12+ Best Vitamins and Herbs for Kidneys
Whether you have kidney disease or you want to prevent it, here are the best vitamins and herbs to support kidney function. Find the best food sources and supplements to support kidney health.
Intro to Kidney Health
Your two kidneys are located on either side of your spine, just under your rib cage. Along with your ureters and bladder, they form part of your urinary tract.
The kidneys’ main job is to filter your blood, removing any toxins and turning the waste into urine.
Every day, healthy kidneys filter around 200 liters of fluid and expel one to one and a half liters of urine. This urine then flows along your ureters (two thin tubes) and into your bladder, where it is stored.
Once your kidneys have filtered out the waste and toxic substances from your blood, they return vital substances like vitamins, glucose, and hormones to your bloodstream.
Your kidneys have other important jobs, too. They help maintain the balance of minerals, salts (like potassium and sodium), and water in your blood.
This healthy balance is essential for the efficient function of muscles, nerves, and other tissues throughout your body.
They also make the hormones needed to form blood cells, maintain bone health, and regulate blood pressure.
When the kidneys are not functioning correctly, this hormone production is affected, leading to complications.
For example, if they produce too much renin – the hormone that regulates blood pressure – then blood pressure may increase, potentially leading to hypertension. This explains why many people with kidney disease also have high blood pressure.
Another common problem for sufferers of kidney disease is a higher risk of anemia, triggered by the insufficient production of the hormone needed to produce red blood cells.
Types of Kidney Disease
There are five main types of kidney disease – a term that refers to damage to the kidneys that stops them from operating properly.
Kidney patients may need to see special doctors to to help manage risk factors or adverse effects from kidney disease or injury.
Acute kidney injury
This is a short-term loss of kidney function lasting for no longer than three months.
Also known as acute renal failure, it can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, illness, serious burns, shock, dehydration, excessive bleeding, or certain medications.
Many people make a full recovery from an acute kidney injury, although they will often have their kidney function checked periodically to make sure that everything is working as it should.
If the damage caused to the kidneys is quite significant, however, the risk of chronic kidney disease increases.
Chronic kidney disease
This is the most common form of kidney disease and is a lifelong condition. It means that the damage done to the kidneys is irreversible and is diagnosed when kidney disease has been present for more than three months.
Again, there are a variety of causes, including diabetes, immune disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infection. It’s also a condition that can run in families.
If you are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease then you can generally live a normal life for some time. However, it’s a progressive condition, meaning that the kidneys become less and less able to filter blood efficiently over time.
In some cases, people with chronic kidney disease will eventually need a form of kidney replacement therapy.
These are hard stones – usually made from calcium and oxalate crystals – that form on the kidney’s interior surface.
Also known as renal stones, they develop when the concentration of crystals in your urine is too high, or your body doesn’t have enough of the substances needed to guard against them.
When a stone breaks free from the spot in which it formed, it can stop urine from draining from the kidney properly, leading to intense pain.
People who have already had kidney stones are more likely to get them again. For this reason, doctors like to test the stones in order to determine what caused them and – hopefully – prevent them from recurring.
These tend to occur when an infection in the urinary tract travels up to the kidneys, or – rarely – when an infection reaches the kidneys from another part of the body after surgery.
A kidney infection can also happen when a kidney stone blocks the ureter.
Kidney infections are short-term conditions that can usually be treated quite easily.
There are two different kinds of kidney cysts.
Simple cysts are individual sacs filled with fluid that form on the kidneys but don’t cause any damage or affect the way the kidneys operate.
The cause of simple cysts isn’t fully understood.
Polycystic kidney disease, however, is a genetic condition that causes many cysts to develop in the kidneys, eventually impairing the way they function.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
The symptoms of kidney disease depend very much on the type of kidney disease involved.
Acute kidney injury
Some people with acute kidney injury experience no symptoms at all. Others may experience some or all of the following, although they can vary in severity:
- Puffy eyes
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Swollen ankles
- Chest pain
- Decrease in urination
- Change to urine color
Chronic kidney disease
If you have chronic kidney disease in its early stages, you may not experience any symptoms.
As the damage increases, common symptoms of kidney problems include:
- A build-up of fluid in the body
- Itchy, dry skin
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle cramps
- Blood in the urine
- Needing to urinate more often
Sometimes, people are completely unaware that they have kidney stones and only find out when they show up on an x-ray for another condition!
But when kidney stones are larger – or begin to move about – they can cause a range of symptoms, including
- Pain in the groin, abdomen, and – for men – testicles
- Pain when urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Nausea and vomiting
The symptoms of an infection (below) may also develop.
The symptoms of a kidney infection can be quite similar to those of kidney stones, although you may additionally experience:
- A high temperature
- Cloudy, foul-smelling urine
- A feeling of exhaustion
The symptoms of simple kidney cysts may include:
- Back or abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine
- High temperature
- Frequent urination
Polycystic kidney disease can cause more advanced symptoms in addition to these, including:
- High blood pressure
- A sensation of abdominal fullness
- Increased abdominal size
- Kidney stones
- Kidney infection
- Kidney failure
Conventional Treatments for Kidney Disease
Treatments for kidney disease are dependent on the type of disease involved, with some forms more treatable than others.
Acute kidney injury
Depending on what has caused the kidney injury and how quickly your kidneys are recovering, you may be treated at home or spend a period of time in the hospital.
In some cases, a short course of dialysis might be needed to get your kidneys functioning properly again.
It’s also likely you’ll receive treatments to prevent complications, giving your kidneys the time they need to recover.
These could include medications to regulate potassium, restore your blood calcium levels, and balance the fluids in your blood.
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic kidney disease can’t be reversed, so your doctor will focus on slowing its progress, controlling the symptoms, and preventing complications.
These measures can include medication to control blood pressure, treat anemia, lower your cholesterol levels, reduce swelling, and protect your bones.
In the later stages of the disease when your kidneys begin to fail, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Dialysis is an artificial process that removes waste products and extra fluid from your blood when your kidneys can no longer do it for you.
There are two different kinds – hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
With hemodialysis, the waste products are removed by a machine – a process that needs to take place in a hospital.
With peritoneal dialysis, the waste products are absorbed into a solution that is inserted into the abdomen via a soft, thin tube. This solution is then drained from the body. The entire process can be done at home, making this a better option for many people.
It’s possible to pass very small kidney stones in your urine – sometimes without even noticing – but large stones will probably require hospital treatment.
This could involve the surgical removal of the stones from the kidney, or a procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). This is done on an outpatient basis and involves the use of shock waves to shatter stones and make them easier to pass.
Treatment often involves pain relief, too, as it can be very uncomfortable as the stones move through your body.
You may also be given medication to stop stones from forming in the future.
These are usually treated with antibiotics, sometimes in hospital. Prompt treatment is important, as it reduces the risk of damage to the kidneys.
Surgery is usually only required if the infection is caused by a stone blocking the urinary tract.
Very small cysts probably won’t need any treatment at all, although they are often monitored periodically to make sure they are not growing.
For larger or problematic cysts, there are two options – sclerotherapy or surgery.
Sclerotherapy is an outpatient process that involves draining the cysts, whereas surgical removal of a cyst is performed under general anesthesia.
Acute kidney injury
As your kidneys begin to recover, the focus switches to making dietary changes in order to keep your kidneys functioning well.
A consultation with a dietician is usually required and recommendations often include:
- Consuming foods low in potassium and limiting your intake of high-potassium foods like bananas and potatoes
- Limiting your intake of phosphorous, found in foods like nuts and whole grain bread
- Avoiding foods with added salt
In some cases, these restrictions will only be needed temporarily and when your kidneys are completely healed you can return to a normal diet.
Chronic kidney disease
There is no natural treatment for chronic kidney disease, but there are things you can do to slow its progress and prevent complications.
- Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet with essential vitamins
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting your salt intake to around 1 teaspoon per day
- Moderating your alcohol intake
- Managing your weight
Your dietitian or kidney doctor may recommend eating less protein in order to reduce the number of waste products in your blood.
There are no natural treatments for kidney stones. However, there are steps you can take to try to stop them from recurring.
Potentially the most important step is to enjoy a balanced diet rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that people who experience kidney stones tend to have low antioxidant levels.
Dietary fiber can help, too, as can plenty of water (ideally 6 to 8 glasses per day).
Limit your intake of refined foods (like white bread and pasta), along with trans fatty acids, alcohol, and coffee. You should also try to keep your sodium and sugar intake as low as possible and avoid foods that contain oxalates.
The buildup of oxalates can lead to the formation of calcium oxalate stones and are found in foods like rhubarb, beets, spinach, nuts, beans, and strawberries.
A kidney infection needs to be treated promptly using conventional medicine, but to improve your kidney function and avoid infections in the future, try:
- Drinking plenty of water or cranberry juice
- Taking probiotics
- Avoiding coffee and alcohol
- Eating vitamin C-rich foods and consuming apples, which are great for preventing inflammation
While there is no natural treatment for kidney cysts, drinking lots of water and watching your salt intake can help reduce the risk of them developing.
Eating grapefruit can also be helpful. This is because it contains a flavonoid called naringenin, which has been found to inhibit cyst growth.
Best Vitamins for Kidneys
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and helps reduce inflammation. Since chronic kidney disease is associated with inflammation, a diet containing sufficient vitamin C can have a protective effect.
Indeed, these benefits were noted in a study looking at the use of Vitamin C to prevent kidney injury in patients with COVID-19.
Vitamin C has also been shown to help guard against kidney cancer.
The best sources of this nutrient are fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables like carrots and broccoli.
However, you need to be careful with taking too much vitamin C intake if you already have kidney disease, because too much can cause a build-up of oxalate in your body. This can potentially lead to kidney stones and other problems.
The amount of vitamin C you get from your diet is not usually enough to cause this problem, but supplementation with high doses of vitamin C supplements could be an issue. Therefore, it’s important to discuss your vitamin C intake with your doctor if your kidney function is impaired.
2. Vitamin D
The main role of vitamin D is to help your body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health.
We get vitamin D from two sources – exposure to sunlight, and food.
And the kidneys play a very important part in the process, as they convert the vitamin D from these sources into a form our bodies can use.
Chronic kidney disease is associated with very low levels of vitamin D, a problem compounded by the fact that damaged kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D effectively. This can result in muscle weakness and may cause the bones to soften.
Studies have shown that treatment with vitamin D can be helpful for patients with chronic kidney disease, whether in the early stages or at the point dialysis is required.
The best dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish like salmon and mackerel, red meat, liver, eggs, and fortified products like cereal and milk.
You should speak to your doctor before taking a vitamin D supplement, however, as too much vitamin D can actually damage the kidneys.
3. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 has a range of important roles in the body, supporting the nervous and immune systems while promoting brain development.
It is found in a variety of foods, including liver, oily fish, garbanzo beans, poultry, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, and fruits like papayas, bananas, and oranges.
Usually, our diets provide all the vitamin B6 we need, but people with existing kidney disease – or those with difficulties absorbing the nutrients from foods – might need a supplement.
That’s because they are far more likely to be vitamin B6 deficient.
A deficiency in vitamin B6 can lead to anemia – a lack of healthy red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to the body’s tissues. It can also cause depression, confusion, and a weakened immune system.
A large intake of vitamin B6 is also associated with a reduced risk of kidney stone formation in women.
Ask your doctor about supplementing with vitamin B or a blend of B vitamins including pantothenic acid.
4. Vitamin B12
An adequate intake of vitamin B12 isn’t directly connected to kidney health, but it’s a useful nutrient for general wellness. It helps make DNA and red blood cells, while also supporting the development and function of nerve and brain cells.
However, there is one way in which it can contribute to kidney health, and that’s by reducing the risk of pernicious anemia – a condition that often causes mild damage to the kidneys.
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal-based foods like liver, red meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, and dairy products.
But it can also be obtained from fortified products like nutritional yeast, soy or rice milk, and cereals, which are good options for anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps protect the kidneys from damage by “free radicals” – unstable atoms that can cause aging and disease.
It also gives the immune system a boost and can help prevent clots from forming in the arteries of the heart.
What’s more, vitamin E therapy can be useful in preventing the formation of kidney stones.
There are lots of foods rich in vitamin E. These include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sunflower, safflower, soybean, and wheat germ oils
- Leafy greens like spinach, beet greens, and collard greens
- Red bell peppers
Studies have shown just how useful vitamin E can be in preventing kidney damage or improving kidney function, and experts in Iran found that a higher dietary intake of vitamin E reduced the risk of chronic kidney disease.
Ask you healthcare provider about the best vitamin E vitamin supplement for you.
6. Vitamin K
This fat-soluble vitamin comes in two different forms – phylloquinone (the main form) that you get from green leafy vegetables – and menaquinones that you’ll find in fermented foods and some animal foods.
Vitamin K plays an important part in building bones and helps make the proteins needed for blood clotting so that wounds heal properly.
There is evidence that low vitamin K levels can lead to the progression of chronic kidney disease and may also be associated with the cardiovascular and bone complications that tend to accompany it.
In addition, a separate study shows that Vitamin K can help inhibit the growth of kidney stones.
Folate is a B vitamin that helps metabolize protein, form DNA, break down homocysteine (an amino acid that can be harmful in large amounts), and produce healthy red blood cells.
Furthermore, it has been shown to be helpful in preventing the progression of chronic kidney disease in people with mild to moderate forms of the condition.
Folic acid in the form of folate is present in lots of different foods, including green leafy vegetables, beans, whole grains, sunflower seeds, peanuts, fresh fruit, and eggs.
It is also added to common foods like bread and pasta, and sold in supplementary form as folic acid. Your doctor might recommend folic acid if your levels are low, as our bodies absorb it better than the folate from foods.
Dandelion leaves have traditionally been used to help keep the kidneys healthy. While there’s not a whole lot of scientific evidence to prove their benefits, there have been a couple of interesting studies.
One showed that dandelion leaf extract helped protect the kidneys from injury induced by Cisplatin, an anticancer drug that often causes kidney damage.
Another looked at how dandelion leaves act as a diuretic, increasing the flow of urine. Although it was a very small study, results showed that people produced more urine within five hours of taking a dandelion extract.
Increased urination can be helpful in flushing the kidneys and reducing the deposit of crystals in the urinary tract, thereby preventing the formation of kidney stones.
Dandelion leaves are rich in antioxidants, too, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
To enjoy the benefits of dandelion, you can simply use the leaves in a salad – they have a peppery flavor, similar to arugula. You can also try sautéing them in olive oil, which reduces their bitterness a little, or steeping them in water to make tea.
You may also benefit from dandelion dietary supplements, but you should ask your doctor about it.
Antioxidant-rich nettle leaves can be useful to the kidneys in a number of ways.
They are a natural diuretic, helping increase the urinary output and flushing the kidneys to prevent the accumulation of crystals.
They help stimulate the lymphatic system, which supports the kidneys in their job of removing toxins from the body.
They also help reduce inflammation, which can be an important factor in controlling the progression of kidney disease.
Nettle leaves are usually consumed cooked, or steeped in water to make tea. But you should check with your doctor before trying them, as they are not suitable for everyone and may interfere with blood pressure medication.
You can also take nettles as nutritional supplements.
Astragalus is an herb, used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and is believed to help boost immunity, protect the heart, and reduce inflammation.
It’s a herb that has been quite well studied in terms of how it can benefit the kidneys, and there have been some promising results.
This research – published in 2022 – revealed that astragalus root can be helpful for patients with chronic kidney disease, although it was noted that further studies are necessary to confirm its safety for long-term use.
An older study found that astragalus-based medicine helped preserve kidney function for patients undergoing dialysis.
Astragalus has also been shown to help prevent infections in people whose kidney function is impaired.
There are various ways to consume astragalus root. You can use it to make tea (you can even buy astragalus teabags), take capsules, or mix the powdered root with smoothies or oatmeal.
Turmeric root contains a pigment called curcumin which has long been revered for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
These make it useful in supporting kidney health and slowing the progression of chronic kidney disease, although one of the biggest problems is its low bioavailability.
This means that our bodies have difficulty absorbing it, so we don’t reap as many benefits from it as we should.
One way to boost the bioavailability of curcumin is by combining it with piperine, an alkaloid present in black pepper. So if you’re cooking with turmeric, mixing it with oils and freshly ground black pepper will help increase the amount of curcumin you consume.
Similarly, look for turmeric supplements that list piperine as an ingredient.
However, you need to speak to your doctor before taking curcumin supplements, as studies have shown that they can increase the levels of oxalate in your urine, potentially leading to the formation of kidney stones.
12. Milk thistle
Milk thistle seeds have traditionally been used in medicine for many years, mainly as a treatment for diseases of the liver and the gallbladder.
But milk thistle can be very useful in supporting kidney health too.
Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it has been found to help reduce the risk of diabetic patients developing complications like kidney disease.
There have also been studies of silymarin – an extract from the dried seeds and fruits of the milk thistle plant. Silymarin concentrates in the cells of the kidneys, helping repair and regenerate them.
Be sure to check with your doctor before taking milk thistle. Since it acts on the liver, it can interfere with a range of medications. It can also be unsafe for people with a sensitivity to ragweed or a history of hormone-related cancers.
FAQs About Kidney Supplements
It is possible to take too many vitamins which may damage kidneys. Taking too many vitamins – particularly vitamins A, E, and K – can cause them to build up in your body.
This can result in symptoms like dizziness and nausea and may potentially cause damage to your kidneys.Vitamin C can be problematic, too, possibly leading to a build-up of oxalate that can stay in the bones and soft tissues, causing pain.Always speak to your doctor before taking vitamin supplements.
Vitamins may not be able to completely prevent kidney disease and conventional treatments are necessary when kidney damage is present.
However, the vitamins listed here can certainly help support your kidneys, slow the progression of kidney disease, and prevent any complications from developing.
Everybody’s circumstances are unique and there may be reasons why some supplements would be suitable for you, and others unsafe.
For that reason, it’s very important to talk to your doctor before taking vitamin supplements if you have kidney disease.
Generally speaking, the foods richest in vitamins for kidney health include fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish, eggs, liver, red meat, and whole grains.
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Your kidneys are important, life-sustaining organs, so it’s essential to consume a range of vitamins to help them function effectively. The vitamins and herbs listed in this guide are the best for supporting the health of your kidneys, whether you want to guard against damage or put the brakes on the progression of existing kidney disease.
About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with over 10 million annual visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.