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Supplements for Kidney Function

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
November 4, 2022
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When we have a condition that is new or causing us pain, we may hear about, or find some supplements that make claims that they’ll help. From the perspective of kidney disease, there are no herbal supplements that are safe. You may, instead, be recommended to take certain vitamins or a couple of minerals, but that’s it. Read on to know what kidney supplements are safe and what are not for kidney disease.

What Supplements Will I need?

Depending on your health and other factors, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) notes that your healthcare provider may recommend some of the following supplements:

1. B Complex: B complex vitamins are grouped together, but they all do different things.

  • Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid work together with iron to prevent anemia. If you have anemia, it means you do not have enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.
  • Other B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin) can also be given as a supplement. These help to change your food into useable energy, making you feel more energetic.

2. Iron: As noted above, if you have anemia, you might need iron as a pill or injectable. Only take iron if your doctor prescribes it.

3. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is used to keep many different types of tissue healthy. It also helps wounds and bruises heal faster and may help prevent infections. Your doctor may need to give you a prescription for this vitamin, since it is safe for kidneys only in low doses.

4. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important to maintain healthy bones. Like iron, vitamin D comes both in pill and injectable forms. Injectables can be given during your dialysis treatment if you are receiving dialysis. Your doctor will tell you the type and amount you should be taking. You should only take vitamin D if your doctor prescribes it.

5. Calcium: Calcium along with vitamin D helps to keep your bones healthy. Too much phosphorous in the blood may upset the balance of calcium, causing you to lose calcium from bones. While you can take a “phosphorous binder” medication if your blood phosphorus is too high (this binds the phosphorus from your food, and helps you eliminate the excess), some phosphorus binder medications already contain calcium, so you may not need a calcium supplement depending on the binder you take. Too much calcium, however, can clump together with phosphorus and deposit in places such as your heart, blood vessels, lungs and other body tissues. Take only the amount of calcium prescribed by your doctor or renal dietitian.

Don’t take these vitamins unless you get clearance from your Doctor

Vitamins A, E and K are more likely to build up in your body and can cause harm if you have too much. Over time, they can cause dizziness, nausea, and even death.  Only take these vitamins if your doctor gives you a prescription.

Although safe in low doses, large doses of Vitamin C may cause a buildup of oxalate in people with kidney disease. Oxalate may stay in the bones and soft tissue, which can cause pain and other issues over time.

Is It Safe to Use Herbal Remedies?

People with chronic kidney disease and people on dialysis should avoid herbal remedies and over the counter nutritional supplements. There may be unwanted interactions with medications or other side effects. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any herbal remedies, vitamins, or other non-prescribed supplements.

The NKF also suggests that, since many herbal remedies also contain plenty of potassium or phosphorous, they specifically must be limited for people in the end-stages of kidney disease and on dialysis.

Contains Potassium
Alfalfa American Ginseng Bai Zhi (root)
Bitter Melon (fruit, leaf) Black Mustard (leaf) Blessed Thistle
Chervit (leaf) Chicory (leaf) Chinese Boxthorn (leaf)
Coriander (leaf) Dandelion (root, leaf) Dulse
Evening Primrose Feverfew Garlic (leaf)
Genipap (fruit) Goto Kola Japanese Honeysuckle (flower)
Kelp Kudzu (shoot) Lemongrass
Mugwort Noni Papaya (leaf, fruit)
Purslane Sage (leaf) Safflower (flower) Sassafras
Scullcap Shepherd's Purse Stinging Nettle (leaf)
Turmeric (rhizome) Water Lotus

Contains Phosphorous
American Ginseng Bitter Melon Borage (leaf)
Buchu (leaf) Coriander (leaf) Evening Primrose
Feverfew Flaxseed (seed) Horseradish (root)
Indian Sorrel (seed) Milk Thistle Onion (leaf)
Pokeweed (shoot) Purslane Shepherd's Purse
Silk Cotton Tree (seed) Stinging Nettle (leaf) Sunflower (seed)
Turmeric (rhizome) Water Lotus Yellow Dock

The following herbal supplements should be completely avoided

Astragalus Barberry Cat's Claw
Apium Graveolens Creatine Goldenrod
Horsetail Huperzinea Java Tea Leaf
Licorice Root Nettle, Stinging Nettle Oregon Grape Root
Parsley Root Pennyroyal Ruta Graveolens
Uva Ursi Yohimbe

Takeaways

While there are some vitamins like B12, C (in low amounts), and D, as well as some minerals like iron and calcium, that may be prescribed by your doctor if you are deficient, herbal supplements are not generally recommended. Limit or avoid all herbal supplements unless you clear them with your doctor first.

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