10 Signs Your Kidneys Are Crying for Help (+ 10 Beneficial Foods And Herbs For Kidney Support)

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Don’t underestimate the seriousness of this! In 2017, over 1.2 million people died due to kidney disease. [1] A “big data” study published in 2020 on the global, regional, and national burden of chronic kidney disease (CKD) revealed a truly astonishing global prevalence of 697.5 million chronic kidney disease cases – around 9% of the global population. With these shocking statistics, you know that chronic kidney disease is not something you can take likely.

As with any chronic, debilitating illness, prevention is the key. Popular education channel Bright Side lists ten signs that you kidneys may be crying for help. We fact checked this video in depth and it gets the thumbs up. Here are the 10 signs, together with our detailed notes and 23 scientific / research references:

10 Signs Your Kidneys Are Crying For Help

1. Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia can manifest as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or early waking combined with being unable to go back to sleep. [2] Chronic insomnia has been linked to various chronic illnesses, kidney disease included, with a study reporting that nighttime and early wakefulness were commonly seen in patients undergoing hemodialysis. [3] In 2018, Sasaki, et. al. published a study that found link between insomnia and the development of CKD, wherein the study participants who experienced awakening during the night developed a moderately increased risk for chronic kidney disease. [4] The exact mechanism for this is still unknown, but it could be due to the increased toxins in the blood as the kidneys are unable to filter them out, as well as anemia (a hallmark symptom of CKD).

Bright Side specifically mentions sleep apnea was one of the causes of insomnia. According to Lin, chronic kidney disease patients have an increased prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea compared with the general population. [5] This can be due to the build up of fluid in the lungs (affecting respiration) and again, the build up of toxins in the blood. [6]

2. Headache, Fatigue, General Weakness

Weakness, fatigue, and headaches may also be signs that your kidneys are having problems. Various studies have reported chronic fatigue among people suffering from kidney disease, with statistics of about 70 to 97 percent according to the research of Joshwa and Campbell. [7] These symptoms are attributed to kidney disease-associated anemia, caused by decreased oxygen delivery to the cells. [8]

This happens because the kidneys are responsible for the production of a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates the production of red blood cells. Damaged kidneys produce less EPO, which causes the bone marrow to produce less red blood cells – leading to anemia. [9] Bright Side mentions anemia occurs when there is about 20 to 50% of kidney function left, which is about right – according to the National Institutes of Health, anemia is less common in early kidney disease, with symptoms typically appearing in later stages of the condition.

3. Dry And Itchy Skin

An imbalance of minerals and nutrients can also cause your skin to feel dry and itchy. In kidney disease, this is a condition called uremic pruritus, or itchiness of the skin due to the build-up of toxins in the blood. More than 40% of people with end-stage kidney disease who undergo dialysis complain of chronic pruritus, which the pathophysiology of the condition being linked to a build-up of parathyroid hormone (PTH), histamine, magnesium salts and calcium salts in the blood. [10] If you are experiencing these symptoms, make sure to stay hydrated and not to self-medicate: If your kidneys are damaged, taking anti-histamines and other medications to stop the itching may do more harm than good.

4. Bad Breath, Metallic Taste

Bad breath and a metallic taste can also be signs that your kidneys are damaged and that toxins are building up in your blood. Similar to uremic pruritus, there is a condition called uremia fetor which is characterized by the smell of ammonia in exhaled breath, very similar to the smell of urine. [11] This is also due to the build-up of toxins in the blood as your kidneys are unable to filter them out. This is typically a sign of severe kidney damage already and can lead to weight loss and poor appetite.

5. Shortness Of Breath

One cause of difficulty of breathing is anemia, which was previously discussed in section 2 on fatigue. With less oxygen reaching the cells, blood oxygen levels can run low which can manifest as shortness of breath on top of weakness and fatigue. Another cause is the build-up of excess fluid in the blood or fluid overload. This can happen in cases of acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease, both characterized by sodium and fluid retention. [12] In both acute and chronic cases the kidneys are unable to excrete excess fluid and sodium, and “where sodium goes, fluid follows”, leading to fluid overload. [13]

6. Swelling Of The Hands And Feet

Sodium and fluid retention caused by kidney problems often lead to swelling of the hands and feet. Bipedal edema, or edema in both feet, is more common than swelling in the upper extremities. [13] Of course, not all swelling in the hands and feet means that you have failing kidneys. Dependent edema can also be caused by problems in the valves in your extremities, causing fluid build-up in just those areas.

7. Back Pain

Back pain, or more specifically, direct tenderness over the flank area, is a more direct sign of kidney problems. This is typically caused by a kidney stone or nephrolithiasis but can also be caused by a kidney infection, trauma, or even an infarct, as the tissue becomes inflamed or worse, necrotic. [13][14] Kidney-associated flank pain may also be accompanied by fever, frequent urination, and even vomiting. [15]

8. Puffy Eyes

Edema around the orbital area is one of the signs of nephrotic syndrome, or a kidney condition where too much protein is excreted in the urine. [16] McCloskey and Maxwell cite both periorbital edema and dependent pitting edema in the lower extremities are common presentations of nephrotic syndrome. [17] When there is too much protein excreted by the body, it causes an imbalance in the cellular barrier in our blood vessels, causing fluid to leak into the interstitial spaces and lead to fluid build up and swelling.

9. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension often goes hand in hand with kidney problems. However, it is hard to diagnose which came first – high blood pressure or kidney disease. When a person has uncontrolled high blood pressure, it can cause kidney problems because the persistent strain on the circulatory system damages the delicate blood vessels of the kidneys; this is called hypertensive kidney disease. [18] However, hypertension can be aggravated by an existing kidney problem, because of the sodium and fluid overload in the body. The more fluid the body retains, the higher the blood pressure.

Bright Side mentions folic acid supplementation to help manage high blood pressure and there are quite a few studies supporting this claim. Folic acid has been studied as a potential preventative agent against preeclampsia and eclampsia amongst pregnant women, helping keep the blood pressure levels low during the pregnancy. [19][20] In a 2015 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, folic acid was found to significantly reduce the risk for stroke or a cerebrovascular event by controlling blood pressure. [21]

10. Changes In Urination

The tenth sign is the most obvious sign that your kidneys are crying for help — changes in your urination. Changes in the smell, color, and frequency of urination can mean that your kidneys are having trouble; it can be an infection, a kidney stone, or even the beginning stages of kidney disease. Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is a significant warning sign can also be caused by trauma to your kidneys. [22] Cloudy urine can signify the presence of bacteria or crystals in the urine, indicative of an infection. Foamy urine can mean proteinuria, or protein in your urine, which is a sign of significant kidney damage. [23]

Any one of these ten signs or a combination of them can indicate that your kidneys are have problems and that you need to seek medical attention. The first step will typically be testing in order to form an accurate diagnosis of your kidney health. Being diagnosed with any stage of kidney disease means drastic lifestyle changes, not mention the financial and emotional burden associated with this kind of condition. Prevention is very important, so learning to understand when your body is telling you something can make a big difference.

10 Beneficial Foods For Kidney Support

Here is a list of 10 foods that are beneficial for kidney support, based on the latest scientific research. [24][25]

1. Vegetables and Fruits: A vegetarian diet, rich in plant-based foods, is beneficial for chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients. It influences cardiovascular risk profile and mortality rate positively. Plant proteins have reduced phosphate bioavailability, which is advantageous for CKD patients. [24]

2. Polyphenol-rich Foods: Foods high in polyphenols, such as fruits, vegetables, tea, and coffee, have protective effects against nephrolithiasis (kidney stones). Polyphenols reduce oxidative stress and modulate inflammatory pathways, which are beneficial in preventing kidney stones. [25]

3. Low-Potassium Vegetables: For CKD patients, especially those with hyperkalemia, low-potassium vegetables like bell peppers, cabbage, and cauliflower are recommended. These provide essential nutrients without the risk of increasing potassium levels excessively.

4. Berries: Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are rich in antioxidants and beneficial for kidney health. They help in reducing inflammation and protecting against urinary tract infections.

5. Omega-3-rich Fish: Fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, high in omega-3 fatty acids, are beneficial for reducing inflammation and protecting kidney function.

6. Whole Grains: Whole grains like barley, brown rice, and quinoa are good sources of B vitamins and fiber, which are beneficial for maintaining healthy kidney function.

7. Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds are rich in healthy fats and nutrients that support kidney health.

8. Olive Oil: Rich in antioxidants and healthy fats, olive oil is beneficial for reducing inflammation and maintaining healthy kidney function.

9. Garlic and Onions: These are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, making them beneficial for kidney health.

10. Apples and Pears: These fruits are high in fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds, which help in maintaining healthy kidney function.

10 Beneficial Herbs For The Kidneys

1. Cordyceps sinensis: Known for its renal protective properties, Cordyceps Sinensis is effective against toxic substances and drugs. It has potent renal antioxidant effects and shows benefits in renal diseases and failure. More on Cordyceps sinensis below this section.

2. Sairei-to: A polyherbal formula that has shown potential benefits for kidney health, particularly in protecting against renal damage.

3. Rheum spp. (Rhubarb): This herb is known for its renal protective properties and is used in traditional medicine for treating kidney stones and other renal disorders.

4. Salvia Miltiorrhiza (Danshen): Contains magnesium lithospermate B, which is beneficial for kidney health. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

5. Astragalus Membranaceus: Used in traditional Chinese medicine, it has diuretic properties and supports kidney function.

6. Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa): An Ayurvedic herb known for its diuretic and kidney protective properties. It is traditionally used in managing kidney disorders.

7. Nettle (Urtica dioica): Known for its diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties, nettle is often used to support kidney health and urinary tract function.

8. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Acts as a natural diuretic and helps in kidney detoxification and maintaining fluid balance.

9. Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is beneficial in preventing kidney damage and supporting renal function.

10. Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Contains curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it beneficial for kidney health. [26][27][28]

Cordyceps Sinensis and Kidney Function

Cordyceps Sinensis, a traditional Chinese medicinal fungus, has garnered significant attention for its potential renal-protective effects. It has been found to play a crucial role in delaying kidney fibrosis, reducing acute kidney injury, and inhibiting renal tubular epithelial cell apoptosis. These effects are achieved through various mechanisms, making Cordyceps Sinensis a promising agent in kidney health management.

Cordyceps Sinensis in Chronic Kidney Disease: A study conducted by Liu et al. (2014) investigated the effects of Cordyceps Sinensis on chronic kidney disease (CKD) in a rat model. The study involved male rats divided into groups with CKD, CKD treated with Cordyceps Sinensis, and a control group. After eight weeks of treatment, significant improvements were observed in the metabolic function of extrarenal organs, such as the liver and heart, in the Cordyceps Sinensis treated group. This suggests that Cordyceps Sinensis not only benefits the kidneys directly but also mitigates the systemic effects of CKD on other organs.

Mechanisms of Action: The study by Liu et al. (2014) utilized 1H-NMR-based metabolomic analysis to understand the metabolic changes induced by Cordyceps Sinensis. The results showed that Cordyceps Sinensis exerted rescue effects on the liver and heart by reversing the levels of metabolites typically perturbed in CKD. This included improvements in oxidative stress, energy metabolism, amino acid and protein metabolism, and choline metabolism. These findings provide a comprehensive view of the systemic impact of CKD and the therapeutic potential of Cordyceps Sinensis. [29][30]

10 Signs Your Kidneys Are Crying for Help
10 Signs Your Kidneys Are Crying for Help Graphic © healthpowerboost.com.
Kidney Anatomical Illustration: Blausen.com staff (2014), via Wikipedia, lic under CC 3.0


[1] GBD Chronic Kidney Disease Collaboration (2017). Global, regional, and national burden of chronic kidney disease, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(20)30045-3/fulltext

[2] Mayo Clinic. Insomnia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167

[3] Ancoli-Israel, S. (2006). The Impact and Prevalence of Chronic Insomnia and Other Sleep Disturbances Associated With Chronic Illness. https://www.ajmc.com/view/may06-2308ps221-s229

[4] Sasaki, S., et. al. (2018). A prospective cohort study of insomnia and chronic kidney disease in Japanese workers. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28534280/

[5] Lin, C., et. al. (2020). Sleep Apnea and Chronic Kidney Disease: A State-of-the-Art Review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31542452/

[6] Hui, L. & Benca, R. (2021). The Bidirectional Relationship Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Chronic Kidney Disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33608118/

[7] Joshwa, B. & Campbell, M. (2017). Fatigue in Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease: Evidence and Measures. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29160968/

[8] Gregg, L., et. al. (2021). Fatigue in CKD: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33858827/

[9] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Anemia in Chronic Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/anemia

[10] Mettang, T. & Kremer, A. (2015). Uremic pruritus. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24402092/

[11] Cleveland Clinic. Uremia. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21509-uremia

[12] Claure-Del Granado, R. & Mehta, R. (2016). Fluid overload in the ICU: evaluation and management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4970195/

[13] Borrelli, S. et. al. (2020). Sodium Intake and Chronic Kidney Disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32635265/

[14] Bourgault, M., et. al. (2013). Acute renal infarction: a case series. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23204242/

[15] Mount Sinai. Flank pain. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/symptoms/flank-pain

[16] Mayo Clinic. Nephrotic syndrome. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nephrotic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20375608

[17] McCloskey, O. & Maxwell, A. (2017). Diagnosis and management of nephrotic syndrome. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29020719/

[18] Stompor, T. & Perkowska-Ptasinska, A. (2020). Hypertensive kidney disease: a true epidemic or rare disease? https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31964856/

[19] Yang, et. al. (2016). Periconceptional folic acid fortification for the risk of gestational hypertension and pre‐eclampsia: a meta‐analysis of prospective studies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6860089/

[20] Liu, C., et. al. (2018). Supplementation of folic acid in pregnancy and the risk of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension: a meta-analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29978414/

[21] Huo, et. al. (2015). Efficacy of folic acid therapy in primary prevention of stroke among adults with hypertension in China: the CSPPT randomized clinical trial. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25771069/

[22] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hematuria. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/hematuria-blood-urine

[23] Mayo Clinic. Foamy urine: What does it mean? https://www.mayoclinic.org/foamy-urine/expert-answers/faq-20057871

[24] Vegetarianism: Advantages and Drawbacks in Patients With Chronic Kidney Diseases. Journal of Renal Nutrition, 23(6), 399-405 (2013) https://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.jrn.2013.08.004

[25] A Mechanistic Insight into Beneficial Effects of Polyphenols in the Prevention and Treatment of Nephrolithiasis: Evidence from Recent In Vitro Studies. Crystals, 13(7), 1070 (2023). https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/cryst13071070

[26] Medicinal herbal extracts – renal friend or foe? Part two: Herbal extracts with potential renal benefits. Nephrology, 9(4), 400-405 (2004). https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1797.2004.00355.x

[27] Asif, M. A brief study of toxic effects of some medicinal herbs on kidney. Advanced Biomedical Research, 1, 44. (2012). https://dx.doi.org/10.4103/2277-9175.100144

[28] Management of Renal Calculi by Three Powerful Herbs – Overview. Research & Reviews: A Journal of Health Professions, 8(2), 27-30 (2018). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325810062_Management_of_Renal_Calculi_by_Three_Powerful_Herbs-Overview

[29] Mechanism of Cordyceps sinensis and its Extracts in the Treatment of Diabetic Kidney Disease: A Review. (2022) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2022.881835/full

[30] Cordyceps sinensis protects against liver and heart injuries in a rat model of chronic kidney disease: a metabolomic analysis. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica (2014). https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/aps.2013.186

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