There are far too many celebrities who have died of cirrhosis of the liver because they indulged in a glass too many of some kind of alcohol, too many times. So, it is unlikely that you are unaware of the downside of alcohol. However, do you know how alcohol can impair kidney function, which might even cause kidney failure? After all, kidneys are vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and eyes are. Unfortunately, alcohol is not simply so much fluid which the kidneys need to flush out.
Beer flushes out kidney stones: Yes, there are many doctors who recommend drinking beer to flush out small renal calculi — kidney stones in lay parlance — but that does not mean you go on a drinking binge under the pretext that it is good for your kidney stones. In fact, there is a marked relation between heavy drinking, and the probability of getting kidney stones. So, first you should understand what kidney function entails.
Kidney function is one of the vital organ functions in your body to filter blood, and excrete excess water, metabolic wastes like sodium, ammonia, and others. However, it also returns necessary electrolytes — so necessary to maintain the acid-base (pH) balance in the body — and water back to the body. It releases certain hormones from the adrenal glands attached to your kidneys to help regulate your blood pressure. Further, the hormone erythropoietin, which it secretes, stimulates the production of red blood corpuscles. Kidney failure would be marked by high blood creatinine levels, and lower glomerular filtration rate (GFR). It is this filtration which eliminates toxins, and other harmful chemicals from your blood, and body.
Alcohol will make you urinate far more than you normally do causing a fluid imbalance in your body. This puts unnecessary strain on the kidneys. It causes you to lose vital electrolytes, while tricking the other parts of your body into retaining water. Net result is that you end up feeling bloated, while the water content in your blood diminishes. Ironically, your skin begins to look parched and wrinkled as it fails to retain sufficient moisture. This means that your kidneys have to filter greater concentrations of toxins in a smaller amount of time. The chemical and mechanical damage caused to your kidneys is incalculable.
Too much alcohol in a short time leads to dehydration, which in turn increases the sodium content in your blood leading to a condition called hypernatremia. This in turn could lead to edema and ascites.
The more you drink alcohol, the greater the chances of your getting kidney stones. The reason is very simple. Substituting alcohol for water can dehydrate you as it acts as a diuretic. You can prevent getting kidney stones by drinking copious quantities of water. Substituting water with alcohol would be counterproductive as your body would be constantly losing water. If your diet has too much salt in conjunction with high alcohol consumption, then your chances of developing kidney stones increase as it causes greater quantity of calcium in your urine. Further, you need to avoid foods high in phosphates like beans, dairy products, and nuts; and those which are high in oxalate, such as potato chips, French fries, beets, spinach, and nuts like the plague if your uric acid level is high. This combination of calcium and oxalates leads to the formation of renal calculi.
Alcohol might adversely affect magnesium exchange in the kidney tubules caused by a marked increase of magnesium excretion in the urine, leading to hypomagnesemia.
If you drink small amounts of alcohol per day, that is, a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a medium glass of wine — not more than five ounces, or 1.5 ounce of hard liquor such as vodka, whisky, tequila, and brandy (liquor which has a VV range of 35-50 percent pure alcohol); then the results might just be beneficial. When you imbibe more than seven drinks in a week for the ladies; or more than 14 drinks a week if you are a man; then your kidneys are seriously at risk. Just keep in mind that irreversible damage to your kidneys could lead to chronic dysfunction. Then, your only options would be dialysis, or kidney transplant — both being as expensive as they are distressing — all for a glass too many.
When the kidneys are exposed to this damage over a prolonged period of time, it eventually leads to chronic kidney disease (CKD), even kidney failure depending on many factors. These could be what your body weight is; whether you are a smoker; are diabetic; follow a faulty diet which has too much purines like organ meats, or too high a potassium content; the kind of medications you are on; and if you have high blood pressure. Your kidneys might get significantly enlarged, known as nephromegaly in clinical terminology, if you are a chronic alcoholic. Studies have indicated that quite often this is in direct proportion to liver enlargement among patients stricken with liver cirrhosis.
You probably never realized that the liver doesn’t simply aid your digestive system; it regulates the flow of blood to the kidneys. Therefore, when the liver is damaged due to excessive alcohol intake; it fails to regulate how much blood flows into the kidneys, and is filtered, placing them under undue strain. In the long run, it could lead to reduced urine flow.
One of the clearest indications of kidney damage is when urinating becomes painful, especially in the kidney area. This could have been brought on by blockages between the kidneys and the bladder. The kidneys themselves might have swollen due to accumulation of urine, a condition called hydronephrosis, which might have been brought on by binge drinking — which causes acute kidney injury. This in turn can cause permanent kidney damage. You might have to turn teetotaler for a while, or reduce your intake in a major way.
Takeaway: Your best bet would be to see a urologist immediately if you experience any kind of pain during urination, or any of the symptoms outlined above as there is a close connection between alcoholism and many renal disorders.