Kidneys and Alcohol

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I’m often asked about how kidneys and alcohol are related. Can I have it? Is *insert-favorite-beverage* okay? Will it hurt my kidneys? Does alcohol affect the kidneys? There are also kidney warriors curious but afraid to ask about alcohol for fear of judgment and scolding or being dismissed.

Regardless of how much you have or don’t have, there is absolutely important information to consider when it comes to kidneys and alcohol intake.

We’re going to discuss exactly what you need to know when it comes to indulging in your next cocktail or ale.

Types of Alcohol

First off, the types of alcohol are important to address. Some studies look at specific types of alcohol and some emphasize certain benefits or risks related to those specific kinds.

There are four types of alcoholic beverages;

  • Beer (12 ounces of a 5% ABV beer)
  • Malt Liquor (8 ounces of a 7% ABV beverage)
  • Wine (5 ounces of a 12% ABV wine)
  • Liquor (1.5 ounces of 80-proof)

When we discuss a serving, these are the four values of what a serving entails. (So no, that enormous and comical beer mug will not count as “just a beer.”)

How much alcohol is okay and how much is too much?

The US Dietary Guidelines for appropriate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

(Sorry, ladies.)

I’m sorry but no, you cannot “save up” your daily allowance to use on one or two days. Drinking over 4 beverages in a 2 hour period is classified as binge drinking and can be very harmful.

If you or someone you know is drinking excessively, here is some more information and resources to take control of alcohol.

Risks of Alcohol (Related to Kidneys)

High Blood Pressure

Increasing alcohol intake over a period of days (read: the holidays) can increase blood pressure. Since the kidneys are sensitive to blood pressure changes, this increase in blood pressure can be potentially harmful for CKD management.

If your kidneys have been damaged by high blood pressure, cutting back on alcohol may help with your blood pressure control. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any alcohol you may be consuming.

Increase Inflammation

Alcohol is seen as a toxin by the body and is effectively treated as such. The body will slow the metabolism of other substances and focus on processing alcohol first.

There are several ways alcohol can potentially increase inflammation to the body, including with the gut. 

Our gut is the first “filter” for nutrients before getting to the kidneys. Particles are broken down in the stomach and then absorbed into the bloodstream. This includes alcohol. Chronic alcohol use can also weaken the gut barrier function, allowing more to “slip” into the body instead of passing through.

Low Blood Sugars

Alcohol can effect blood sugar control as well. Both alcohol and sugars use the liver for breakdown.

Alcohol-induced hypoglycemia is when blood sugars drop below the normal range. This can happen within minutes to up to 12 hours after drinking. Alcohol can inhibit the liver from releasing glucose into the bloodstream, which causes hypoglycemia.

If you have diabetes or blood sugar control issues, you can read up on more recommendations I have in my blog.

Certain Cancers

Drinking alcohol, any alcohol, increases the risk of cancer. The specific types of cancer found to have a strong connection with increased alcohol intake include;

  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Larynx cancer (your voice box)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer (in women)

Medication Interactions

Alcohol interacts with many different medications. This is one of the most important reasons to discuss any alcohol consumption with your doctor.

Types of medications that may change with alcohol include;

  • Cardiovascular medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Diabetes medications
    • Insulin
  • Pain relief
  • Antihistamines (allergy and cold medications)
  • Warfarin/coumadin
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Reflux medications (ranitidine, cimetidine, etc)
  • Methotrexate
  • Anti-depressants
  • Herbal sleep aids
    • Chamomile
    • Echinacea
    • Valerian

Inaccurate Lab Results

If you drink before your blood is drawn for lab results, your results can be inaccurate. As mentioned earlier, alcohol can lead to low blood sugar levels. It can also lead to inaccurate cholesterol levels. This is because the liver is processing alcohol and creating cholesterol.

Possible Benefits of Alcohol for Kidneys

Fewer Kidney Stones

A 2015 article found some risk reduction in kidney stone formation was identified with moderate alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases the need to urinate, which helps with moving fluids through the system and reducing calcium oxalate stone risk. 

The key here is that alcohol can otherwise be dehyrating if you do not drink enough water to replenish what you lose from alcohol- and the article does emphasize the need for overall fluid intake to be at least 2.5 liters per day. (Keep in mind everyone’s fluid needs are not the same.)

Wine and beer have been shown to be the most beneficial when it comes to reducing kidney stone risk.

Lower risk of developing kidney disease

A study published in 2015 tested the risk of developing chronic kidney disease based on their self-reported alcohol intake. The study found an inverse correlation between alcohol consumption and CKD. 

While this is by means no recommendation to drink more alcohol or to start drinking, they do suggest that light to moderate drinking has not been shown to increase the risk of developing CKD.

Should I start drinking alcohol for the benefits?

While studies appear to shows some benefit from drinking in moderation, it is not a reason to start drinking if you are not currently drinking.

There are many other factors to focus on when it comes to keeping your kidneys healthy and happy before looking to add in alcohol. Quality of the foods and supplements you consume, amount of water and other beverages, and stress management some other very important factors I focus on with clients before we discuss alcohol as part of a balanced diet.

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