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Probiotic Supplements for Kidney Health: Health Benefits & More!

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Written by Marlena Chesner, Health and Wellness Writer – Medically reviewed by Usha Vyas, Senior Microbiologist

The gut and the kidneys are intricately intertwined, but that isn’t always apparent until kidney function begins to decline. People with kidney problems often experience an unbalanced gut microbiome due to diet, medications, and more. Because the gut microbiome is so crucial to the immune and digestive systems, this imbalance creates a negative feedback loop that eventually causes more harm to the kidneys. A possible solution is the introduction of probiotics for kidney health.

woman on her laptop focused with yogurt next to her

Prebiotics and probiotics are an important part of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome, probiotics, and prebiotics

The gut microbiome is a complex system of microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc.) that live within the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract. (1) This track spans the mouth, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, and large intestine. (2)

Beneficial, or helpful, bacteria found naturally in the GI tract make up a majority of the probiotic supplements on the shelf. The goal is to increase levels of “good” bacteria while decreasing the bad. Another way to increase the levels of helpful bacteria is by consuming enough prebiotics. Prebiotics are fiber supplements that feed beneficial bacteria. (3)

Gut microbiome functions

In a healthy individual, the gut microbiome is largely responsible for maintaining immune function and the digestive process. It’s also in constant communication with the brain and helps determine emotional response. (4

Immune system

The gut microbiome is sometimes referred to as the body’s largest immune organ. It forms a protective barrier that keeps toxins and harmful bacteria or viruses from entering the blood. (5) Additionally, the more beneficial bacteria that grow, the less room and resources are available for the harmful ones. 

Digestive system

The beneficial microorganisms consume fiber that the human body cannot adequately digest on its own. Through this process, the organisms create a byproduct called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which serve as a significant energy source for various cells in the body. (6

Emotion

The gut microbiome and the brain are in constant communication. Think of “gut feelings” or feeling your “stomach drop”- these sensations are due to the interaction between the brain and the gut. Scientists have labeled this phenomenon the gut-brain axis. Despite not understanding the precise mechanism that allows this communication, many scientists are reasonably confident that the gut microbiome influences pain, mood, and anxiety. (7)

Main functions of kidneys

The kidneys are a pair of organs, each the size of a cell phone, located towards the back in the upper abdominal area. (8) Their primary function is trifold: They secrete important hormones, regulate blood pressure, and excrete toxins and excess minerals and vitamins.

Secretory

Kidneys release essential hormones, like vitamin D and erythropoietin. The kidneys transform vitamin D into the usable hormone that keeps teeth and bones healthy. Erythropoietin, produced solely by the kidneys, stimulates red blood cell production. (9)

Regulatory

Kidneys are responsible for regulating the amount of water, minerals, and vitamins in the body. Excess water, toxins, vitamins, and minerals are removed via urine production. This directly impacts bodily functions like blood pressure. (10)

Excretory

Kidneys are responsible for removing byproducts that occur from normal bodily functions. For example, when the liver metabolizes proteins, it creates urea. (11) Uric acid and creatinine are other commonly removed byproducts. 

Kidneys also regulate the body’s levels of vitamins and minerals including potassium, sodium, and phosphate. (12) Minerals and vitamins can also cause substantial damage to the body if not properly removed. For instance, excessive amounts of phosphorus cause chemical changes that cause the body to pull calcium from the bones. (13)

If a kidney is not functioning correctly, though, serious consequences follow. They release fewer hormones that the body relies on for healthy red blood cell production and make less usable vitamin D. They also won’t be able to regulate the blood or filter toxins from the body effectively. This can cause symptoms like itchy skin, trouble breathing, imbalanced gut microbiome, and, if left untreated, death. (14)

How kidney problems cause an imbalanced gut microbiome

People with kidney problems often experience gut dysbiosis, which means that the makeup of their gut microbiome skews heavily towards the harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria die off due to a myriad of reasons; these include consequences of necessary diet changes, the inevitable build-up of uremic and nitrogenous toxins, and the medications and antibiotics many kidney patients take daily. These factors create a degenerative feedback loop that, eventually, causes more harm to the kidneys. (15)

Diet

Toxins are no longer being filtered from the body, so people with kidney problems need to monitor their food for phosphorus, potassium, protein, and sodium. Overtime, these substances will build up in the bloodstream and damage other organs. For example, excess phosphorus will cause chemical changes in the body that result in calcium being pulled from bones, making them weaker. (16)

In many cases, this means cutting down prebiotic foods, like fruits and vegetables, due to their high levels of phosphorus or potassium. Click here for a comprehensive list of foods for kidney health. (17)

Uremic and nitrogenous toxins

As a result of a failing kidney, uremic and nitrogenous toxins accumulate in the blood and eventually travel into the GI tract, past the protective barrier. Once inside, these toxins make it easier for some harmful bacteria to thrive and harder for the beneficial ones. Some harmful bacteria even produce uremic toxins of their own, adding to overall levels of toxins. (18)

Medications and antibiotics

People with kidney problems take a wide array of medications to manage their condition, including phosphate binders and high blood pressure medications. Due to various reasons, including those discussed here, these patients often have less effective immune systems and will need antibiotics frequently. Antibiotics don’t just kill off the harmful bacteria, though. They also kill the beneficial ones.

man holding his stomach in pain

Gut dysbiosis occurs when levels of bad bacteria are higher than the levels of good bacteria.

A regiment of highly studied pre and probiotics could help maintain a kidney patient’s populations of good bacteria, reducing the added physical and emotional stress of gut dysbiosis. (19)

Probiotics and kidney function

Certain probiotic strains, S.thermophilus (KB19), L.acidophilus (KB27), and B.longum (KB31), can capitalize on the toxins that accumulate in the large intestine (colon) via a large blood vessel nearby (20). With the help of two probiotics fibers, the beneficial bacteria can metabolize (consume) the toxins and use them as a food source. (21) These toxins are later excreted from the body during bowel movements, helping take some burden off the kidneys. (22)

Taking a general probiotic, with strains for gut health, may also help people with kidney problems. While they won’t actively consume toxins, they can help repair the gut microbiome and alleviate gut dysbiosis. In turn, patients may see decreased inflammation and fewer uremic producing bacteria. (23)

The bottom line

Many kidney patients could benefit from prebiotics and probiotics, but should choose these supplements carefully. Patients should only take prebiotic and probiotic formulations that have been approved by their healthcare provider to ensure they aren’t accidentally breaking their dietary restrictions.

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All information, data, and material contained, presented, or provided is for general information purposes only and is solely the opinion of the author. The information presented is not a claim regarding any product or its ingredients.

This content was contributed by Kibow Biotech

  1. Al Khodor, S., Shatat, I.F. Gut microbiome and kidney disease: a bidirectional relationship. Pediatr Nephrol 32, 921–931 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00467-016-3392-7
  2. Your Digestive System & How it Works. (2017, December 1). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works
  3. Robinson, K. (2019, September 26). Prebiotics: Health Benefits and Sources. Retrieved from https://fullscript.com/blog/prebiotics
  4. Deepika Bagga, Johanna Louise Reichert, Karl Koschutnig, Christoph Stefan Aigner, Peter Holzer, Kaisa Koskinen, Christine Moissl-Eichinger & Veronika Schöpf (2018) Probiotics drive gut microbiome triggering emotional brain signatures, Gut Microbes, 9:6, 486-496, https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2018.1460015
  5. Yang, T., Richards, E.M., Pepine, C.J. et al. The gut microbiota and the brain–gut–kidney axis in hypertension and chronic kidney disease. Nat Rev Nephrol 14, 442–456 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41581-018-0018-2
  6. Douglas J. Morrison & Tom Preston (2016) Formation of short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota and their impact on human metabolism, Gut Microbes, 7:3, 189-200, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19490976.2015.1134082
  7. Deepika Bagga, Johanna Louise Reichert, Karl Koschutnig, Christoph Stefan Aigner, Peter Holzer, Kaisa Koskinen, Christine Moissl-Eichinger & Veronika Schöpf (2018) Probiotics drive gut microbiome triggering emotional brain signatures, Gut Microbes, 9:6, 486-496, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19490976.2018.1460015
  8. Biga, L. M., Dawson, S., Harwell, A., Hawkins, R., Kaufmann, J., LeMaster, M., … Runyeon, J. (n.d.). 25.1 Internal and External Anatomy of the Kidney. In Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax/Oregon State University. https://open.oregonstate.education/aandp/chapter/25-1-internal-and-external-anatomy-of-the-kidney/
  9. Sahay, M., Kalra, S., & Bandgar, T. (2012). Renal endocrinology: The new frontier. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 16(2), 154–155. https://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8210.93729
  10. Integrative Medical Advisory Team. Blood Pressure Support Protocol. (2020, February 28). Retrieved from https://fullscript.com/blog/blood-pressure-support-protocol
  11. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Urea, CID=1176, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Urea (accessed on Mar. 16, 2020)
  12. Your Kidneys & How They Work. (2018, June 1). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work
  13. Phosphorus and Your CKD Diet. (2019, August 30). Retrieved from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/phosphorus
  14. What Is Chronic Kidney Disease? (2017, June 1). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/what-is-chronic-kidney-disease
  15. Jazani, N. H., Savoj, J., Lustgarten, M., Lau, W. L., & Vaziri, N. D. (2019). Impact of Gut Dysbiosis on Neurohormonal Pathways in Chronic Kidney Disease. Diseases (Basel, Switzerland), 7(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/diseases7010021
  16. Mineral & Bone Disorder in Chronic Kidney Disease. (2015, November 1). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/mineral-bone-disorder
  17. Top Foods for Optimal Kidney Health. (2019, December 5). Retrieved from https://fullscript.com/blog/kidney-health-foods
  18. Velasquez, M. T., Centron, P., Barrows, I., Dwivedi, R., & Raj, D. S. (2018). Gut Microbiota and Cardiovascular Uremic Toxicities. Toxins, 10(7), 287. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins10070287
  19. Ranganathan, N., Vyas, U. (2017, April, 23). Possible Pathways of Gut Microbiome Modulationby Probiotics in Chronic Kidney Disease. ISN WCN, Mexico. https://kibowbiotech.com/pdfs/WCN2017_0450.pdf
  20. Ranganathan N (2015) Concept and Potential of Enteric Dialysis® – Treating the Cause of Dysbiosis and not the Symptoms in Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKD). J Nephrol Ther 5: 209. doi:10.4172/2161-0959.1000209
  21. Ranganathan N (2018) Reality of “Enteric Dialysis ®” with Probiotics and Prebiotics to Delay the Need of Conventional Dialysis . J Nephrol Ther 8: 319. doi:10.4172/2161-0959.1000319
  22. Ranganathan, N., Ranganathan1, P., D’Silva, H., Vyas, U., Pechenyak2, B., & Weinberg, A. (2017). Quality of Life in Chronic Kidney Disease Patients Using a Synbiotic Dietary Supplement: a Survey. International Journal of Research Studies in Medical and Health Sciences, 2(1), 11–24. doi: 10.22259/ijrsmhs.0201004
  23. (2017). Chronic Kidney Disease: The Gut-Kidney Connection?. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 16(2), 14–16.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6413637/

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