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Veggies Work Better Than Drugs for Kidneys

Eating Good Food

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new study revealed that eating three or four servings of vegetables and fruits daily, rather than taking prescription drugs, can help lower your blood pressure and cut your prescription costs in half
  • High blood pressure is the second-highest cause of kidney failure, but clean foods combined with regular aerobic and resistance (strength) training exercises can lower high blood pressure readings dramatically
  • Acute kidney injury (AKI) and chronic kidney disease (CKD) are the causes of renal malfunction and both are a direct result of high blood pressure
  • Garlic and onions, cabbage and kale, green tea and olive oil are some of the foods containing high amounts of free-radical-zapping antioxidants that can help detoxify your kidneys, plus boost your health in many other ways

By Dr. Mercola

Say you're told you have kidney disease. Knowing these vital organs remove waste and toxins from your system, stimulate the production of red blood cells and regulate your blood pressure, you know you need to do something fast.

It's very likely that one of the first things your doctor will do is put you on a regimen of medications.

But a new, five-year study just emerged revealing that one of the best things you can do for your kidneys is to eat three or four servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Not only can they help you regain your health but also may help save you money on medical costs, including medication.

In fact, eating healthy fruits and vegetables could help cut your drug costs by as much as 50 percent.

Eating the Right Foods Improves Your Kidney Function

You might be wondering how that works. According to the study at the University of Texas, it starts with a shift in nutrition.

Certain foods help you manage your blood pressure better than others and, at the same time, improve several other aspects of your health, potentially initiating healthier readings in things like systolic blood pressure.

The five-year study showed that a positive change in diet lowered the systolic blood pressure of subjects with kidney disease better than those who opted for medication.

U.S. News reported that the study tracked a small number of participants with kidney concerns so researchers could compare standard medical treatment outcomes with nutritional intervention.

The goal of the scientists was to determine who did better — the people in the drug group or those in the food group. The two gauges were not only which did better at naturally decreasing blood pressure but also whether or not using food to do it could make any difference in costs.

You already know the outcome. Healthy food prevailed, hands down. Study participants showed improvement the first year, and drug costs lowered every year thereafter, saving an average total of $153,000 for the veggie group over the span of the five-year study.1

Dr. Nimrit Goraya, study author and program director for nephrology at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas, said that for people with kidney disease — or those wanting to prevent it — the importance of eating the right foods rather than settling for medications was "huge." Other studies show that taking blood pressure drugs may increase your risk of death.

Vegetables and Exercise — Stunning Findings for Blood Pressure

A 28-study review at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, involving more than 1,000 patients on kidney dialysis, resulted in more very promising statistics. Scientists found that those who regularly employed both aerobic and resistance (strength) training exercises lowered their blood pressure readings significantly.2

Lona Sandon, clinical nutrition program director at the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern in Dallas, noted that three or four servings of veggies and fruits, depending on the type, make all the difference:

"It is remarkable what fruits and vegetables can do, along with a little exercise. Blood pressure meds come with many side effects that may leave people feeling sluggish, or other problems.

The side effects of fruits and vegetables and exercise is better health. When people have access to healthy foods, they can change their health. And especially when they eat the recommended amounts that were provided to them in the study."3

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High Blood Pressure: the Second-Highest Cause of Kidney Failure

A few years ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that high blood pressure fatalities were on the rise.

Many people don't realize that the kidneys and circulatory systems work together to prevent high blood pressure (HBP), aka hypertension. As the American Heart Association4 reveals, kidney damage from high blood pressure occurs three ways:

  • First, HBP causes artery damage. The dense blood vessels and arteries in kidneys mean that high amounts of blood flow through them, but because this disease weakens them, adequate blood can't be delivered to kidney tissue.
  • Blood doesn't filter properly through damaged kidneys. Miniscule, finger-like nephrons filtering your blood get their supply through even smaller, hair-like capillaries, but with kidney damage, they don't get the oxygen or nutrients they require. Hormones, acids, salts and other fluids in your body are left unregulated.
  • Blood pressure is also unregulated and doesn't produce an important hormone for it to self-regulate, beginning a downward spiral. More arteries become blocked and stop functioning, causing kidney failure.

This all sounds pretty grim, but the important thing to remember is that this usually happens gradually over several years — and it can be prevented.

In the U.S. every third person aged 65 and older has chronic kidney disease, or CKD. Most don't progress toward advanced stages because they succumb to end-stage renal disease first, even if they have stage 4 CKD, a 2014 study in the journal Clinical Practice reveals.5

An Italian study found that consuming just 7 grams a day of protein led to a reduction in kidney failure. Perhaps more importantly, an argument was made that a low-protein diet is far preferable to one containing excessive protein.6 That said, you may need to restrict your protein intake.

About one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass is all you need. Fructose should only be eaten in small amounts — about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons — per day (in spite of the fact that the American Kidney Fund allows for as much as 40 to 50 grams). DaVita, a kidney education website, notes:

"Researchers are discovering more and more links between chronic diseases inflammation and "super foods" that may prevent or protect against undesirable fatty acid oxidation, a condition that occurs when the oxygen in your body reacts with fats in your blood and your cells.

Oxidation is a normal process for energy production and many chemical reactions in the body, but excessive oxidation of fats and cholesterol creates molecules known as free radicals that can damage your proteins, cell membranes and genes."7

Besides kidney disease, some of the diseases studies have associated with free radical damage include cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and other recurring and degenerative conditions. But foods containing antioxidants can help neutralize and protect your body from free radical damage.

Foods containing phosphorous tend to promote kidney stone formation. Foods with high amounts of potassium, such as vegetables and seeds, are good choices, in moderation. Unfortunately, only 2 percent of people in the U.S. get adequate amounts of potassium, often because the others eat too many processed foods.

The top 15 fruits, veggies and other foods8,9 containing potent antioxidants for a healthy balance between sodium, potassium and phosphorus include:

Red bell peppers

Cabbage, cauliflower and kale

Asparagus, string beans and celery

Garlic and onions


Apples, pears peaches and cherries


Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries

Sweet potatoes

Green tea

Nuts and seeds

Red and purple grapes


Wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon

Olive and coconut oils

Be cautious about consuming the fruits on this list, as they can easily push you over the recommended amount of daily fructose. With the clean, healthy foods that help your body maintain and heal itself are foods that you should avoid, especially if you have kidney issues.

If you drink soda or any beverage containing high fructose corn syrup or aspartame, stop! Those are chemically-contrived substances that can wreck even the best health.

Pure water is the best beverage to put into your body, and if you haven't made this change already, you'll be surprised how much healthier you look and feel. Daily Superfood Love says:

"Following a healthy lifestyle and eating the right foods for kidney health will keep your kidneys in shape for decades. Food has been proven repeatedly to turn the tide in many health scenarios – slowing and even stopping further damage to vital organs.

A diet filled with powerful superfoods mop up free radicals caused by oxidation and lower inflammation. Study after study for every major disease shows that what you eat matters to how you look, how you feel, and how healthy you are on the inside."10

One way to monitor how you're doing is to check the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow. If it's darker than that, increase your water intake.

What Causes Kidney Malfunction?

More than 26 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease. According to One Green Planet, kidney disease contributes to other diseases and health concerns:

"Kidney disease is strongly linked to other major health issues such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. Many people who suffer obesity, autoimmune disease or urinary tract infections (UTI's) may also develop kidney disease within their lifetime.

Anytime an overall strain is put on the body, the kidneys also take a major hit. Common signs of kidney problems include frequent urination, problems urinating, pain, burning, or constant thirst."11

There are two types of renal malfunction: one is acute kidney injury; the other is chronic kidney disease.

Acute kidney injury (AKI) occurs when there's a sudden reduction in blood flow, resulting in renal failure. In fact, the two terms are synonymous. Severe dehydration, an accident, surgery and even cumulative overdose (or purposeful) of such drugs as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen could bring it on.

Chronic inflammation, such as what takes place with diabetics or heart disease patients, infections (such as sepsis), blockages or allergic reactions could also cause renal failure. About half of AKI sufferers can be treated without permanent damage; the rest will likely require either a kidney transplant or dialysis, meaning that a machine filters your blood.

Symptoms might include pain, weakness, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, extreme thirst, and decreased urination. Interestingly, most acute kidney failure cases occur when people who are already being hospitalized for something else.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs over time, usually exacerbated by high blood pressure and diabetes. People who have been on lots of medications for an extended period of time are likely candidates, as are those abusing drugs or alcohol. A blocked renal artery may also irreparably damage your kidneys.

Age, genetic abnormalities and illnesses such as cancer may influence this condition. Chronic cases may involve the symptoms for AKI to the point of nonfunction. High levels of phosphates in the blood and low levels of iron may occur at this stage. Most health practitioners advise that you eat plenty of vegetables, avoid sugar, drink adequate amounts of water and get crucial, regular exercise, which will not only be good for your kidneys, but may make a profound improvement in your health overall.