Health Supplements May Be Harming Your Kidneys

 S. Adam Ramin

THE SUPPOSED HEALTH benefits of drinking alkaline water are buzzy right now. Many are attracted by the jazzy marketing claims from manufacturers that this "enhanced" water is better than regular, old-fashioned water. So is there anything to these claims?

I'll save you the suspense: The answer is no.

Here's the thing about the human body, and in this case the kidneys as its "filtration system." If it's healthy and you take proper care of it, it's going to work well to keep you functioning optimally – all by itself. No enhanced "stuff" necessary.

I know that can be hard to read – that if we do the straightforward things we've been told repeatedly for decades (drink enough water, eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables and get a moderate amount of exercise most days a week) – it will usher our bodies into a lifetime of wellness. But it's true. There's no substitute for these things. You won't find a miracle in a fancy bottle of water, and you won't see it in nutritional supplements, either. Sometimes, you'll actually find the opposite: health risks and damage.

Thinking about enhanced water and its possible effects on the kidneys makes me also think of the nutrition supplements many people take to "optimize" their health. Because the majority of these supplements can be purchased over-the-counter, they often don't register in the minds of the public as things that need to be discussed with a physician. In fact, studies have shown that many patients fail to report which supplements they're taking and the exact dosage to their health care providers. That may be because the patient doesn't even consider the supplement worth mentioning – a harmless "vitamin," as it were.

But I can tell you that everything you put into your body is noticed by your kidneys. They process and filter. And if they aren't 100 percent healthy or you're at risk for a kidney condition, the result can be catastrophic. Some herbs found in certain dietary supplements have been clinically associated with kidney damage, for example, even in people who have "healthy" kidney function. These supplements aren't Food and Drug Administration-regulated. In fact, their makers don't have to prove their products are safe for consumption, and these products aren't tested for ingredient quality.

If some supplements alone can put a person at risk for kidney damage, so too can they cause adverse reactions to other medications or supplements you may already be taking. For example, certain supplements can cause medical problems in people who are already taking diuretics (also known as water pills, usually as blood thinners) or ACE inhibitor medications for the treatment of heart disease.

The only surefire way to know if the supplement you're considering is "safe" for you is to discuss it with your doctor. He or she knows about your health history and any conditions you may already be dealing with, as well as which medications you're currently taking and how those might interact with the supplements you're considering. I know the advice to "talk to your doctor" can be annoying when you're standing in the local vitamin shop and reading a label about how – insert name of product here – is going to make you – insert significant health benefit here – but taking it without first talking to your doc is a mistake, plain and simple.

Especially for people who have a pre-existing kidney condition, reduced kidney function or have been told they are at risk for a kidney issue, talking to your doctor before taking that cool new dietary supplement could save your life. And for everyone else, these orders still stand – talk to your doctor first. He or she is likely to tell you that you don't need the thing you're considering taking and that taking vitamins and minerals in the form of real, whole foods will get you there in a healthier and less risky way. Your job is simple: Listen and give it a shot. And you may discover that you'll be healthier because of it.

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