Herbs for Better Kidney Health

March 9, 2017 at 11:30 am


If your car didn’t have an oil filter, or if it wasn’t changed regularly, your engine life would shorten and cause other parts to fail – this is quite similar to part of the roles your kidneys play for your body. In this article, I’ll explain the importance of your kidneys to your overall health, risk factors and signs and symptoms of kidney dysfunction and important herbs that can help promote kidney health, from the perspective of a naturopathic doctor.

Roles of your kidney

There are quite a few functions your kidneys play and I’ve summarized a few below.

☑ Clears bodily waste and toxins: Your body rids excess nitrogen through a waste product
called urea. Creatinine is a waste product from your muscles and this also is cleared
through your kidneys, in addition to several different acids that your cells release as
metabolic waste products. The kidneys are also crucial for helping remove drugs from the

☑ Balances your water, mineral and acidity levels: Your kidneys keep your body in proper fluid
balance by releasing excess water and sodium, and if your fluid levels are low, then the
kidneys conserve the water making less urine. This fluid control is important to properly
regulate your blood pressure; the kidneys also release specific hormones that affect your
blood pressure. Calcium and phosphate levels are also regulated here as well as the acidity

☑ Activates your vitamin D: Once your skin makes vitamin D or after you take it as an oral
supplement, your kidneys convert it into an active and very important hormone. So, the
kidney indirectly affects your bone health and allows hundreds of other reactions that rely on
this activated vitamin D hormone.

☑ Promotes normal blood cell formation: The kidney makes a crucial hormone that stimulates
normal red blood cell formation, without this hormone, you are at risk of developing anemia,
which is common when people lose kidney function.

Signs and symptoms of poor kidney health

Signs of diabetes
High blood pressure
Blood or protein in the urine
More frequent urination, especially at night
Difficult or painful urination
Puffiness around the eyes
Swelling at feet or hands

Risk factors for developing kidney problems

Inflammatory diet low in omega-3 fats
Use of several medications (eg: NSAIDs, lithium, PPIs)
Mercury, cadmium, aluminum exposure
Pesticide exposure
High blood pressure
Heroin, cocaine use
Increasing age
High cholesterol
Kidney infections
Blocked urine flow from stones or an enlarged prostate
Family history of kidney disease
Smoking, excess alcohol and sugar intake

Herbs that can help promote kidney health

There are several herbs that have hundreds of years of traditional use for supporting kidney function. I’ve highlighted three useful herbs below. Note that it is important to discuss taking herbal medicines with your primary healthcare practitioner if you are on medications.

1. Turmeric: This popular South Asian herbal spice is commonly used in curries and is increasing in popularity around the world due to its health promoting effects. It is known to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and so has a generally protective effect on the body. A common complication of diabetes is kidney disease and a 2012 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology investigated whether turmeric could protect the kidneys of diabetics. The study concluded that after two months of supplementing turmeric, the level of protein in the urine improved significantly; it also found that the biochemical signals of kidney disease reduced in the group that took turmeric, compared to those that did not take it.

2. Milk thistle: This herb is most commonly used for protecting or treating the liver, however, it also has properties that make it a good candidate for protecting the kidneys. A common medical test that sometimes causes temporary kidney damage is when you get contrast agents injected when undergoing imaging tests. In a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, the researchers compared the level of kidney damage after patients received intravenous contrast agents; one group received milk thistle herb ahead of time. The researchers found a trend that favoured a potential benefit with the group that took the milk thistle prior to receiving the contrast agent. Another study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases tested the role of milk thistle in diabetic-related kidney disease. The researchers found that the study participants that took the milk thistle had less protein in the urine and concluded that milk thistle herb may be a new addition to the medications currently used to treat diabetic nephropathy.

3. Hibiscus: This tropical plant has been found to have benefits for the kidney. A 2017 study published in The Journal of Physiological Sciences found that hibiscus extract improved the kidney function in study participants with mild to moderate high blood pressure.

About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.