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Kidney Failure —The Unknown Epidemic

Posted Jun 16 2009 7:19pm

Most of us are aware of all the health problems that can result from insulin resistance like heart dialysis  disease, diabetes, and hypertension,  But lost in the shuffle is another silent killer that is on the rise — chronic kidney disease. At LMI we’ve noticed a growing number of patients with kidney problems.

Our experience reflects both a national and international trend.  Kidney disease is increasing in young and old alike in the U.S. and around the world. 1,2 And that’s why I feel compelled to warn you about it — and tell you how to keep your kidneys healthy.

Here’s some background. You have two kidneys, whose job is to remove wastes from the blood and to excrete them via urine; they then return cleaned blood to the body. The kidneys keep water and minerals at healthy levels and produce important hormones.

When the kidneys are diseased, they can’t efficiently filter out wastes and excess fluids. As the disease progresses, urine production decreases and eventually stops. At that point you need dialysis — a process in which the blood is filtered via either a machine or fluids that can be held in the abdominal cavity.

The primary causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. Indeed, obesity triples your risk, 3 and the damage to kidneys from high blood sugar or blood pressure can occur even at the pre-disease stages.

So the first steps for protecting your kidneys are obvious: control your weight, blood sugar and blood pressure.  It is also important to keep yourself well hydrated. If you do that, you should have a very good chance of retaining good kidney function into your old age.

However, there are other factors that could be playing just as important a role in the health of your kidneys, and most people don’t know a thing about them.  Environmental chemicals and heavy metals damage kidney tissue and so can common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.

For example, a study has found that a group of Central Americans who don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure is nevertheless experiencing high rates of kidney failure. 5 The suspected cause: agricultural chemicals.

Heavy metals from the environment can also accumulate in the kidneys and can damage them. 4 We are exposed to heavy metals like cadmium, mercury and lead everyday from mercury in our fish, cadmium in our air, and lead in our pipes for example.

Common OTC painkillers such as acetaminophen and aspirin have also been linked to kidney disease. 5 One study looked at people with end-stage kidney failure and found that heavier acetaminophen use increases the risk of kidney failure, with the heaviest use of 5000 or more pills over several years more than doubling one’s risk.  In fact, about 10% of kidney failure is from acetaminophen use. 6

Here are some ways to protect yourself.  First, be very careful not to overuse acetaminophen.  I see so many people making this big mistake, never realizing that it is compromising their kidneys.  If you have daily headaches, get to a practitioner who can help you get to their root cause, but don’t think for a minute that daily pain reliever is not seriously affecting you.

If you do need to use it, take some N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a supplement that is given in cases of acetaminophen overdose. This is a powerful antioxidant derived from the amino acid cysteine, which is found in foods. NAC increases levels of the natural antioxidant glutathione, especially in the liver where glutathione also helps to detoxify the body of toxins like heavy metals and pesticides.

I highly recommend NAC for those who regularly take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and usually recommend 600 to1200 mg per day.

To protect yourself against heavy metals, there are several other substance that have been shown to facilitate their removal from the body:

  • Vitamin C.  Vitamin C also increases glutathione production, helping to detoxify and remove heavy metals including mercury and lead from the body. I recommend 1-2 g of vitamin C daily.
  • Cilantro ( Coriandrum sativum). Cilantro has been shown to help with detoxification of lead and mercury. Try to include cilantro as an herb in salads, soups, and pestos to help rid your body of mercury and other toxins. 
  • Aged Garlic Extract ( Allium sativum). Components found in aged garlic extract help balance the immune system and detoxify the body by activating the antioxidants glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Aged garlic activates Phase 2 enzymes in the liver which protect the body from potential carcinogens.  The typical dosage is 600 mg once or twice a day.

Chronic kidney failure comes on slowly and silently so I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to take good care of your kidneys.  Since kidney disease can be hard to stop once it is set into motion, this is one condition where prevention is vitally important.


  1. “USRDS 2008 Annual Data Report: Atlas of Chronic Kidney Disease and End-Stage Renal Disease in the United States.” NIH 2008.
  2. J Hypertens. 2005 Oct;23(10):1771-6.
  3. Science Daily. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from
  5. Nephron Physiology. 2005 99(4): 105-110.
  6. N Engl J Med. 2001 Dec 20;345(25):1801-8.
  7. Acta Biomed. 2005;76 Suppl 2:58-67.
  8. NEJM. 1994. 331 (24):1675-79.

[ Ed. Note: James LaValle is the founding Director of the LaValle Metabolic Institute, one of the largest integrative medicine practices in the country.  Dr. LaValle is the author of The Metabolic Code Diet: Unleashing the Power of Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss and Vitality and the Executive Editor of THB’s The Healing Prescription.  To learn more, click here.]

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