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The Kidneys

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

In Las Vegas what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. This doesn’t happen with the kidneys. In my 25 years of practice as a naturopathic physician I haven’t come across many kidney problems that originated in the kidneys and stayed in the kidneys. It has been my observation that things don’t usually go wrong with the kidney itself. I think of the kidneys as having an “extended warranty”. Most often when the kidneys get damaged the cause can be traced to some disease process that happened outside the kidneys. In other words, the kidneys are usually the victims of damage or disease originating from somewhere else in the body rather than a breakdown or malfunction within the kidneys themselves. Even acute kidney failure, according to the Mayo Clinic, “almost always occurs in connection with another medical condition or event”. As long as something else doesn’t damage them, the kidneys tend to keep on going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny. Unfortunately, there are many things in the rest of the body that can damage the kidneys and impair their function. The kidneys are, most often, in my experience, innocent victims of disease processes that usually start elsewhere. These outside disease processes can eventually result in acute kidney failure and, sadly, too often the need for dialysis.

How can you tell if your kidney function is starting to decline? In the early stages of chronic kidney disease there may be no signs or symptoms, so you won’t know during this silent phase of the disease. This is when you have to test, not guess. Family physicians do routine blood and urine tests to determine how well the kidneys are functioning. A serum creatinine blood test with calculated GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate) is a common screen for kidney function. A urine albumin test can also be done, as well as an albumin to creatinine ratio, blood urea nitrogen (urea), and uric acid (urate). A GFR of less than 60 mL/min/1.73 m² technically indicates kidney failure. This can be a bit misleading because a person can be functioning and not require dialysis until the GFR is much lower. As the GFR approaches 60 it is cause for concern, however, even if you have no symptoms. It is always a good idea to check your kidney function with the basic renal tests that are routinely ordered by family doctors. A declining GFR can often be arrested and perhaps even improved if the cause is properly addressed, as long as the damage hasn’t progressed too far. It was previously thought that kidney cells did not regenerate once the organ was fully formed. However, research by the Standford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and the Sackler School of Medicine has shown that the kidneys are regenerating and repairing themselves throughout life, something that I have always believed but could never prove.

So, what are the forces of evil that can result in damage to our kidneys? There are many. A common one is high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association says that if you are looking for a list of symptoms of high blood pressure, you won’t find it on their website. This is because most of the time, there are none. It is a myth that people with high blood pressure will experience symptoms like nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing. The truth is that high blood pressure is a largely symptomless “silent killer.” If you ignore your blood pressure because you think a certain symptom or sign will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life.

You may not know you have high blood pressure or kidney failure unless you test. Early detection, as with everything else, makes treatment that much easier.

Pharmaceutical drugs, unfortunately, are not a cure for high blood pressure or kidney failure. The same holds true for non-pharmaceutical remedies. Drugs and natural herbal remedies may lower your blood pressure but they do not lower your risk of kidney failure in a clinically significant way. More people taking a medication will not get any benefit compared to those who will benefit. If 100 people take a drug for high blood pressure, the number who will be spared from mortality as a result of taking the drug can be counted on the fingers of only one hand. The absolute risk reduction for death from all causes by a blood pressure medication is very low. In fact, lowering blood pressure below a certain threshold with pharmaceutical drugs actually increases the death rate rather than lowering it. Conversely, treating high blood pressure with natural treatment modalities such as diet and lifestyle, together with targeted supplementation of known deficiencies or insufficiencies of specific vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants, together with prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics to help regenerate the microbiome has been shown over and over again to improve overall health and inhibit disease progression. The best way to heal your kidneys is to heal the rest of your body. It has been my observation that most, if not all, chronic kidney problems owe their origin to a gut problem (dysbiosis) which, instead of getting fixed, kept progressing, ultimately damaging not only the kidneys but other organs as well.

If you are not sure about the health status of your kidneys, all it takes is a phone call or email to book an appointment to go over your results. If you are unable to get kidney function tests for whatever reason, we can do them for you, privately, through LifeLabs.

-From the desk of Dr. Brkich

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