Diet and Nutrition

Supplements and Herbs: Should I Take Them When I Am on Dialysis?

January 11, 2017   /

My doctor told me I have kidney disease. Can I treat it naturally with herbs, instead of with medicine?
Natural treatment of kidney disease sounds like a good idea, but use caution! While an herb may seem healthier to you than a prescription medicine, it might actually harm your health.

But if herbs are all natural, aren’t they safe?
It is true that the word “natural” may make you think a product is better for you, but just because a product is labeled natural, does not mean it is safe. In fact, when it comes to food and nutrition supplement labels, natural is not well defined and has no real meaning. A natural product is not necessarily better or healthier for you.

It is true that many herbs are safely used to promote health, prevent disease, and even treat some diseases. On the other hand, they can prove dangerous if not used carefully, especially for people with serious medical conditions, such as kidney disease.

For example, sometime supplements or herbs can harm the kidneys, and some herbs can actually interfere with prescription medications, making you worse instead of better. Because of this, you should never take an herb, vitamin, or nutrition supplement without first talking to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian.

Why are some people concerned about the testing and labeling of herbs and supplements?
Herbs and supplements are not regulated by the government the way that medicines are. That means they are not required by law to contain specific ingredients. Unfortunately, the supplement or herb may not always contain the dose and contents that are advertised on the label.

The government also does not require herb and supplement makers to test for purity, safety, and effectiveness of their products. It is possible that some herbs are contaminated and could damage the kidneys.

In addition, some herbs are possibly toxic to the kidneys or harmful to those with chronic kidney disease, such as sassafras, horse chestnut, ginger, ginseng, noni juice, licorice, and blue cohosh. The manufacturers of these products are not required to report potential risks, so when you read the label, you will not know that the herb or supplement could hurt you.

So, it is not a good idea to take herbs or natural supplements?
When you are dealing with medical problems, such as chronic kidney disease, it is best to use caution. Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, and registered dietitian about the medicines your doctor has prescribed and any herbs and supplements you would like to take. Make sure your doctor knows what herbs and supplements you are taking before you take prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you are tempted to take an herb or supplement, always discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist first to see if it could affect your kidneys.


References and recommended readings
National Kidney Foundation™. Use of herbal supplements in chronic kidney disease. Available at: Accessed January 8, 2013.

US Food and Drug Administration. Dietary supplements: questions and answers. Available at: Accessed January 8, 2013.

US Food and Drug Administration. Dietary supplements—Q&A. Available at: Accessed January 8, 2013.