Kidneys: The Natural Detoxifiers

Enjoy this blog by Proactive MD’s Manager of Wellness Services, Megan Lynam.

Do you need to “detox”?

In 2019, the global wellness economy was valued at $4.9 trillion. Within the wellness world, “detox” and “cleanse” are buzzwords you’ll commonly hear from companies and influencers as they pitch the latest diet, drink, practice, or food, guaranteeing their program will rid the body of any number of harmful substances, help you lose weight, improve sleep, cure diseases, and anything else your heart desires.

There’s a saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So does the general, otherwise healthy adult need to “detox”? The short answer: no. The why? Because of our kidneys!

The evidence

The truth is there is very little scientific evidence to support the use of commercial detox supplements, diets, and cleanses. In fact, many can cause unpleasant side effects or complications. This may include:

Fatigue, dizziness, light headedness
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Kidney failure
There is some published evidence that following a juice cleanse or “green smoothie cleanse” can cause acute kidney failure.

Kidneys: the natural detoxifiers

The kidneys perform a laundry list of vital functions. They help maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes like calcium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. They make hormones and vitamins that:

Control growth
Maintain blood pressure
Create red blood cells
Keeps bones strong
They filter and remove waste and extra fluid from the body. Healthy kidneys will filter about ½ cup of blood per minute. The extracted waste and water from this process is eliminated in the form of urine.

Do the kidneys need to be “cleansed”?

The kidneys do not require any special cleaning. Kidneys should perform their duties without difficulty if measures are taken to keep them healthy.

To keep the kidneys working their best:

Eat a healthy diet
What does one eat to keep their kidneys healthy? A heart-healthy diet is also a healthy diet for the kidneys; this entails a diet that maintains blood pressure and blood sugar in their healthy range. This involves an eating pattern that:

Is heavy on the vegetables and fruits
High in fiber
Low in sodium and added sugar
Has lean and low-fat animal protein and dairy

Drink plenty of water
While daily water needs vary depending on climate, physical activity level, age, presence/absence of illness, and states of pregnancy and breastfeeding, the general recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is:

13 cups per day for men
9 cups per day for women.
Drinking enough water is important because it:

Helps the kidneys remove waste products from the blood
Enables blood to flow to the kidneys (and other organs) to deliver essential nutrients
Produces more urine, allowing bacteria to be flushed out
Reduces the likelihood of developing urinary tract infections and kidney stones
May make some medications more effective
A good indicator that you’re drinking enough water is that your urine will either be light yellow or colorless.

*If you have kidney disease or are on dialysis, consult with your healthcare provider to determine your personal daily fluid needs.

Be physically active
Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, blood pressure, and controls blood sugar levels—which in turn preserves kidney function. To reap the benefits, the physical activity must be purposeful in nature. The recommendation is:

150+ minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity over at least 5 days per week OR
60+ minutes of vigorous exercise over at least 3 days a week
AND incorporate 2+ days of resistance exercise (weight training, exercise bands, etc.) per week
Do not go more than 2 consecutive days without being active

Take medication as directed
Anything we ingest has the potential to either help or harm our kidneys. Regular use, or overuse, of some over the counter (OTC) medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and certain vitamin supplements and herbal extracts, can cause kidney damage. However, some blood pressure lowering medications may actually protect the kidneys.

*Talk to your healthcare provider about all OTC vitamins, herbs, and prescription medications you are taking.

Quit smoking/vaping
The toxins and chemicals in tobacco and vaping solutions are filtered through the kidneys, which over time can lead to kidney failure. Smoking causes damage to blood vessels, which can decrease blood flow to the kidneys. When an organ doesn’t get adequate blood flow, it doesn’t work its best. Smoking also increases blood pressure and the risk for kidney cancer.

Your kidneys work tirelessly to keep you healthy. Early kidney disease may not have any obvious signs. If you are concerned about the health of your kidneys, schedule to talk with your provider today.