How Chemicals in Food and Drink Are Damaging our Kidneys

Published on: November 17, 2019

In recent years, more people than ever are being diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). By being aware of this disease we can make alternative food and drink choices to protect our kidneys. By Dr. Sira Sooparb Kidneys are critically important organs that work hard to keep the body healthy in a variety of ways. Each day, the body’s two healthy kidneys filter up to 200 liters of blood, removing waste products while keeping blood pressure under control and helping in the production of red blood cells. Healthy kidney function can be affected by a number of medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, whose causes are often related to unhealthy lifestyles, obesity, and sedentary living. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also damage kidneys.    In the wake of the huge increase in diabetes and obesity in recent years, more people than ever are being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. CKD is especially dangerous because patients rarely notice any symptoms until the disease reaches its later stages when the damage is no longer reversible. Recent studies have indicated links between serious kidney damage and the consumption of chemicals associated with popular foods and drinks — including soybeans treated with glyphosate herbicide and artificial sweeteners used in soft drinks. Diet Soda’s Dangers The first sugar-free carbonated sodas became available about 50 years ago. Their sweet taste came from artificial sweeteners such as saccharin. In the 1980s, aspartame replaced saccharin as the most popular artificial sweetener in low-calorie carbonated sodas.   A long-term research study showed a link between consumption of drinks containing artificial sweeteners and a decline in kidney function. The study followed the health and consumption habits of over 3,000 nurses who started with healthy kidney function, for more than 20 years. Declining Kidney Function The results of the study showed that nurses who drank two or more servings per day of artificially sweetened soda had a 30% greater decline in kidney function over the 20-year period, compared with nurses who didn’t drink diet soda.   Organizations including the National Kidney Foundation in the US now recommend not drinking any diet soda. Water is a much better alternative drink. It’s sugar-free, it costs a lot less than soda, and it plays an important role in helping the kidneys flush toxins and waste from the body. What is Glyphosate? Soybeans are one of the world’s most widely consumed foods. They are an inexpensive source of protein and feature a good overall nutritional profile.   It’s not the soybean itself that poses a threat to kidneys; it is a chemical called glyphosate that is used in weed-killing pesticides sprayed on genetically modified (GMO) soybeans. The soybeans have been engineered to be glyphosate-resistant, so they continue to grow while the surrounding weeds are killed by the glyphosate. Some of the residue, however, is absorbed by the soybeans before harvesting.    The Impact on Kidneys In the 20 years since GMO soybeans were first introduced, their popularity has grown rapidly — more than 80% of soybeans produced worldwide are genetically modified crops. Glyphosate has been the most heavily used pesticide globally for many years.   In 2015, the WHO announced that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic, i.e. cancer-causing. Concerns about glyphosate’s impact on kidneys arose from farmworkers employed in the soybean fields suffering kidney damage despite not having typical risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension. More recent studies have shown significant alterations in kidney function in laboratory animals exposed to glyphosate, and the chemical has also been shown to disrupt the microbiome in the intestine, causing a decline in the ratio of beneficial bacteria to harmful bacteria. The Organic Alternative For consumers of soy and soybean products, switching to organic soybeans is recommended to reduce one’s exposure to glyphosate. Organic crops may still be grown using natural herbicides, but the use of chemical pesticides is forbidden for organic products.   If you have concerns about your individual health and kidney function, your doctor can answer your questions and recommend specific kidney function tests, if necessary.

About the Author

Dr. Sira is a U.S. board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine and Nephrology (Kidney medicine) at Bumrungrad International Hospital. He graduated with honors from the Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University and completed his residency in the U.S. His clinical areas of expertise include kidney transplantation, acute renal failure and kidney stones, and he has co-authored a number of original kidney and renal-related research studies.
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