The Kidneys and Urinary System

The kidneys are a major part of the urinary system, located just below the ribcage on either side of the spine. The urinary system is composed of two kidneys, each attached to ureters, the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. From the bladder, a urethra conducts urine from the bladder to the outside of the body for elimination. These fist sized, bean shaped organs act as our primary filter for the blood, eliminating toxins and chemicals through the bladder as urea. Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons that are responsible for filtering between 120 and 150 quarts of blood a day, typically producing two quarts of urine, composed of waste such as urea and ammonium. They’re responsible for maintaining the proper alkaline and acidic balance, regulating the amount of fluid in the body and in the blood, and producing hormones and enzymes such as renin, which interacts with other enzymes throughout the body to maintain blood pressure. They keep our levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and phosphate stable, and are important to the production of red blood cells and the maintenence of strong bones. In addition to this, they keep the composition of the blood stable, allowing our body to function properly, and are responsible for the reabsorption of water, glucose, and amino acids.

Energetically, they also help to regulate emotional states; for example, too much water in the system will produce a yin imbalance. This is seen right before a women’s menstrual cycle and manifests itself as PMS, with depression, mood swings, and pain. Too little water in the system can produce a yang imbalance, characterized by dehydration, anger, and a temper. Although unhealthy kidneys can manifest in several different ways, five common signs of unhealthy kidneys are pain or tenderness in the lower back area, mood changes such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness, dark puffy circles under the eyes and water retention, high or low blood pressure, and hay-fever symptoms such as itchy eyes, ears, skin rashes, and allergies. PMS symptoms may be exaggerated as well.

As you age, the amount of nephrons in the kidneys decrease. At the age of 80, you’ve lost nearly half of the nephrons you had as a child, making you more susceptible to urinary tract infections. In addition, more water is necessary to produce the same amount of urine, making it extremely important to increase water consumption as you age. Enlarged prostate or damage to the pelvic floor during childbirth can cause complications with the urinary tract and ultimately damage the kidneys in your later years as well. A regular kidney tonic and gentle diuretics (herbs that increase the secretion and flow of urine), such as dandelion and cleavers, can help strengthen the urinary tract and keep the system healthy.

USEFUL HERBS FOR THE KIDNEYS AND URINARY TRACT
Uva ursi, pipsissewa, buchu, corn silk, gravel root, marshmallow root, dandelion root and leaf, chickweed, juniper berries, parsley root, cleavers, chanca piedra, hydrangea root, horsetail, and goldenrod.

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COMMON AILMENTS

Cystitis
Also known as a urinary tract infection (UTI). Getting a UTI is one of the more unpleasant, painful experiences. If ignored, the infection can travel up your urethra to your gladder, causing a bladder infection. If still not taken care of, the infection can then travel up the ureters to your kidneys, resulting in an most mindlessly uncomfortable and painful experience known as a kidney infection. This is why it’s important to begin treatment at the first signs of an infection. The following steps can be used to treat cystitis:
– Eliminate sweets and foods with added sugars, alcohol, caffeine (or limit intake), or rich foods.
– Eat a simple, healing diet, focusing on steamed grains, vegetables, and broths.
– Drink cranberry juice, pure water, and herbal teas throughout the day. The cranberry juice should be unsweetened.
– Get plenty of rest and take it easy. Keep your kidneys warm either in herbal baths, ginger poultices, or wraps.
– Supplement this with acidophilus, tincture of uva ursi and usnea, and supplements such as D-mannose or a goldenseal/myrrh combination.
– Follow up with a kidney tonic to promote kidney well being for the future. A good tonic is cleavers, chickweed, corn silk, pipsissewa, horsetail, dandelion, and ginger.
Herbalist David Hoffman recommends a tea of uva ursi, cornsilk couch grass, and yarrow can be drunk every two hours.

Incontinence
This can be caused by a number of factors. If caused by weakened tone of the bladder muscles, a good tea blend 2 parts horsetail, 1 part agrimony, and 1 part sweet sumach, drunk three times daily.
Another tasty blend of equal parts Cranberry, golden rod, marshmallow root, nettle, parsley, rosehips, uva ursi, nettles, and rosehips can be helpful to control an overactive or incontinent bladder.

Kidney Stones
Sometimes called gravel, kidney stones are mineral deposits in the kidneys and urinary tract that cause difficult and painful urination. They are typically composed of oxalic acid, uric acid, phosphates, or calcium salts with the amino acid cystine. If you or someone in your immediate family has a history of kidney stones, precautions can be taken by avoiding food high in oxalic acid, such as spinach, swiss chard, rhubarb, and clover, and increasing your water intake. Kidney stones generally respond well to herbal remedies; initially, an anti-lithic herb is taken to break up the stone, and then diuretics are taken to flush the minerals from the system, typically a painful process. Most anti-lithics are also diuretics, such as gravel root, hydrangea, parsley root, pellitory of the wall, and stone root. Typically, soothing demulcents such s corn silk, marshmallow leaf, and couch grass are added to formulas to sooth the mucous membrane and help to guard against the abrasive movements of the kidney stone.
A general kidney stone treatment from David Hoffman’s Holistic herbal is:
1 part corn silk, 1 part gravel root, 1 part hydrangea, 1 part stone root, infused into a tea, drunk three times daily.

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KEEPING THE KIDNEYS HEALTHY

-Drink plenty of water! Remember that drinking large amounts of water will not add to water retention problems, as water retention is a problem of the kidneys struggling to eliminate toxins, not excess water. Drinking more water can actually ease the stagnation in the system from water retention.

-Add cranberry or pommegranate juice and herbal teas, such as blends of dandelion, corn silk, marshmallow, cleavers, and ginger, to your daily routine. These can help tone and flush bacteria from the urinary tract.

-Try to keep the kidneys warm, either with wraps, or regular saunas and baths.
-Reduce and moderate caffeine, alcohol, overly rich, sugary, and salty foods. Some is ok but keep it all within reason.

-Eat plenty of whole grains and steamed vegetables, and add foods such as celery, lemons, apple cider vinegar, basil, black beans, black sesame, cabbage, berries, grapes, seaweeds, asparagus and dandelion into your meals.

-Try to get at least 30 to 45 minutes of gentle exercize a day, such as stretching, walking, and yoga.

-Take time every day to do things that reduce your stress; for me it’s things like sitting in a hot tub, watching funny movies, gardening, riding a motorcycle, or listening to music.

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GENERAL KIDNEY TONIC TEA BLENDS

These are just some suggestions, play around with the flavors and adjust to your personal preference.

2 parts uva ursi
1 part marshmallow
1 part buchu
1 part pipsissewa

1 part marshmallow
1 part cleavers
1 part chickweed
1 part corn silk

2 part Dandelion leaves
2 part Uva Ursi
2 part Cleavers
2 part Hawthorn Berries
2 part Cornsilk
1 part Burdock root
1 part Fennel seed
3 cups water

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