutting down, it’s important to identify what’s damaging them and put a stop to it.  Drugs or chemicals damaging the kidneys must be avoided, infections treated, diabetes properly managed and so forth.

Taking Stress off the Kidneys

When someone is having problems with renal failure, one of the first things I recommend is a diet designed to remove as much stress as possible from the kidneys.  Diets high in grains and animals proteins produce more acid waste that the kidneys have to flush.  Fruits and vegetables produce less acid waste, taking strain off the kidneys.  So, I recommend a mild food diet consisting almost exclusively of fresh fruits and vegetables to begin the process of recovery.  Some light juice fasting (using lemon and maple syrup) can also be helpful.  This reduces the amount of waste the kidneys have to filter.

The skin has been referred to as “the third kidney,” because the body can remove some toxic waste from the body via sweating.  I like to take advantage of this and suggest that people with failing kidneys or any chronic kidney disorder take sweat baths every day.  They should soak in a hot bath (ideally with a cup or two of Epsom salt added to the water) for at least 15-20. Drinking yarrow (flavored with peppermint to make it palatable) before or during the bath will help to work up the sweat.

Another trick is to put poultices over the kidneys before going to bed to help draw out toxins.  A good poultice blend would be equal parts slippery elm powder, marshmallow powder, plantain powder and about half as much Activated Charcoal.  Mix this and moisten it with water or aloe vera juice to make a thick paste.  Apply this topically over the kidney area and cover it with gauze pads and plastic wrap. Then tape it in place.  (Be careful, charcoal can stain, so make sure the edges are securely tightened.) Remove the poultice in the morning.

All of the above techniques, coupled with drinking plenty of pure water to give the kidneys plenty of fluids to filter, helps to take stress of the kidneys so they have a chance to heal.  If the person is on dialysis, they should continue on dialysis while starting these procedures.

Supplements for Renal Failure

I think people suffering from renal failure or chronic kidney problems should avoid almost all supplements until they start to improve.  That’s because you want to limit the amount of things the kidneys have to flush. 

There are two supplements that can be very helpful.  The first is the tincture of nettle seed.  David Winston discovered that nettle seed could halt and even partially reverse renal failure.  I’ve used this remedy on many people and find it highly effective.  On less severe cases I’ve used a mixture of nettle leaves, seeds and roots as a tincture, but with renal failure you want just the seeds. Nettles are our featured herb this week.

The other supplement I recommend is KB-C, the Chinese formula for kidney chi deficiency.  This formula can be very helpful in cases of renal failure.  It strengthens the kidneys and helps them filter toxins better.  KB-C is our featured combination this week.

I would avoid all stimulating or irritating diuretics, both with nephritis (inflammation of the nephrons in the kidneys) and with renal failure.  If you feel heat over the kidney area or the person is on dialysis I would not use juniper berries, uva ursi, buchu or any other herb that stimulates kidney function.  The only diuretics you should consider are non-irritating ones, which work by supporting kidney function rather than stimulating it.  Acceptable choices are cornsilk, marshmallow, goldenrod and dandelion leaf (not root).

Emotional Issues

With any chronic disease, it is important to consider emotional factors.  Fear is the emotion that is associated with the kidneys in both traditional Western and Oriental medicine.  So, it may also be necessary to address the person’s fears and insecurities and help them learn to deal with fear in a more constructive way.  Flower essences such as aspen and mimulus may be helpful here.

Working with a serious life-threatening condition, such as renal failure is never easy, but it is possible.  Just make certain you don’t discontinue any life-saving medical therapies while searching for ways to normalize the body and help it to heal. Also recognize that many people simply do not have the self-discipline or the desire to do what it takes to cure themselves of these kinds of serious conditions.  When this is the case, medical treatments such as dialysis or transplants are probably their only options.