Renal failure can be like the perfect storm brewing. Sometimes it’s a combination of dehydration, sepsis, and poor renal perfusion due to blood pressure medications or diuretics. When a nephrotoxin is added to the situation – renal failure presents.
According to recently published case reports, the following herbs have been associated with renal failure. If these products consistently caused renal failure, then the FDA would probably take action. However, that is not the case, as these have been isolated cases. These findings were unexpected occurrences that resulted from unnaturally high doses of natural products.
Natural products in unnatural doses are usually not safe. Find summaries of the case reports below:
1.) Turmeric: A 54-year-old man who consumed large doses of turmeric, or about 15+ spoonfuls every day for 10 days reportedly had renal problems. 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 that is popular for antiviral properties. There is a case report of a 44-year-old woman who used high doses of lysine, or about 3,000 mg every day for 5 years. She was diagnosed with fanconi syndrome and tubulointerstital nephritis and went on to develop chronic renal failure.2
3.) Vitamin C: Several reports exist documenting high doses of vitamin C, 60 grams/day, causing oxalate kidney stones that can deposit in the renal tubules and cause damage. Fortunately the 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 3 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. All 3 received corticosteroids.2
Patients often want to help their physicians, and sometimes they prescribe expensive vitamins, mineral, and herbal supplements from themselves. But is this really helping the doctors?
Most physicians 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.) Nayeri A, Wu S, Adams C, Acute Calcineurin Inhibitor Nephrotoxicity Secondary to Turmeric Intake: A Case Report. Nayeri, A. et al. Transplantation Proceedings. 2017; 49(1):198 – 200.
2.) Gabardi S, Munz K, Ulbricht C: A review of dietary supplement-induced renal dysfunction. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2007; 2: 757–765.