The RenalTracker Team
September 27, 2021

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. It has been written and vetted by RenalTracker's team of kidney experts and researchers. The same team was awarded the KidneyX Prize organized by the American Society of Nephrology and HHS for pre-dialysis solution in Washington DC in 2019.   

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The kidneys perform essential bodily functions such as filtering toxins from the blood and balancing mineral levels. Healthy kidneys also help manage blood pressure by regulating electrolytes. They are also responsible for adjusting pH, filtering proteins, and producing a variety of hormones. The question is that if kidney detox/cleanse effective?

Kidney Detox Diet

When you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), your kidney function declines. Toxins and waste materials can build up in your bloodstream and lymph fluid when the kidneys couldn’t perform their waste removal process. It can potentially poison the body and lead to serious health issues. Furthermore, the toxin and fluid buildup, uncontrolled pH, and blood pressure can strain the blood vessels and heart.

What is a kidney detox/cleanse?

Most people can keep supporting their kidneys by eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated. However, for people with kidney disease, it takes diet, lifestyle changes, and avoiding medications to slow down the progression of their kidney condition

Kidney cleansing has become popular these days with many herbs, supplements, and drinks claiming to detoxify your kidneys. Most “kidney detox” regimens promise quick weight loss, increased energy, and improved overall health. However, there is no substantial research supporting the effectiveness of these regimens.

kidney cleanse

Kidney cleansing (diet) programs, however, involve following a restricted diet for several days. Typical kidney cleansing diets include smoothies, teas, juices, herbs, foods, and supplements believed to optimize kidney function.

Does kidney detox/cleansing work?

The kidneys are the body’s natural filtration system, removing waste and excess fluid from the bloodstream. They even cleanse themselves when the body takes in enough fluid. 

A kidney cleanse usually involves a period of fasting and followed by a rigid diet of raw vegetables, fruits, juices, and water. Several (non-specific) detox diets promote using herbs and other supplements, as well as enemas to empty the intestines. While some people report feeling more focused and energized after going through detox diets, there’s little evidence supporting the claim that these diets remove toxins from the body. 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that “there isn’t any convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs remove toxins from your body or improve your health.” The kidneys are capable of filtering and eliminating most of the ingested toxins in the body.

different kinds of detox juice

So why do people claim to feel better after detox diet programs? This feeling may be attributed to most detox programs’ restrictions. A detox diet restricts highly processed foods that have added sugar, sodium, and trans fats. Eliminating these food sources from a diet can have a significant impact on overall health.

Most people can support their kidney function by consuming a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and following a  healthy lifestyle. The few studies conducted on detoxification programs shared some positive results in blood pressure and insulin resistance. Nevertheless, detoxification programs only offer anecdotal evidence that cannot be utilized to support their claims. 

Kidney Detox/Cleanse: Risks and considerations

Besides the restrictive diet, kidney cleanses typically involve ingesting herbal supplements to “help” detoxify the kidney. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before these products are marketed. Therefore, the use or claims of these supplements are not properly regulated. 

This can pose a potential risk to consumers who purchase supplements that have a variety of herbs in high doses. If the dietary supplement has a NEW ingredient, it is the responsibility of the manufacturers to notify FDA about it before marketing the product. Manufacturers should report to FDA if a serious problem occurs related to the dietary supplement. This is the only instance when the FDA can take these supplements off the market-- if they find the supplements unsafe or if the claims are false and misleading. 

The NCCIH and FDA have taken action against several companies that offer detox and kidney cleansing products due to the false therapeutic claims. More so, some of these products contain illegal and potentially harmful ingredients. 

In 2018, FDA issued a warning letter to a company that produced a range of herbal products promising to treat everything from flu to kidney stones. The company had serious violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and applicable regulations.

How to support kidney health

There’s no magic cleanse that flushes the toxins out of the body. Most kidney detox and cleanses are very rigid and may result in more health issues when not done right. More so, following a kidney cleanse can do more harm than good, especially if you have chronic kidney disease. Detox diets and kidney cleansing can potentially worsen your kidney disease. 

detox dietitian

The best thing to do is to work with a renal dietitian or talk to your healthcare provider to find a suitable diet plan for your kidney disease.

Your diet and lifestyle can affect your kidney disease. Consuming kidney-friendly food sources and following a healthy lifestyle habit can protect your kidneys from further damage. On the other hand, not following a healthy kidney diet can potentially increase blood pressure, protein levels, and affect bone and heart health. Through a kidney-friendly meal plan, you can monitor certain minerals and fluids to keep the waste and fluid from building up, which could cause detrimental health issues. 

detox diet

Among the things you can do to support your kidney health include:

Watching your sodium intake

Your nephrologist may suggest limiting your sodium intake to slow down the progression of your kidney disease. Too much sodium can spike your blood pressure, and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. The recommended sodium intake for people with CKD or high blood pressure is from 750 mg - 2000 mg per day. Check-in with your doctor to know your exact limit. Sodium is found in almost all food, even in fruits and vegetables. You can start lowering your daily sodium intake by using herbs and spices to add flavor to your dish. Additionally, consider cutting down processed and junk food as they are loaded with sodium, phosphorus, protein, and potassium that can be harmful to your kidneys. 

Watching your sodium intake

Swapping Your Protein

Animal-based protein can put a strain on your kidneys, unlike plant-based protein. This is because plant-based protein lowers blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol that help reduce the risk of heart disease. Healthy kidneys help control blood pressure but if they cannot do this function well, your blood pressure can spike. Over time, high blood pressure can result in heart disease, causing further damage to the kidneys. Your kidneys overwork when protein builds up in your bloodstream. You may experience a symptom such as nausea, weakness, and appetite loss. A whole-food renal plant-based diet emphasizes the consumption of foods lower in sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. 

Swapping Your Protein

A Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology study states that plant-based diets were associated with 12% lower risk of eGFR decline compared to animal-protein diets. Furthermore, the same study revealed that people in plant-based diets with eGFR values 30-59 ml/min per 1.73 m2 may delay progression to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and dialysis.  Note: Although a plant-based diet is considered healthy, always check in with your renal dietitian or primary health care provider before making any dietary changes.

Reading the nutritional labels

Reading the nutritional labels

Understanding what goes in your body and knowing your dietary requirements allow you to make better food choices. Make it a habit to read the nutritional labels when you do your grocery shopping. The single serving size of the food item will determine the amount of every nutrient stated on the label. 

Slow down on dairy

Dairy products are loaded with high levels of phosphorus, potassium, and calcium that can affect your CKD negatively. Even low-fat milk can exceed your dietary requirements, which makes plant-based milk alternatives a good idea. The American Society for Nutrition shared that milk alternatives are lower in calories, fat, and protein are great for CKD patients. To know more about milk alternatives, visit our blog. You can also read our blog about cheese, here

plant-based milk

Consider your fluid intake

Having impaired kidneys can lead to the accumulation of excess fluids in the body, which in turn can swell the face, ankles, and feet (edema). People on dialysis are often required to limit their fluid intake to prevent the dialysis machine from extracting too little or too much fluid from the blood. This is to avoid causing a fluid imbalance in the body. Ask your doctor about your fluid intake to ensure you stay within the range.

Consider your fluid intake

The Bottom line

Most people can support their kidney function with a proper diet and healthy lifestyle habits. It can be tempting to follow a kidney detox cleanse when you have kidney disease. However, just like self-medication, this could, unknowingly, lead to a more serious threat to your health. Nevertheless, there are steps you can do to support your kidney health. Work with your primary healthcare provider for a healthy kidney diet and lifestyle changes you can do to slow down the progression of your condition.