Detrimental effects of alcohol on the kidneys |17 March 2023
We recently celebrated World Kidney Day on March 9, which is aimed at raising awareness on the importance of our kidneys and the frequency and impact of kidney disease and associated problems worldwide.
We are also currently following the ‘Mars azen’ campaign from the Division of Substance Abuse, Prevention, Treatment & Rehabilitation (DSAPTR) for the month of March whereby we are being encouraged to abstain from taking any alcohol throughout the entire month.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink from time to time on a special occasion. It is the more excessive intake of alcohol which has the potential to wreak harm to our whole body not least our kidneys.
What is the role of the kidneys?
Before we talk about how alcohol can harm the kidneys we need to delve into the kidneys’ main role in the body.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood and removing toxins (waste products) and excess fluids from the body. The waste is removed in the form of urine. In doing so it helps to maintain a good balance of electrolytes (salts) and water in the body.
Some of the kidneys’ other functions include its role in secretion of hormones needed for the activation of Vitamin D, formation of red blood cells and for the control of our blood pressure.
How alcohol affects your kidneys
The kidneys are responsible to filter out harmful substances from the body, including alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic which means that it impairs the ability of the kidneys to reabsorb water. This can have an impact on the regulation of water balance and can lead to dehydration.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also affect the kidney’s ability to efficiently filter your blood and can lead to high blood pressure over time. This can increase your risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) whereby the kidneys are severely damaged.
Another important organ, the liver is also affected by alcohol abuse. Liver disease caused by excessive alcohol intake can worsen the damage to the kidneys.
Alcohol intake and the onset of kidney disease
Acute kidney injury which can develop with binge drinking in a short amount of time can usually be corrected if found early and the necessary interventions (alcohol abstinence) done in a timely manner.
It depends on how much alcohol has been consumed, genetics and of course how much damage has happened to the kidneys. It is noteworthy that at times the damage to the kidneys is irreversible.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) on the other hand develops slowly and over time. It is a condition whereby the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as they should. This leads to a buildup of waste and fluid in the blood. This can cause damage to other organs in the body like the heart.
If alcohol abuse continues and no treatment is taken this can lead to kidney failure. This is known as end-stage renal disease as the kidneys stop working. The only way to survive is via dialysis (designed to remove the toxins from your blood) or kidney transplant.
Warning signs of kidney disease
A medical professional will be able to confirm your diagnosis for kidney disease via the required tests.
However, some signs to keep an eye on include uncontrolled high blood pressure, more frequent urination especially at night, difficult or painful urination, puffiness around eyes and swelling of hands and feet. If you notice any of these symptoms, please seek further medical advice.
According to the Seychelles food-based dietary guidelines, if you don’t usually drink, then it is best to continue abstaining from alcohol.
Despite what you might read on the internet alcohol doesn’t really have a function in the body and is seen as a toxin.
If you drink occasionally then reduce your intake to two units of alcohol or less on each occasion. The image below illustrates what one unit of alcohol looks like.
Remember that binge drinking or consuming large amounts of alcohol a few times per month is just as damaging as drinking large amounts daily.
If you already have renal disease and are taking medications it is best to steer clear of alcohol so as to not add additional stress to your kidneys.
Reduce your risk of renal disease
Not all those with kidney disease will end up with renal failure. It all comes down to the lifestyle choices that you make such as choosing to control your alcohol intake, abstaining from other drugs such as smoking, eating a healthy and diversified diet, drinking enough water, controlling your body weight and getting enough sleep. If you have other conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, then it is important to keep those under control too.
What will you choose for yourself today? #marsazen.
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Yours in health
The E4OH team