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Integrative Treatment Options for The Most Common Kidney Disorders: Specialty Testing, Nutrition, Supplements

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Integrative Treatment Options for The Most Common Kidney Disorders: Specialty Testing, Nutrition, Supplements

The kidneys may be small organs (the size of a fist), but they are mighty; on a daily basis, they filter enough fluids to fill a bathtub. This article will discuss the kidney’s role in the body and the top health conditions associated with the kidneys that integrative medicine can treat. We’ll then discuss functional medicine testing to evaluate these conditions and complementary and integrative medicine treatments for them.


What Are The Kidney’s Role in The Body?

The kidneys are two separate organs that sit toward the back of the abdomen, below the ribcage, and one on either side of the spine. The kidneys perform many jobs, including filtering blood, maintaining electrolyte balance in the body, and producing various hormones. The kidneys house around one million little filtering units called nephrons. The nephrons have two main parts; one part is responsible for filtering blood, and the other part returns the appropriate amount of electrolyte minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium, to the blood while also removing waste. The leftover product of this filtering process is urine, which will then be sent through the ureters (two long tubes of muscles, one connected to each kidney) to the bladder. The bladder will hold the urine until urination occurs. Together, the kidneys, ureter, and bladder make up the urinary tract.

Hormones made by the kidneys include renin, a hormone that affects blood pressure; calcitriol, a hormone that aids in the creation of vitamin D and thus has a role in bone mineralization; and erythropoietin, a hormone responsible for the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

What are the Top Kidney Health Issues Treated With Integrative Medicine?

Many health conditions affect the kidneys. Here are the top kidney conditions that integrative medicine can treat.

Kidney Stones

As the kidneys are filtering blood, minerals, and salts, including calcium, oxalate, urate, xanthine, and cystine, are filtered out to appropriate levels. When these minerals and salts are too high relative to the liquid content of the urine, they have the potential to crystallize. When crystallization occurs, weeks or months later, many crystals can form together to form kidney stones, also called renal calculi. Kidney stones are categorized into four main types: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. Smaller kidney stones can travel out of the body through the urinary tract with little to no symptoms. However, large stones can cause significant unpleasant symptoms, including severe low back pain spasms, discolored urine, cloudy urine, urine with an offensive smell, frequent urination, not completely emptying during urination, fever, and chills. Causes of kidney stones include genetics, dietary factors including inadequate hydration and diets high in oxalates and sodium, diets low in fiber, and obesity. Certain conditions also increase the risk of kidney stone formation, including irritable bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, gut dysbiosis, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and chronic diarrhea. Additionally, certain medications and supplements may increase the risk of kidney stone formation, including excess vitamin C, calcium-based antacids, diuretics, laxatives, and certain antibiotics.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease involves damage to the kidneys that impairs them from performing their functions. Kidney disease can be divided into two types: acute kidney disease and chronic kidney disease. Acute kidney disease occurs suddenly and can be due to an infection, a blockage, or a medication. Chronic kidney disease often results from diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Toxic metal exposure, high sodium diets, and genetic disorders are also causes of kidney disease. Symptoms of kidney disease may include increased or decreased urination, blood in the urine, foamy urine, fatigue, swelling in the face, feet, legs, and/or ankles, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, itching, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Chronic kidney disease often leads to irreversible damage to the kidneys.

Functional Medicine Labs That Can Help Individualize Treatment for Patients with Kidney Disorders

Functional medicine offers a wide array of tests to get to the root cause of diseases. Here are some of the functional medicine tests commonly used in kidney disorders:

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel

Any type of kidney disorder should be assessed with basic kidney function tests, including a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP). A CMP, such as the CMP by Access Medical Laboratories, are blood tests that have a few markers for kidney health, including the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which shows how the kidneys are filtering. Other markers include BUN and creatinine, which are waste products excreted in the urine and can also give insight into the filtration and function of the kidneys.


A urinalysis, such as the Urinalysis test by Access Medical Laboratories, assesses a urine sample for blood, white blood cells, which would indicate an infection, crystals, and more. Moreover, a urine culture tests for specific pathogens that may be causing infections.

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

The microbiome of the gut is a collective group of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and fungi that inhabit our large intestines. These microbes have a large influence on our health, affecting digestion and absorption, creation of neurotransmitters, metabolism of hormones, modulation of the immune and inflammatory response, and more. When microbes that are considered to be bad or pathogenic multiply and occur in large numbers, this can cause problems in the functioning of the microbiome. This imbalance between bad and good bacteria is referred to as dysbiosis. In relation to kidney stones, dysbiosis can impact the metabolism of uric acid and oxalates and thus increase the risk of those types of kidney stones. GI Effects by Genova Diagnostics is a comprehensive stool test that assesses numerous microbes of the microbiome and can assist in evaluating for dysbiosis.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth

SIBO occurs when bacteria from the microbiome of the large intestine translocate to the small intestine. When in large amounts in the small intestine, these bacteria release gasses that can cause problems and symptoms. In relation to kidney stones, SIBO can inhibit the proper metabolism of kidney-stone-forming uric acid. A SIBO test, such as the Genova Diagnostic SIBO-3 Hour test, evaluates breath samples after consumption of a sugar solution for the presence of two gasses that would be produced if bacteria were present in the small intestine.

Toxic Metal Testing

Heavy metal testing can be indicated for kidney disease, as high levels of heavy metals like lead can cause kidney disease. Lead can be found as a single marker test, as offered in the Heavy Metals Screening by Access Med Labs.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine Treatment for Kidney Disorders

There are many different complementary and integrative medicine treatments for kidney disorders. Treatments can include nutritional guidelines, supplements, and herbs.

Best Nutrition for Kidney Health

Figuring out which diet to abide by can be overwhelming, considering the number of diets there are. Let’s take a look at some of the most well-researched diets and nutritional recommendations for kidney conditions.

Nutrition for Kidney Stones

Dietary interventions for kidney stones may include lowering the amount of foods that contain minerals that cause kidney stones. For example, people with calcium oxalate stones may avoid oxalates in their diets. High oxalate foods include spinach, Swiss chard, beets, rhubarb, nuts, tea, sweet potatoes, chocolate, black pepper, and soy products. Additionally, people with kidney stones, regardless of the type, are advised to maintain good hydration. Those with a history of kidney stones should consume enough water to pass 2 liters of urine daily.

Nutrition for Kidney Disease

Those with kidney disease may want to consider the Mediterranean Diet, as this diet has been researched and shown to both reduce the risk of kidney disease and also improve kidney function. The Mediterranean diet consists of fresh vegetables and fruits, herbs, spices, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, and minimally processed whole grains. The diet avoids processed foods and sugars, added sugars, and refined seed oils like cottonseed and canola oil.

Top Supplements and Herbs for Patients with Kidney Disorders

Many supplements and herbs can be used for kidney disorders. Here are some of the most common:  

Probiotics for Kidney Disorders

Probiotics are supplements that contain various strains of bacteria to support the microbiome. Probiotics can be beneficial for kidney stones, as the following bacteria species have been shown to breakdown dietary oxalates in the digestive tract and thus lower oxalate levels: O. formigenes, Lactobacillus spp., and Bifidobacterium spp. Additionally, probiotics can benefit kidney disease as they seem to lower inflammation and possess antioxidant properties. Lactobacillus spp. and Bifidobacterium spp. were the two main probiotics that were effective for kidney disease.

Probiotics can also be used in a treatment protocol for SIBO, a cause of kidney stones, after eradication of the bacteria with antimicrobials.

Dose: Will depend on the patient and type of probiotic. Comprehensive stool testing can help to guide dosages.

Duration: This will be dependent upon symptoms and lab values.

Modified Citrus Pectin for Kidney Disease

Modified citrus pectin is an absorbable form of pectin, a fibrous component of the skins and pulp of citrus fruits, including apples, oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Modified citrus pectin has been shown to be a gentle chelating agent. Chelating agents bind to various molecules and carry them out of the body.

Dose: 15 g per day in 3 divided doses

Duration: 28 days

Magnesium for Kidney Stones

Magnesium is a mineral utilized in over 300 reactions in the body. Magnesium may be an important mineral for overall kidney health. A large observational study showed the risk for rapid kidney decline was double the rate in people with low magnesium intake as opposed to those with adequate intake. Magnesium may help reduce the formation of kidney stones and has also been shown to improve markers of kidney health in those with chronic kidney disease.

Dose: 365 mg magnesium oxide

Duration: 3 months



The kidneys are important organs that affect urine production and the balance of certain mineral levels, blood pressure regulation, and bone mineralization. Certain disorders that affect the kidneys can benefit from functional medicine testing in that this type of testing searches for the root cause. Complementary and integrative treatment options, including diet, supplementation, and herbs, can then be utilized and tailored to the patient based on symptoms and the testing results to achieve symptom resolution.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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