What to Know About Supplements and Your Kidneys

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 03, 2022
4 min read

Getting the right amount of nutrients is an essential part of your diet and is vital for your health. Nutrients supply your body what it needs to properly function daily, such as a boost in energy, improvement in muscles and body tissue, and even help fighting against infections. The right kind of nutrients will also help you remain at a healthy weight.

Protein, minerals, and vitamins are some nutrients that are important to maintaining a healthy body. Many people consume enough nutrients through the food they eat daily, but if you have certain kidney conditions, like kidney disease and kidney failure, your body may be unable to absorb and process the nutrients you eat. Additionally, you may need to avoid certain foods that would typically provide you with these important nutrients, so taking dietary supplements to make up for this lack of nutrients is often a recommended approach to keeping your body healthy. 

Kidney disease is more common than many think. In fact, chronic kidney disease is thought to affect around 1 in 5 men and 1 in 4 women in the U.S. alone. What’s worse is that many individuals who have chronic kidney disease don’t even realize they have it. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, commonly prescribed medicines, and even some dietary supplements can negatively impact the kidneys and cause their function to decline. If you have any sort of condition affecting your kidney, you’re at an even greater risk. 

Because every body is different, it’s recommended to consult your doctor before beginning any new supplement or vitamin regime. You’ll want to discuss with them about the current medications you’re taking, any conditions or diseases you currently have, and your current lifestyle. You may also want to disclose a family history of kidney disease if one is present, and other important factors.  Even if your kidneys are healthy, discussing with your doctor what supplements are right for your diet is important.

There are a wide variety of supplements that you can take, some that may be beneficial to your kidneys, and some that aren’t. With so many supplements on the market, both OTC and prescription-based, it should be no surprise that the supplement industry is a multi-million-dollar industry. Supplements can come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. Some focus on adding just one nutrient to your diet, while others are made to add several in the form of a multivitamin. Additionally, there are many herbal products that can be considered dietary supplements. 

Special supplements exist that are catered to individuals with kidney disease. A prescription is commonly required to get these special supplements because doctors must tailor them to your specific body and condition. This helps you avoid unwanted nutrients that could cause further harm to your kidneys. 

Other commonly recommended supplements include: 

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5) 
  • Folic acid
  • Cobalamin (B12)
  • Pyridoxine (B6)
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A

But there is debate about which of these vitamins are actually beneficial to kidney function.

If you have chronic kidney disease, or any disease or condition that affects the kidneys, it’s important to know when or if you should take kidney supplements. Some doctors recommend taking B complex vitamins as well as vitamin C, but a prescription may be required for your specific dosage. 

If you have anemia due to kidney disease, you may also need to take an iron supplement as a pill or injection. But you should only take iron if your doctor prescribes it. Additionally, some patients have a blood phosphorus level that is too high and may need to use a medicine to help absorb the phosphorous from their food. This may include calcium. 

Some agree that dialysis patients should use supplements. But there are debates on which supplements to use.

You should avoid some supplements if you have unhealthy kidneys, especially if you have chronic kidney disease. These supplements include vitamins A, D, E, and K because they can cause a buildup in your system. When your kidneys are affected by chronic kidney disease, they lose the ability to filter out this additional buildup. Additionally, if you start receiving dialysis, you may need to change the supplements you take. Your doctor can tell you more about what to avoid regarding your specific health and situation. 

Since everyone is different, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They're the only one who can determine which supplements, vitamins, and medications are truly safe for you to take. Additionally, your doctor will perform various tests, like a physical examination, urine test, and blood work, to determine whether your dietary supplement regime is working for you. These tests help your doctor keep an eye on your kidney function too, which can help them adjust your medications if needed. 

Some supplements that you should avoid if you have kidney disease include supplements with:

  • Chromium picolinate 
  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Germanium
  • L-lysine 
  • Larrea tridentate
  • Pausinystalia yohimbe 
  • Salix daphnoides 
  • Thunder god vine
  • Cat’s claw
  • Ephedra 
  • Cranberry 
  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Licorice 

Additionally, you should avoid most herbal supplements for kidney support if you have kidney disease. This is because some herbal products can worsen the disease and impact your kidneys negatively. Herbal supplements may also interfere with other prescription medications, impacting how those medications work. 

Many patients don’t discuss vitamins and supplements with their health care professionals, but it’s important to mention these supplements to your doctor to make sure that you’re not at an increased risk for kidney damage or negative drug interactions.

There's a lot of debate on whether supplements for kidneys work, and if they do, which ones work best. How well they work for you, and if they work for you at all, will depend on a few different factors, including any preexisting health conditions you have, which supplements you’re taking, and if you’re following your doctor’s recommended dosage.