The kidney is a vital organ in the body; it helps filter extra body fluids out of the body, cleans the blood of any toxins, controls blood pressure, manufactures a hormone that is responsible for making red blood cells, makes vitamin D and maintains a safe level of electrolytes like potassium. Humans have two kidneys but most people can survive even with one kidney. However, if the kidneys malfunction or are damaged from any number of causes, then the individual will not be able to excrete water (urine) from the body and fluid as well as toxins will start to build up. The bones may become weak and the production of red blood cells may decrease. Without treatment, kidney disease can lead to death. When the kidneys fail, the only treatment is dialysis, which is not only prohibitively expensive but is also associated with a significant number of life-threatening complications.
What are the common causes of kidney disease?
There are many causes of kidney disease but the two most common are diabetes and high blood pressure. Other causes of kidney disease include:
- Trauma to the kidneys
- Use of certain medications (NSAIDs)
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
How is kidney disease classified?
Kidney disease is usually classified as acute (meaning recent and short-term) and chronic (long-standing). In most cases of acute kidney disease, if the cause is treated, recovery is ensured. For example, if your kidney starts to malfunction because of dehydration, then replenishment with fluids will help restore kidney function. In another scenario, if you have an infection of the kidney, it can be managed with antibiotics. On the other hand, chronic kidney disease is usually caused by poorly controlled blood pressure and diabetes. The condition cannot be reversed but medical treatment can help prevent its progression. In most cases, life long treatment is required if chronic kidney disease has been diagnosed.
How do you know if you have kidney disease?
If you have kidney disease, initially you may have no symptoms but in almost all cases, symptoms will appear if the condition is left untreated. The symptoms include:
- Severe itching and dry skin
- Urine that is cloudy and frothy
- More frequent urination
- Swelling around the face and legs
- Fatigue and malaise
- Skin discoloration
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of taste
- Poor sleep
- Muscle cramps
How is the diagnosis of kidney disease made?
The diagnosis of kidney disease is not difficult. The healthcare provider will obtain a history, examine you, and order blood work, which will immediately reveal not only the presence of kidney disease but the extent. The treatment will then depend on the cause. For example, if you have high blood pressure you will be prescribed medications to lower your blood pressure; if you have high blood sugars as a result of diabetes, you will be prescribed medications to lower the sugar. The treatments are usually for life and require constant monitoring by the healthcare provider.
In many cases of chronic kidney disease, the individual may fail to make urine and eventually end up on dialysis. Losing the function of a kidney is not a trivial matter- not only does this also increase the risk of premature heart disease but it can also lead to many metabolic and biochemical alterations like weakening of bone, dry skin, confusion, and fluid retention. Plus, the treatment of any kidney disease is also prohibitively expensive.
How can one prevent kidney disease?
One of the top supplements widely touted as helping prevent kidney disease is garlic. For those who are at risk for kidney disease or want to prevent kidney disease, garlic may be a viable option.
History of Garlic
Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used as a flavoring agent in cooking for centuries. At the same time, it has earned itself a solid reputation as a medicinal herb. Garlic belongs to the genus allium which is closely related to the scallion, onion, leek, shallot, and chive. Historical records reveal that Egyptians were using garlic both for culinary and medicinal properties for thousands of years.
From ancient Egypt, the health benefits of garlic quickly spread to Europe and the Indus valley (the area between India and Pakistan). From here, the herb was translocated to China. European explorers (both the French and the Portuguese) first introduced the Europeans to garlic in the 15th century. To make the story short, garlic is now grown in most tropical countries. It is easy to grow in large quantities and exported to almost all Western and European countries from Africa and Asia.
Over the centuries, garlic has been used by almost every culture for its health benefits. Today many individuals regularly consume both raw and cooked garlic to prevent a wide range of medical disorders.
Throughout its history, garlic has been used to treat health conditions like diarrhea, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, bronchitis, intestinal worms, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, and liver problems. Over the years, it became obvious that garlic not only cures many health problems but it can also help prevent a few medical disorders as well.
Today garlic is commonly used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, and the prevention of many cancers.
What are the important ingredients in garlic?
Garlic contains many important substances; it is rich in vitamins (B1, B6, C), manganese, selenium, copper, calcium, sulfur, phosphorus and allicin. It is believed that the allicin, a therapeutic substance, plays a vital role in promoting the health benefits of garlic. Also, both selenium and vitamin C are potent antioxidants. These substances all work in unison and are able to detoxify foreign toxins, lower high cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and dissolve excess blood sugar.
How does garlic work?
The exact method of how garlic works in treating health problems is not known but it is believed that the herb does contain many substances that have antioxidant properties. In addition, garlic has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Many disease processes occur because of oxidation and generation of free radicals. The antioxidants in garlic scavenge these free radicals and neutralize the toxins, thus preventing disease. The anti-inflammatory actions help reduce pain, fever, redness, and swelling. Many publications have shown that garlic can lower blood pressure, reduce blood sugars, lower blood cholesterol, and decrease the process of atherosclerosis- all vital steps for preventing kidney disease.
How does garlic protect the kidneys?
There are two ways in which garlic protects the kidneys from damage. These include: 1) direct protection and 2) secondary protection by acting on the blood circulation.
Garlic protects the kidneys directly because of its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; these mechanisms prevent injury or infection to the kidney. Secondly, garlic also protects the kidneys because of its effects on the cardiovascular system, lipids, and blood sugars-all of which, if left uncontrolled, can lead to kidney damage. Garlic has the ability to lower blood pressure, which also helps reduce damage to the kidneys. Besides, by lowering blood sugar, garlic prevents the damaging effects of diabetes on the kidneys.
Further, garlic has anti-inflammatory properties that prevent the development and progression of atherosclerosis in the blood vessels that help supply the kidneys; this results in more effective blood pressure control and more efficient clearing of fluid and waste products from the circulation.
What else can one do to protect the kidneys?
It is important for the public to understand that preventing kidney disease is not simple. There is no magic potion that can prevent all the things that can go wrong with the kidneys. Even though garlic is a great supplement, it has limitations. Thus, in order to maximize the benefits of garlic, it is vital to change one’s lifestyle and undertake the following steps:
- Eat healthy: if you want to prevent kidney disease, start eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and fiber. Avoid too much red meat; instead, opt for seafood. Do not eat more than 1,800-2,000 calories a day and limit the intake of sugar and salt.
- Exercise: In order to prevent high blood pressure and diabetes- both of which can cause kidney damage, start a regular program of physical activity. Any exercise is better than no activity at all. Even walking is a great exercise as long as it is done regularly. Walk for 30-45 minutes every day and maintain a healthy weight. Walking will allow you to enjoy nature, relax your mind, lower your blood pressure and blood sugar and decrease fat. The great thing about walking is that the benefits will be sustained for years to come.
- Avoid certain medications that can cause kidney damage. Drugs like NSAIDs (e.g., aspirin, Celebrex, ibuprofen) can all cause severe damage to the kidneys if they are taken in high doses and for a prolonged period. Check with your healthcare provider which medications to avoid to prevent kidney disease.
- Discontinue smoking; there is no medical benefit from tobacco; in fact, nicotine is associated with rapid progression of atherosclerosis, which can worsen kidney function. The best advice, stop smoking.
- If you have been diagnosed with kidney disease, remain compliant with your prescribed medications. For example, if you have high blood pressure or diabetes and have been prescribed medications, you MUST take them as ordered by the doctor. The reason for this is that good control of blood pressure and diabetes will prevent progression of kidney disease, and save you from a future on dialysis.
How should I take garlic to prevent kidney disease?
Garlic is available in many formulations but there is no universal dose that has been established to prevent kidney disease. Garlic is available as a capsule, powder, flakes, or a paste. The selection of garlic supplements is all a matter of personal preference. Experts recommend starting with the highest dose of garlic.
Once you start taking garlic, it is important to follow up with a healthcare provider to ensure that your blood pressure is controlled and your blood sugars are within normal limits. In some cases, you may have to adjust the garlic dosage to obtain better control of your blood pressure and blood sugar.
How long can I use garlic to prevent kidney disease?
Garlic has withstood the test of time; it has been proven to be a very safe herb and thus it can be taken for many years without developing any adverse reactions.
What type of garlic formula should I buy?
There are many manufacturers of garlic and unfortunately, the quality and quantity of garlic do vary. So it is vital that you buy the garlic from a reputable source. Read the label, check out the reviews, and only buy a small quantity to ensure that it works. Once you know that the garlic formula works, just stick to that particular brand. Or better still, speak to a Naturopath and herbal specialist on how and where to buy the best garlic supplement.
One can also consume fresh garlic which is readily available all year round in most grocery stores in North America. The fresh garlic is considerably less costly than the supplements. A clove of garlic every day is recommended. You may divide the clove into the pieces and take it with your meals. The garlic should be consumed fresh. Cooked garlic usually results in the destruction of the essential substances in garlic and loss of medicinal benefits.
How does one deal with garlic odor?
For those who are worried about the garlic odor, there are garlic formulas available that are odorless. These formulas are made from aged garlic, but these supplements are also less potent when it comes to the lowering of blood pressure and blood sugar.
What are the adverse effects of garlic?
For the most part, garlic is well tolerated by most people, both adults and children. The spice has stood the test of time and is relatively free of adverse effects. However, people who are allergic to garlic or to the allium family should not take this spice or they risk suffering an allergic reaction. The most common side effect of garlic is foul breath. Fortunately, the bad odor of garlic is transient and can be reduced by rinsing the mouth after consumption.
How long does one have to take garlic to prevent kidney disease?
In order to derive the health benefits of garlic, it is important to take it regularly. One may consume the garlic fresh or use it in food. There are also garlic supplements available on the market but it is important to read labels before buying. Avoid supplements that contain many preservatives and salt. It is important to understand that preventing kidney disease with garlic is not a one-shot deal, the herb has to be taken for several weeks to see the health benefits but to sustain the protective effects on the kidney, long term use of garlic is recommended.
It is important that everyone who wants to prevent kidney disease and help it understands that garlic is only a complementary treatment; it is not a substitute for treatment prescribed by the healthcare provider. Of course, you can take garlic with almost all prescribed medications, but it is important to tell your provider so that any potential interactions are avoided.