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How Does Diabetes Affect the Kidneys?

07/12/2022 | 5 min. read

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Your kidneys are two of the hardest working organs in your body. Every day, these fist-sized organs filter 150–200 quarts of blood and produce four to eight cups of urine.

These workhorses remove waste, maintain proper blood composition and fluid levels, and convert vitamin D into the form used by the body. Your kidneys also produce hormones necessary for blood pressure control and red blood cell formation.

Optimal kidney function depends on robust blood flow, and when the blood vessels that supply these organs are damaged, problems arise. Damage may be due to hypertension, heart disease, inflammatory kidney disorders, or polycystic kidney disease—but the number-one cause is diabetes

Approximately a third of patients with diabetes end up developing kidney disease, but it is not inevitable. Let’s look at what you can do to prevent and slow the progression of this devastating disorder. 

Diabetes and Your Kidneys

Each of your two kidneys contains about a million nephrons, made up of looping capillaries (glomeruli) and collection tubes (tubules) that filter blood and divert wastes and excess fluids to the bladder for excretion in the urine. 

Excess blood sugar damages blood vessels throughout the body, including the capillaries in the kidneys that are responsible for filtering blood, returning vital constituents to circulation, and passing excess water and wastes into tubules that drain into the bladder.

To make matters worse, two in three people with diabetes have high blood pressure, which is also hard on the blood vessels. In fact, hypertension is the second leading cause of chronic kidney disease, and having both conditions, as many do, is a double whammy.

Diabetic Kidney Disease Stages

There are five stages of diabetic kidney disease. In the early stages, essential proteins that should be returned to the body begin to get filtered into the urine. As the disease progresses, stress on the kidneys further impairs their filtering capacity, causing waste products to build up in the blood. The fifth and final stage is called end-stage renal disease, and at that point, dialysis or a kidney transplant are the only treatment options.

The good news is that progression from one stage of diabetic kidney disease to another is slow, generally taking years. If you have diabetes, it is important to have your urine albumin level tested regularly. The presence of this protein in the urine is suggestive of early kidney disease.

The bad news is that kidney disease often goes undiagnosed in its early stages. There are few symptoms of diabetic nephropathy until kidney function is drastically impaired. At that point, symptoms typically include fluid buildup, loss of sleep, lack of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and weakness.

Natural Diabetic Nephropathy Treatment

I wish I could tell you how to reverse kidney damage from diabetes. Although acute damage, due to severe dehydration, infection, urine blockage, or drug side effects, can often be reversed, problems caused by chronic diabetic kidney disease are considered irreversible.

That’s why you need to get serious about adopting therapies for preventing and delaying diabetic kidney disease.

  • Blood sugar and blood pressure control. Effective treatment of diabetes and hypertension can prevent or delay kidney problems. Of course, you should work with your doctor, but the natural therapies discussed below also help stave off these conditions and enhance overall health. 
  • Weight loss. Obesity is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Start with regular exercise and a healthy diet, and if you really want to jumpstart your weight loss regimen, try intermittent fasting
  • Diet. A low-carbohydrate diet is a great therapy for diabetes. Although high sodium or a high protein intake does not cause kidney disease, both can accelerate the progression of existing disease. Talk to your doctor about the right amount of sodium and protein for you, especially if you have already been diagnosed with diabetic kidney disease.
  • Medications. Be aware that several over-the-counter pain medications such as high-dose aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen have been linked with kidney damage. Review your prescription medications with your doctor and ask about any that may be problematic.
  • Supplements. Studies have linked high intakes of vitamins B12, C, D, and E, folate, magnesium, and potassium with a decreased incidence of diabetic nephropathy and chronic kidney disease. A good daily multivitamin is recommended, along with supplements that help lower blood sugar, such as berberine, cinnamon, and chromium.  

Overlooked Therapies for Diabetic Kidney Disease

Because so few treatments are available for progressive diabetic kidney disease, it is worth considering these overlooked therapies:

  • Sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, is an alkaline substance that helps to reduce metabolic acidosis, or the buildup of acid in the body. Regular prolonged use has been shown in several clinical trials to slow the rate of progression of chronic kidney disease. Sodium bicarbonate should only be used under the direction of a physician.
  • Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP) is a noninvasive therapy that increases circulation and promotes new blood vessel growth throughout the body—including the kidneys. Although most of the EECP research involves patients with angina and heart failure, it has been shown to slow kidney disease and diabetic nephropathy, even in patients who are on dialysis.
  • EDTA chelation is an intravenous therapy that removes heavy metals from the body. Lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals are known kidney toxins, and several small studies have shown that chelation retards progression and improves markers of chronic kidney disease.

Take Care of Your Kidneys

Chronic kidney disease affects more than 1 in 7 adults in this country, including 1 in 3 people who have diabetes and 1 in 5 with high blood pressure.

Someday, we may be regenerating diseased kidneys with stem cell therapy and growing new organs in the lab. Until that day, I hope you’ll get serious about protecting the health and function of your kidneys, especially if you have diabetes. 

Dr. Julian Whitaker

Meet Dr. Julian Whitaker

For more than 30 years, Dr. Julian Whitaker has helped people regain their health with a combination of therapeutic lifestyle changes, targeted nutritional support, and other cutting-edge natural therapies. He is widely known for treating diabetes, but also routinely treats heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

More About Dr. Julian Whitaker