Alcohol and the Kidneys
Table of Contents
- Written by Dr. Patricia Shelton on June 12, 2022
Drinking alcohol can have harmful effects on the liver. But what about the kidneys? Many people wonder whether alcohol affects liver or kidney function. Is there a link between alcohol and kidney damage? What are the short term and long term effects of alcohol on the kidneys?
Does alcohol harm the kidneys?
Studies have found that regular alcohol use doubles the risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Alcohol’s effects on the kidneys occur in a number of different ways. The function of the kidneys is to filter out toxins, and alcohol is itself a toxin. Consuming a significant amount of alcohol increases the amount of work that the kidneys have to do.
Regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of liver disease, and when the liver isn’t functioning well, this impairs blood flow to the kidneys. This is one reason that there’s a link between excessive consumption of liquor, wine, or beer and kidney disease.
Excessive alcohol intake also increases blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the strongest risk factors for the development of chronic kidney disease, so this is another reason for the link between alcohol and CKD.
It’s important to note that, while regular heavy drinking is associated with kidney disease, light to moderate drinking doesn’t appear to be a problem. One study looked at the association between alcohol and creatinine levels, which are a marker of kidney function. Compared to those who didn’t drink, men who had one drink per day actually had a lower risk of kidney disease. As long as you can keep your alcohol consumption within safe limits (no more than one drink per day for women, and two for men), then there’s no reason to be worried about your alcohol use causing kidney disease.
Can drinking cause kidney infections?
Although alcohol can certainly cause kidney damage, research doesn’t show a strong link between drinking and kidney infections. Similarly, alcohol doesn’t seem to cause kidney stones. However, drinking excessively can lead to dehydration, which can impair the kidneys’ ability to function and may increase the risk of infections and kidney stones, particularly if a person drinks regularly.
Can drinking too much alcohol cause blood in the urine?
Blood in the urine is a potential symptom of kidney disease. While a single incident of binge drinking will generally not directly cause blood in the urine, regular heavy drinking can lead to chronic kidney disease, and blood in the urine is a possible symptom of CKD.
There are also other possible causes of blood in the urine. For example, certain STDs (such as chlamydia and gonorrhea) can cause this symptom. If you notice blood in your urine, then it’s a very good idea to get some testing to determine the cause. This may include testing your kidney function as well as testing for STDs. There are home test kits available that can check for both, using a urine sample and/or a blood sample obtained through a fingerprick.
How do you know if alcohol has affected your kidneys?
If you drink alcohol and kidney disease symptoms start to appear, then you should definitely get your kidney function tested. These symptoms may include loss of appetite, fatigue or low energy, swollen feet or hands, itchy skin, and insomnia. You can visit your doctor and then go to a laboratory to get tested, or you can order a home testing kit for a more convenient option.
Epstein M. Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function. Alcohol Health Res World. 1997; 21(1): 84–92.
Fan Z, Yun J, et al. Alcohol Consumption Can be a “Double-Edged Sword” for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients. Med Sci Monit. 2019; 25: 7059–7072. doi: 10.12659/MSM.916121
How Alcohol Affects Your Kidney Health. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-alcohol-affects-your-kidney-health/. Accessed 14 June 2022.
Schaeffner EK, Kurth T, et al. Alcohol consumption and the risk of renal dysfunction in apparently healthy men. Arch Intern Med. 2005 May 9;165(9):1048-53. doi: 10.1001/archinte.165.9.1048.
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