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Alcohol has become a part of many cultures across the world. Its presence is mandatory in almost every social event, whether a happy or a sad one. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two out of every three adult Americans drink alcohol. Sometimes, these regular drinkers may party a little too hard, drinking up to five or more drinks at a time. A quarter of these drinkers have reportedly engaged in such binge drinking sessions at least once a year. Regardless of the pattern of use, drinking always leads to multiple dangerous consequences, one of which includes damage to the kidneys.
Read Also : Signs Your Liver Is Healing From Alcohol
Understanding and exploring the relationship between kidney disease and alcohol is imperative to know how to take charge of the health and protect these organs along with other cells in the body. Moreover, it helps people recognize the common signs of alcohol-induced kidney damage and learn when to seek professional help.
Understanding the Kidneys
To understand the relationship between alcohol and kidneys, it is imperative to understand what kidneys are, how they work, and their purpose. The kidneys describe a set of two bean-shaped organs, one on each side of the spine just below the rib cage. Their main function is to get rid of extra fluid from the body in addition to removing toxic waste before it harms the cells. The kidneys also maintain an optimal balance of salts, water, and minerals in the blood while removing acid produced by the body cells. Some other key functions of the kidneys that are at risk of compromise due to heavy alcohol consumption include the following:
- Maintaining electrolyte balance
- Removing drugs from the body
- Controlling red blood cells synthesis
- Activating vitamin D
- Controlling blood pressure
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Kidneys?
Drinking has been known to affect multiple organs of the body, including the kidneys.  Following are some ways in which any alcoholic beverage can reduce the efficiency and working of these kidney-shaped organs:
The kidneys are responsible for filtering out harmful substances from the blood, one of which includes alcohol. Alcohol can directly impact the kidneys, changing their functions and reducing their efficiency in filtering the blood. With poor filtration, alcohol accumulates in the body, further damaging the kidney.
The kidneys are also responsible for maintaining the right amount of water in the body. Since alcohol is a diuretic that expels water from the body, it causes dehydration which also affects the normal functions of cells in the kidneys.
Blood Pressure Imbalances
Individuals who drink excessively often have high blood pressure. This high blood pressure is considered a common contributor to kidney disease. While there are plenty of good medications to keep high blood pressure under control, alcohol can also interact with these medications to reduce their efficacy.  Hence, it is crucial to be honest with your healthcare professional about your pattern of drinking so that they can find out the best course of treatment for you.
Chronic alcohol use can also impact the liver, which further burdens the kidneys. The body keeps a close eye on the blood flow to the kidneys so that the set of organs can continue filtering the blood optimally. When a person acquires liver disease due to alcohol intake, this important balancing act starts to deteriorate, causing disruptions in kidney functions. The United States currently has thousands of people who abuse alcohol and are struggling with liver disease and its consequent kidney dysfunction.
Early and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Kidneys
According to the National Kidney Foundation, heavy alcohol consumption can damage the kidneys over time. While this damage may not be noticeable in the beginning, it may begin appearing as the kidneys start getting overworked due to constant alcohol intake. They may find it difficult to maintain the correct water balance and filter blood as efficiently as they used to, leading to the following symptoms:
- Kidney pain
- Change in urination
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of the ankles, legs, and feet secondary to fluid retention
In the long run, alcohol consumption starts dehydrating the body, severely affecting the kidney. Poor kidney function also causes blood pressure irregularities and other issues, leading to chronic kidney disease (CKD).  As CKD develops, it may impact the liver to complicate the ongoing renal issues further. CKD also ends up impacting almost every organ of the body and may require dialysis or a renal transplant at some point.
Chronic Kidney Disease and Alcohol: Four Key Considerations to Safe Drinking
According to experts, one drink of alcohol may translate to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. While having an occasional drink or two does not cause much harm to someone with efficiently working kidneys, people with chronic kidney disease can take a severe hit, even if they are consuming alcohol moderately. Such people must remember certain tips to minimize any more damage to their kidneys if they wish to keep drinking with CKD. These tips include the following:
Keep tabs on your fluid intake
The kidneys are responsible for maintaining the water balance in the body. Hence people living with chronic kidney disease must take care of consuming the right amount of liquids as their kidneys are not as efficient at removing them as a normal person. If such people consume too much water or other liquids, they may develop a fluid overload, leading to serious health issues. If such people enjoy drinking, the amount of alcohol they consume must also be factored in while maintaining the right fluid balance. Because alcohol is a natural diuretic, it works by removing water from the body, leading to dehydration. Hence, consuming alcohol can bring additional challenges to maintaining fluid balance for someone struggling with chronic kidney disease. So ensure that you adjust your daily liquid intake by taking alcohol into account on days when you have consumed one or more drinks.
Watch out for what medications you use
People struggling with chronic kidney disease are often on long-term medications to manage overall health. Sometimes, they may also be taking additional tablets to control co-existing diseases, like diabetes or blood pressure. Since alcohol can interact with some of these medicines, mixing them is not a good idea. Discuss with your doctor the potential interactions that can occur if you drink alcohol on your current medications and be mindful of them.
Regulate your blood sugar
High blood sugars can often target and negatively impact the kidneys and their blood vessels. Hence, people struggling with CKD must pay attention to their glycemic control and ensure that their blood sugars remain within normal limits to protect the kidneys. Unfortunately, drinking can impact blood sugars, causing imbalances as alcohol has high carbohydrate levels. Moreover, some people also like to mix their alcohol with sweeteners or juices, which further irregulates their blood sugars.
Stay in touch with a renal dietitian
Keep in touch with a kidney doctor and a renal dietitian to ensure that they are up-to-date with your progress and can provide tailored advice accordingly. These professionals can also plan personalized guidance based on a person’s alcohol consumption, current health status, and dietary needs. They can also help answer any queries and clear out confusion so that you are familiar with your condition.
Kidneys and Alcohol: When to Talk to a Professional?
If you have been consuming alcohol heavily or regularly, watch out for the following signs and consider seeking professional help as soon as possible if they appear:
- Pain in the kidneys
- Blood in urine
- Fever with kidney pain
- Burning sensations while urinating
- Confusion or loss of consciousness
If you have already been taking medication for a kidney issue, such as kidney cancer, or planned to undergo a kidney removal procedure, talk to a doctor about how much alcohol you can safely consume during treatment. Depending on your alcohol consumption and pattern of use, a doctor may refer you to an alcohol rehab under the suspicion of alcohol use disorder.
How long do I have to drink to experience the effect of alcohol on my kidneys?
Although rare, binge drinking can sometimes lead to acute kidney injury or failure. Permanent damage, also known as chronic kidney disease, usually happens with longer periods of heavy drinking. The exact amount of time a person would take to develop kidney damage can vary depending on their alcohol consumption, genetics, and general health.
Can kidneys recover from alcohol damage?
A timely diagnosis can help people manage their alcohol-induced kidney damage in time through medication and diet. However, in some cases, the damage might be irreversible. Especially in cases where the kidneys are slowly progressing toward complete failure, you may need regular dialysis or a transplant.
Can I drink occasionally if I have cancer of the kidneys?
While occasional drinking is okay for people with kidney cancer, it can worsen the side effects of certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. People with ongoing treatment who do not stop drinking alcohol may experience extreme nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea, or dehydration. The best thing to do is ask your doctor for more tailored advice.
Can alcohol reduce the risk of cancer?
Most people know that alcohol can increase the risk of several types of cancers, such as cancers of the liver, breast, colon, and mouth. However, the latest research has suggested that the risk of acquiring kidney cancer may be lower for someone drinking alcohol. While the association is unclear, experts warn that the benefits of drinking still do not outweigh the risks, so it is best to avoid alcohol consumption or keep it minimal.
How much alcohol can I safely drink with renal issues?
According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol must be avoided where possible due to its high potential to cause cancer. People who are already struggling with renal cancer may still be at risk of developing new types of cancer. If you still wish to drink, try limiting your daily intake to no more than one drink per day.
Is alcohol bad for stage 3 kidney disease?
Even though alcohol does not directly or solely damage the kidneys, it is still a good idea to limit alcohol intake as much as possible and seek tailored advice regarding safe levels of alcohol based on your current kidney function tests.
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