From juicing and 7-day detox diets to kidney cleanses it would appear that we’re all desperate to purge our bodies of natural toxins, pollutants, and other contaminants. This should be no surprise, considering that our modern urban lifestyle exposes us to high levels of toxicity every day. The kidneys are perhaps the most important of all organs when it comes to filtration and elimination of wastes. Naturally, kidney detox plans are the focus of many cleansing routines.
The kidneys are constantly working to filter and excrete excess water, waste products, and other toxins that buildup from our food and lifestyle choices as well as from the normal breakdown of tissues. In doing so, the kidneys process an astounding 180 – 200 liters of blood each day! This puts them under enormous pressure, which they would normally be quite capable of handling. Unfortunately, our lifestyle and dietary choices, coupled with environmental exposure to toxins increases the load. To protect against kidney disease, many of us now turn to kidney detox diets and cleansing routines. But do we really need these detoxes and how effective are they?
Do You Really Need a Kidney Detox?
Evidence suggests that restrictive detox diets can do more harm than good, supporting Ayurvedic recommendations against such diets. Instead minor dietary modifications & the addition of certain herbs or formulas can support the natural cleansing process of the kidneys.
The vital role of the kidneys in health and wellbeing was well recognized by ancient Ayurvedic physicians. There are various formulations and practices that are recommended in Ayurvedic texts for the specific purpose of cleansing the kidneys and supporting their healthy function. While Ayurveda does recommend periodic cleansing and purification rituals or remedies to lower ama levels, it is worth noting that it always emphasizes a wholesome and balanced diet above all else. Restrictive fad diets that have grown popular for liver and kidney detoxification are not really in keeping with the tenets of Ayurveda. Instead, increasing your intake of water, modifying your dietary choices, and using certain Ayurvedic herbs can help to detoxify the kidneys.
According to scientific research, there is absolutely no evidence to support the use of restrictive diets like juicing for a kidney detox. The human body in all its complexity works remarkably efficiently and the kidneys are self-cleansing if you follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. Maintaining good fluid intake with adequate water consumption and a diet that includes plenty of unprocessed fruits and vegetables should suffice for most people. In fact, researchers suggest that restrictive detox diets can do more harm than good. This is because they deprive you of essential nutrients and calories, weakening immunity and increasing fatigue and dizziness. This can also lead to unhealthy weight loss through muscle wastage.
So, what should you do? The best thing that you can do would be to follow the healthy dietary and lifestyle recommendations, called dinacharya. Cut back on your intake of highly processed foods that are loaded with sugar and sodium. Make sure that you drink adequate water and increase levels of physical activity. Both unhealthy food choices and a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of kidney disease, with obesity being a significant contributing factor. To support healthy kidney function and detoxify or purify the kidneys you can also include certain Ayurvedic herbs and polyherbal formulations that have a cleansing and supportive effect on the kidneys. By doing so, you simply support the kidneys’ natural self-cleansing process.
Ayurvedic Herbs for Kidney Detox Support
Remember that there are no quick fixes for lifestyle diseases in Ayurveda – to prevent or treat lifestyle conditions like obesity or kidney disease, you need to first rectify your lifestyle. This said, there are certain herbs and traditional Ayurvedic remedies that can support kidney detoxification and cleansing of the mutravahasrotas (urinary channels). These may be incorporated into your daily diet and routine to maximize the self-cleansing process of the kidneys.
1. Brahmi or Gotu Kola (Bacopa monnieri)
Brahmi or Gotu Kola is best known as an ingredient in Ayurvedic brain tonics and hair or skin care products. While its soothing effects on the mind and nervous system may be well known, most people don’t realize that there’s a lot more that this potent herb can be used for. According to Ayurvedic texts and based on its rasa (taste), virya (energy), and vipaka (post-digestive effect), brahmi can be used to deal with urinary problems like cystitis and dysuria by eliminating pitta from the mutravahasrotas. This also supports a natural kidney detox.
Studies suggest that the beneficial effects of brahmi could be attributed to flavonoids, saponins, and alkaloids in the herb. Research published in the journal Renal Failure goes so far as to suggest that extracts from Brahmi may even be able to help inhibit the progression of diabetic nephropathy, which is a chronic kidney disease that afflicts diabetics. They found that brahmi exercised a clear nephroprotective (kidney-protecting) effect.
DOSAGE: 2–6g per day
Shilajit is one of the most prominent of all rasayanas, described in detail in the ancient text Charaka Samhita. Although not an herb, but a tarry organic substance exuded from rocks in the Himalayas, like many herbs it has a variety of therapeutic uses. It is most noted for its rejuvenative, immunomodulatory, and diuretic effects that help with kidney detoxification and urinary tract function. The substance is also used in Ayurvedic kidney stone remedies as it is said to disintegrate crystallized deposits, also helping prevent any further stone formation. According to traditional Ayurvedic texts, shilajit clears the mutravahasrotas, providing relief from a variety of urinary conditions like painful urination, incontinence, glycosuria, and cystitis. It is believed to exercise these effects by redirecting the flow of apana vayu through the pelvic region and clearing buildup of kapha and vata. For best results, shilajit should be combined with gokshura and guggulu.
Shilajit is regarded by some researchers as a nutraceutical because of its rich composition of various minerals and its main active component fulvic acid. Studies that examine the phytochemical composition and therapeutic potential of shilajit indicate that it may help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, but research on its efficacy in kidney detoxification and kidney disease prevention is still inadequate.
DOSAGE: 2–3 pills three times a day or 500mg–5g per day. (According to the Charaka Samhita the lowest dose should be no lower than 12g per day)
3. Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa)
Popular as a rasayana or rejuvenating herb in Ayurveda, Punarnava has only recently received attention from researchers. The herb has long been recommended for liver, urinary and kidney conditions, especially those associated with kapha imbalances. It can help all dosha types, but in excess can aggravate pitta and may also increase vata. According to Ayurvedic tradition, the herb is useful for dealing with urinary and kidney disorders, as well as problems of water retention. For best results it should be combined with other kidney detox herbs like gokshura, guduchi, and corander seeds.
Punarnava is known to exhibit strong antioxidant activity because of its high phenolic content. According to some researchers, this antioxidant activity may offer protection against oxidative stress and renal cell injury that is associated with conditions like urolithiasis. A study conducted on dogs suffering from chronic renal failure also found punarnava root extract to be just as efficacious as some of the standard pharmaceutical treatments. While more research is needed, the herb can be used in moderation to protect kidney function.
DOSAGE: 3–15ml once or twice a day
4. Manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia)
Manjishtha may not be as well-known as other herbs like ashwagandha or bhringraj, but it is no less important. Literally translated, it means ‘bright red’ because of its roots that have a deep red hue. The herb is highly recommended for pitta types, but it can be used to treat any pitta imbalance, especially those that affect the kidneys and inflammatory conditions. According to Ayurvedic herbal texts, the herb can act as a chelating agent and may help to dissolve kidney stones. Although most effective for pitta imbalances, it also helps to alleviate any kapha buildup in the bladder. These properties make it a particularly useful herb to support kidney cleansing routines. The herb is most effective for kidney and bladder stones when combined with gokshura and shilajit.
Findings from preliminary studies suggest that manjistha may actually help to support healthy kidney function because of its antioxidant properties and a strong diuretic effect. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complimentary Medicine investigated the diuretic and antiurolithiatic effects of the herb. Their research suggests that the diuretic of the herb helps flush out substances that can cause stone formation. A more recent study also indicates that manjishtha intake may offer protection against kidney stone formation through its diuretic and antioxidant activity.
DOSAGE: 0.5–10g per day dried or 3–12ml per day of tincture
5. Varuna (Crataeva nurvala)
Although relatively obscure outside of India, the herb varuna has held an important position in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. Classical Ayurvedic texts describe the herb as a blood purifier and diuretic that can help deal with a variety of urinary tract infections. The bark of the tree is often used in Ayurvedic herbal formulations to disintegrate and eliminate both kidney and bladder stones. The herb helps to clear the mutravahasrotas, eliminating any deposits that can otherwise cause cystitis, inflammation, and stone formation. The herb is most effective for kidney support when combined with other herbs like gokshura, punarnava, and licorice.
Analysis of varuna extracts has revealed a rich composition of tannins, saponins, flavonoids, and other plant sterols. These properties have aroused interest in the scientific community, with researchers investigating potential therapeutic applications of the herb. A study that appeared in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology found that lupeol, a compound in varuna, protects against free radical damage induced kidney damage. Another study confirmed the anti-lithogenic and anti-crystallization effects of varuna, showing that it can help not just in the elimination, but also in the prevention of kidney and bladder stones.
DOSAGE: 1–6g per day or 3–15ml of tincture
Ayurvedic Kidney Cleansing Diet
While the kidneys are themselves part of your body’s self-cleansing system and do not require rigorous detox diets, there are certain dietary changes that you can make to support this natural detoxification process. An Ayurvedic kidney detox diet is not restrictive, but emphasizes sensible choices. Naturally, the most important step is to increase your fluid intake, making sure to consume adequate water and other natural foods with high fluid content like water melons and leafy greens. You can also make your own herbal kidney detox tea, using some of the herbs mentioned above.
In addition to maintaining healthy fluid intake, you are advised to include diuretic herbs and foods in your diet. These ingredients encourage urination, helping with both detoxification and reducing water retention. Typically, kidney detox foods and herbs will be kapha and pitta pacifying, including those with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. For kidney detox support in case of pitta aggravation, cooling diuretics like marshmallow, plantains, parsley, asparagus, coriander, and fennel should be included more frequently in meals. When dealing with kapha aggravated kidney conditions, you can use ingredients like garlic, mustard, cinnamon, and ajwain.
While lemon and lime juice are both helpful, it is best that you do not go on a juice detox. Instead consume healthy but easy to digest foods like kitchari and include more lemon and lime juice in your diet. Kitchari is not only dosha balancing, but it also supports your body’s natural process of detoxification and is easy on the system, while still ensuring that you get adequate nutrition. The high citrate content from lemon and lime at the same time helps to regulate urinary calcium output and can help to keep the mutravahasrotas clear.
Physical Activity & Kidney Function
While your food and drink has the most direct influence on kidney health, physical activity has a more significant impact than most of us realize. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is just one of several studies that shows a significant reduction in risk of kidney disease among individuals who engage in higher levels of physical activity. Their study found that even in aged individuals, high levels of physical activity could lower the risk of rapid kidney function decline by as much as 28%. As part of your Ayurvedic lifestyle to support natural kidney cleansing, include asanas like the Matsyasana (Fish pose), the Chakrasana (Wheel pose), the Ustrasana (Camel pose), and the Vyagrasana (Tiger pose). These poses are known to have a stimulating effect on the kidneys.
While detox herbs, dietary modifications, and physical activity will go a long way to improving kidney function, lowering ama levels in the body, all of these efforts will be in vain if you do not correct poor lifestyle choices. To lower the risk of kidney disorders, cut back on your intake of sugar and sodium – this means avoiding or severely restricting all processed and junk foods. Likewise, it is imperative that you quit smoking (if you do), and limit your intake of alcohol.
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