Renal failure can be like the perfect storm brewing. Sometimes it’s a combination of dehydration, sepsis, and poor blood flow through the kidneys due to blood pressure medications or water pills. Then when a potentially toxic herbal product is added to the situation– renal failure presents.
According to recent studies the following herbs have been associated with renal failure. The studies report isolated cases. If these products consistently caused renal failure, then the FDA would probably take action. However, that is not the case. These findings were unexpected occurrences that resulted from unnaturally high doses of natural products.
Natural products in unnatural doses are usually not safe. Here’s what happened.
1.) Turmeric: A 54 yr old man who consumed mega doses of turmeric, 15+ spoonfuls every day for 10 days. He had a kidney transplant and was on tacrolimus to prevent rejection. However, the turmeric prevented the man’s liver from clearing the tacrolimus and the tacrolimus increased to toxic levels and put the man into renal failure. The renal failure was reversed when the turmeric was discontinued and the tacrolimus was held until levels returned to normal. (1)
2.) Lysine: Lysine is an amino acid popular for its antiviral properties. There is a case report of a 44 yr old woman who used high doses of 3,000mg every day for 5 years. She was diagnosed with Fanconi syndrome and tubulointerstitial nephritis and went on to develop chronic renal failure. (2)
3.) Vitamin C: Several reports have been made documented of high doses of vitamin C, 60 grams/day, causing oxalate kidney stones that can deposit in the renal tubules and cause damage. Fortunately, renal failure is reversible with dialysis and supportive care. (2)
4.) Creatine: Creatine is often used in combination with strenuous muscle building. This combination takes a toll on the kidneys, especially when combined with dehydration. In extreme cases, people can develop rhabdomyolysis and die. It usually only happens in susceptible individuals. (2)
5.) Chromium is often used for weight loss. There are three case reports of chromium being involved in renal dysfunction. The kidneys were enlarged and inflamed. The patients all recovered after the chromium was stopped, 2 patients received hemodialysis. And all three received corticosteroids. (2)
Patients often want to help their doctors, and sometimes they prescribe expensive vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements from themselves. But is this really helping the doctors?
Most doctors only use vitamins and minerals to prevent and restore deficiencies. Vitamin deficiencies are often detected with blood tests. The goal is to maintain nutrient levels in a natural optimal range. Levels that are too high or too low can cause health problems.
Herbs such as garlic, turmeric, and cinnamon are healthy in normal amounts consumed in food. However, in pill form, these herbs can alter liver enzymes, thin the blood, and change kidney functions. Poison control centers are full case reports of this happening.
Even medicinal teas can be dangerous as they are oftentimes grown outside the country and contain contaminants. Sometimes the contaminants are heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Sometimes the contaminants are rodent droppings, dander, and hair. Sometimes the herbs are irrigated with sewage and they transmit hepatitis and other viruses. Medwatch is a government-run website that gathers this information.
It is always best to get vitamins from whole foods such as fruits, veggies, milk, yogurt, eggs, beans and nuts. Whole food delivers the perfect amount of vitamins that our bodies need.
1.) Acute Calcineurin Inhibitor Nephrotoxicity Secondary to Turmeric Intake: A Case Report. Nayeri, A. et al. Transplantation Proceedings, Volume 49, Issue 1, 198 – 200
2.) Gabardi S, Munz K, Ulbricht C: A review of dietary supplement-induced renal dysfunction. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2: 757–765, 2007