Over time, alcohol abuse can and will take everything good out of your life. It can drain your accounts, ruin your relationships, destroy your career, and cost you your family. It also has a detrimental impact on your physical health. While these discussions usually revolve around the liver, which is important, it's also vital to know how the kidneys are impacted by alcohol use. In fact, most liver damage is directly mirrored by the kidneys, and vice versa.
Though this page is geared towards chronic heavy drinkers, it should be noted that even low chronic doses of alcohol can change and harm the kidneys. Since the kidneys are such vital organs, that harm often spreads to other organs.
How Do Your Kidneys Work?
The kidneys primary function is to filter your blood. They remove all sorts of toxins and waste, including drugs from blood vessels and then send the waste off to be concentrated into urine. They also function to balance the body's fluids, produce Vitamin D, and use hormones to maintain your blood pressure.
To perform these functions, the kidneys are comprised of approximately a million functional units called nephrons in each kidney. Each contains blood vessels that filter the blood as it passes through them. The filtered material is diverted to a tubule, where it becomes urine. The filtrate material may also contain nutrients, which the kidneys help reintegrate into the blood.
One toxin that the kidneys handle, alcohol, is particularly pernicious. While the kidneys must remove it from the blood, it also harms them in the process. Since alcohol is a drying agent, it causes an imbalance in the kidneys' fluid level. Alcohol also causes high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of kidney disease. In fact, only two drinks per day can increase your risks of high blood pressure and result in kidney disease.
What Is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease is a condition whereby the kidneys are found to be dysfunctional in performing their core goal: filtering toxins out of the blood. When this happens, toxins build up in the blood or elsewhere in the body. When a kidney ceases performing normally it can go into acute failure in just a few days.
Usually, by this time, patients are already in a hospital bed but it's important to watch for signs and symptoms, especially in chronic heavy drinkers, which may include:
Though kidney disease is not a direct outcome from drinking, alcohol will exacerbate any problems in the renal system. For instance, alcohol will interrupt how the kidneys handle fluids, sodium, and magnesium and also affect how they regulate the acid/base balance in the blood. These interruptions can cause a cascade of problems in the body. For instance, too much sodium can cause high blood pressure while too little magnesium harms the nervous system, and there are many more issues; too many to list them all. Magnesium deficiency can result in migraine headaches, hypertension, osteoporosis, and may even lead to Type II Diabetes.
Thus, through alcohol's interference in kidney function it is able to cause destruction in many other areas of the body.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Kidneys?
Alcohol and kidneys are two things that should never meet. The damage alcohol does to the kidneys can cause a series of symptoms throughout the body. Even those who drink a moderate amount can be susceptible to these problems.
The first negative impact of alcohol on your kidneys is its tendency to cause a fluid imbalance. Within 20 minutes of a drink, patients experience a need to urinate. This is because alcohol restricts the kidneys ability to reabsorb water into the blood. That's why it's so important to never drink on a very hot day, or during strenuous activity. Further, when the body is deprived of the water usually provided by the kidneys, its sodium concentration rises.
Alcohol not only alters the function of the kidneys, but their very physical structure. Studies have shown that alcohol intake can enlarge and alter cells in the organ's tubules. Chronic alcoholics often have enlarged kidneys.
When Should You Visit the Doctor?
When you begin to experience kidney related symptoms that result from drinking, you should immediately consult a doctor. The kidneys are vital organs and it's extremely important to maintain them at optimal functioning. One of the first signs that alcohol is impacting your kidneys is pain and tenderness around the kidneys.
This pain might be experienced as a sharp, stabbing pain or it may be a dull ache.
One or both kidneys may be affected, and you may have other symptoms including, but not limited to:
Kidney Disease Diagnoses
If you drink consistently, it’s inevitable that, over time, drinking will begin to impact your kidney's functioning. Since even moderate drinking shows immediate physical and functional changes to these precious organs, it's advised to keep drinking to a minimum. However, if drinking persists, the kidneys will begin to accrue damage over time. Note that kidney disease does not happen all at once but is a slow and gradual process. Eventually the body will begin to fill with waste and fluids that the kidneys can no longer process.
The following symptoms of kidney disease should be noted, monitored, and reported to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If discovered early enough, kidney disease can be treated, and you may even be able to have a complete recovery.
The symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
If you are diagnosed with kidney disease, you should first stop drinking. Even in low amounts alcohol can alter the physical structure of your kidneys. If your disease has advanced to an extreme point, and your kidneys have ceased their functioning, you may need to undergo regular kidney dialysis treatments. However, if caught in time, your doctor may prescribe medications and a change in your diet.
Since kidney disease and failure can result from a number of factors, your doctor may treat the problem with the following measures:
Though some may be more prone to kidney failure and disease than others, there are still measures you can take to ensure healthy kidney functioning.
Here are five ways to help maintain healthy kidney function:
How to Drink Safely
Safe drinking may sound like an oxymoron, but it can be done. First off, know your limits. If two drinks makes you feel woozy or you experience some mild kidney symptoms, it may be time to stop for the evening. It also helps to eat while drinking, keep tabs on how many drinks you've had, and avoid drinking if you have any medical or mental health issues.
You should also note that there are an increasing number of non-alcoholic alternatives. More and more bars and restaurants carry high-quality, non-alcoholic beers, have a few mocktails on the menu, and may even serve non-alcoholic wine or spirits. Keep in mind that if you put a lime in your club soda, nobody will be any the wiser.