Research Links Kidney Damage to Chemicals in Popular Food and Drink

Research Links Kidney Damage to Chemicals in Popular Food and Drink

 
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 (hypertension), whose causes are often related to unhealthy lifestyles, obesity and sedentary living. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib, can also damage kidneys. The aging process also plays a role, as kidneys’ glomerular filtration rate (GFR, a measure of kidney function) starts to decline about one percent (1%) each year beginning around age 50.

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), a progressive incurable disease that causes kidney failure. CKD is especially dangerous because patients rarely notice any symptoms until the disease reaches its later stages, when the damage is no longer reversible.

Medical research studies have broadened our knowledge about kidney disease. 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 for more than 20 years. The nurses all had healthy kidney function at the beginning of the study.


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 drink alternative. 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 — low in saturated fat, no cholesterol and a source of fiber, calcium and iron.
 
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 GMO soybeans have been engineered to be glyphosate-resistant, so the soybeans continue to grow while the surrounding weeds are killed by the glyphosate. Some of the glyphosate 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. With the growing presence of GMO 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 farm workers employed in the soybean fields suffering significant 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 is best able to answer your questions and recommend specific kidney function tests, if necessary.

 
By. Dr. Sira Sooparb, Nephrologist, Nephrology (Kidney) Center, Bumrungrad International Hospital
 

Related Health Blogs