Your kidneys may be small organs, but they perform vital functions to keep your body functioning at its best. Your kidneys rely on balanced nutrition, hydration, and regular physical activity. Dietary supplements have become a popular element to support kidney (and overall) well-being, but some have more evidence supporting their use than others. In this article, we’ll look at what the science says about 21 popular kidney supplements.
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs that sit just below the adrenal glands. They are about the size of a closed fist and weigh about ¹⁄₃ of a pound. Even with their small size, they filter around 200 liters of fluids every day to remove toxins, metabolic byproducts, and more. The kidneys are also needed to help maintain a balance of water, electrolytes, and other substances in the blood.
The kidneys are instrumental for acid-base balance in the body, a vital aspect of homeostasis. They also help to make erythropoietin—the protein that triggers the production of red blood cells.
Kidneys make renin, which is needed for healthy blood pressure maintenance and the activation of vitamin D in the body.
While it’s easy to forget about your kidneys unless they’re having issues, the bottom line is that they perform countless daily functions that keep you feeling your best. Kidneys get less focus than the heart, lungs, or brain do for overall well-being, but they are every bit as important.
Not everyone should take supplements for kidneys. If you have a family history of kidney conditions, or any medical issues, supplements may not be right for you. Before starting any new dietary supplement, you should consult a medical provider.
Only your doctor can say that you should take supplements for your kidneys. If you are healthy and interested in supporting kidney wellness with supplements, your medical provider can help you create a proactive plan for your renal health.
Many vitamins and other nutrients have been studied for their effects on kidney health. These include antioxidant nutrients, herbs, probiotics, vitamins, fiber, and more. The level and quality of evidence varies for each individual supplement.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (also called ALA) is a compound that helps with energy metabolism in the body. It has antioxidant properties and may support mitochondria—the part of the cell that is the energy factory. ALA may have a beneficial impact, but it’s a short-lived one. Only daily ALA supplementation can offer support, although the evidence for kidney support is sparse. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 30 people found that 600 mg of intravenous ALA led to a slight improvement in healthy blood flow, although the effect may have been related to antioxidant-like activity. Animal research has found that ALA could support kidney health through the same mechanism, but large human clinical trials are needed to know more.
ALA can be made within the body, but it’s not efficient and naturally declines as part of the aging process. Red meat, organ meats, and brewer’s yeast can provide some ALA, but dietary supplements are the main way to get ALA in any concentrated amount.
Andrographis, also known as “king of bitters,” is an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. There is very little evidence on how Andrographis affects human renal health. Animal research has noted significant increases in antioxidant enzymes and decreases in oxidative stress markers as a result of Andrographis. Other research has found benefits for Andrographis and gastrointestinal health. It’s important to understand that animal studies may not translate into the same results in humans for kidney support, and human studies noting benefits for other body systems may not impact the kidneys. More research is needed.
Moringa oleifera is also referred to as “Tree of Life” because as a tree, it is resistant to drought and has high nutritional value. As a supplement, moringa is primarily useful for antioxidant-like activity. Most research on moringa and kidney health has been done in animals. Results have indicated that in animals, moringa can support healthy glutathione balance and renal enzymes.
It also appears to help protect kidney tissue from the effects of oxidative toxins or certain medication side effects in animals. Human research has found that moringa may affect TNF-α, a cytokine that plays a role in overall cellular function and immune responses. More studies need to be done to understand how moringa may support kidney wellness.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is frequently shortened to NAC. It has become a popular supplement in recent years as more has been learned about the way this amino acid precursor may support the body’s glutathione status and protect cellular integrity. It’s also known for having antioxidant-like properties and may support healthy tissue responses to reactive oxygen species, also called free radicals. Ultimately, NAC is reputed to support healthy immune and cell responses.
Human clinical trials that look at NAC and kidney health are small, but promising. A 3-month study that assessed kidney health in a set of pediatric patients found that NAC was associated with improved oxidative responses and overall healthier renal function, with no noted side effects. More research is needed.
NAC isn’t naturally found in foods. As a dietary supplement, it’s typically only available in capsule form because cysteine is a sulfuric amino acid with a strong taste and smell.
Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that populate the gut, can be consumed from food and supplements. Studies on how probiotic supplements may impact kidney health have had mixed results. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 people, half the group consumed probiotic supplements for three months. Those who received the probiotic supplements showed improvements in microbiota parameters as well as blood pressure and body fluid balance measures that the placebo group did not have. Another randomized, placebo-controlled study of 50 patients looked at gut-related outcomes after six months. There were not significant differences in fecal bacterial diversity between the groups, although the probiotic group did have an improved population of overall gut bacteria and reduced exposure to the types of substances that the kidneys filter (uremic toxins).
Other research found that 12 weeks of probiotic supplementation supported healthy parameters relating to oxidative stress and metabolic energy balance in people with kidney-related issues. However, another study did not find benefits for uremic toxin balance or oxidative stress markers from probiotic supplement intake.
While there’s been a lot of research on probiotics, more studies need to be done to replicate results and clearly understand how they affect kidney health. Anyone who has immune-related health conditions should use caution with probiotics. Always ask your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
You can also up your intake of healthy bacteria by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso.
Resveratrol is a compound found in grapes and wine that has been widely studied for possible impacts on heart, circulatory, metabolic, and longevity health. Research on how resveratrol affects the kidneys, though, has not turned up definitive results. A study that measured plasma levels of uremic toxins showed no reduction after supplementing with resveratrol, although the researchers concluded that the potential for impacts on oxidative responses should be studied more.
A pilot study that used 500 mg of resveratrol for four weeks found no antioxidant benefits for kidney health, but the researchers concluded that more studies with different doses and treatment length should be considered.
While resveratrol has been considered to have metabolic support qualities, which are associated with kidney well-being, it does not seem to directly affect kidney health. An exploratory clinical trial of 13 people used 500 mg of resveratrol twice daily for 60 days. The results showed that resveratrol supported healthy metabolic responses and oxidative measurements as compared to baseline numbers, but did not impact tests directly associated with kidney or liver function. This study was small and had no placebo control, so larger, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials should be done to learn more.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant nutrient that is essential for all people. It has to come from food or supplement sources. Fruits and vegetables tend to contain the highest amounts, although it is also available in supplement form.
Vitamin C supports kidney health in a few notable ways. It acts as an antioxidant protector, which impacts all cells, tissues, and organs. It’s needed for the absorption of nonheme iron from plants, which is needed for healthy red blood cell production. Poor iron status affects the synthesis of erythropoietin, which can have a cyclical impact on kidney health, circulation, energy, and more.
People who have known kidney issues should be careful with vitamin C supplements, since there’s some conflicting evidence about whether it can have a negative effect. While renal problems can lead to inadequate vitamin C stores, it’s essential to work with a healthcare professional to determine how to most effectively utilize vitamin C supplements for kidney wellness.
Thiamin (vitamin B1) is an important nutrient for energy metabolism. The body relies on it to help convert the foods you eat into usable fuel. It’s found in foods like pork chops, seafood, black beans, and acorn squash. Most people aren’t likely to experience a B1 deficiency, since it’s in many foods and is usually in B-complex supplements and multivitamins.
People who have metabolic challenges may clear thiamin more quickly, although it’s not known how this affects overall health. Some research found that supplementing with vitamin B1 helped to reduce urinary albumin losses, although a different study found no difference in outcomes.
While the direct impact on kidney health may not be clear, supporting a healthy daily intake of water-soluble nutrients, like the B vitamins, is important for the body’s overall balance, energy metabolism, and cellular defenses.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is needed for healthy energy metabolism and amino acid conversion. Riboflavin also supports the body’s ability to use other important nutrients—including iron, folic acid, and vitamin B6. You can get vitamin B2 from foods like most meats, dairy products, almonds, mushrooms, eggs, and quinoa.
In people born male, a high dietary intake of riboflavin is associated with better kidney health. More studies are needed to confirm the relationship and to determine if they are directly related. The same association was not found between vitamin B2 and people born female.
Niacin (vitamin B3) supports more than 400 enzymes in the human body. It’s also needed to convert food into cellular energy and to create vitamin derivatives that mobilize antioxidant cellular defenses. It’s found in most meats and seafood, as well as marinara sauce and brown rice.
Niacin can help to balance phosphorus, which is important for kidney health, although supplementation can sometimes come with an uncomfortable side effect known as the niacin flush. It leads to a reddened skin reaction that, while harmless, can feel uncomfortable. This flushing reaction is a major reason why many people stop taking niacin supplements, unless they’re low dose.
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is needed for metabolic health and energy production. Researchers have found a strong association between pantothenic acid, along with other B-complex nutrients, and kidney health. It’s one of the few nutrients that is found in most foods, so deficiency is quite rare.
Folic acid—also known as folate or vitamin B9—is an essential nutrient for DNA health, amino acid metabolism, and reproductive health. It’s found in many foods, but is particularly abundant in beef liver, green vegetables, avocado, and kidney beans.
Speaking of kidneys: folic acid does have an indirect, but essential, role in kidney health. The kidneys are closely tied to heart health, blood pressure, and a compound known as homocysteine. Too much homocysteine is problematic for the heart and kidneys. The body has built-in conversion systems that change homocysteine into a less-problematic amino acid, known as methionine. This conversion process heavily relies on folic acid and vitamin B12. Since folic acid is water-soluble, you need to consume it daily.
Vitamin B12 is a highly studied nutrient because it’s essential for cellular health throughout the body. Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur in plant-based diets, since it’s almost entirely found in animal-origin foods, or when a person lacks intrinsic factor and other necessary molecules to properly absorb and distribute B12. Aging can decrease the ability to absorb B12, but genetics, lack of other nutrients, or changes to how the immune system responds can all contribute to B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is important for kidney function. Along with folate, vitamin B6, and other nutrients relating to methylation, vitamin B12 is needed to promote healthy homocysteine balance in the body. Excess homocysteine is harmful for the kidneys. Vitamin B12 supplementation, along with folate and other nutrients that support healthy methylation, can support kidney health by encouraging balanced albumin and endothelial health.
Vitamin B12 is found in meats, seafood, and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy. People who follow vegan, vegetarian, or allergy-sensitive diets may not get enough B12 from foods. Vitamin B12 on its own, or with other B vitamins, are available as dietary supplements to support healthy intake.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a nutrient that supports more than 100 enzyme reactions which are necessary for energy conversion and healthy methylation responses. B6 is also instrumental for neurotransmitter production and hemoglobin formation, which also influences kidney health.
Kidneys filter a high volume of fluids. Some people are more prone to the build-up of substances in the kidneys that can be problematic, like uric acid, calcium oxalate, or calcium phosphate. Vitamin B6 can help to prevent the accumulation of these in the kidneys.
While many people get enough B6 from food, certain factors can make inadequacy more likely, like frequent alcohol intake, gastrointestinal conditions, and higher body weight. Pregnancy can also make it harder to absorb B6. Foods that are high in vitamin B6 include chickpeas, seafood, poultry, potatoes, and bananas. It’s also found in dietary supplements like B-complex, multivitamins, or on its own.
Biotin is a B vitamin that is needed for healthy energy metabolism and cell signaling. It is needed for general health, but on its own, it does not directly support kidney function. However, a lack of enzymes needed for biotin absorption can lead to increased losses of biotin from the kidneys, further contributing to poor nutritional status.
Biotin is noted for its ability to interfere with several lab tests, especially those checking thyroid hormone levels as well as vitamin D. Even intakes lower than 10 mg can influence lab results, so if you take any supplements that contain biotin (including multivitamins or B-complex), be sure to let your healthcare provider know prior to getting lab tests. They may ask you to stop taking biotin for a few days before a blood draw.
Biotin is found in foods like meat, eggs, seafood, pork, and sunflower seeds and is often included in multivitamin and B-complex formulations. Standalone biotin supplements are frequently promoted to support hair growth, although clinical trial evidence does not firmly support this benefit.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that can be produced in the body after UVB sun exposure. It’s also available in limited natural food sources (like coldwater fatty fish), added to some foods, and as dietary supplements. Regardless of how the body gets vitamin D, it has to go through two rounds of a chemical conversion process known as hydroxylation. The first conversion takes place in the liver, and the second occurs in the kidneys. The second phase is what activates vitamin D into the biologically active form, known as calcitriol.
Vitamin D is also a nutrient of importance for kidney health. It’s needed to support a healthy balance for parathyroid hormone (PTH). The relationship between vitamin D, PTH, calcium, and skeletal health is complex. But changes to vitamin D status can significantly affect calcium absorption and bone health. Kidney conditions can decrease activation of vitamin D, and can also influence calcium stores. Dehydration, medication side effects, and anything else that impacts the kidneys either in the short or longer term can influence vitamin D status. Both too much or too little vitamin D can be harmful, and the mechanisms involving vitamin D activation and kidney health do not only occur in one direction. Before taking vitamin D supplements, especially if you have any family history of kidney or other conditions, check with your doctor. Your doctor can use a lab test to determine your vitamin D status, kidney function, and more. This will inform their recommendations for how much, if any, you should supplement.
If you take biotin supplements, you should let your doctor know, since these could influence the results of your vitamin D lab testing.
Omega-3 fatty acids support healthy cell function, energy metabolism, immune wellness, neurological health, and much more. They have to come from food or supplement sources, since the body can’t make them. That’s why they’re referred to as essential fatty acids.
Omega-3s may support overall kidney health and renal function, although research is not clear on a specific mechanism. There are likely many reasons, including how omega-3s support healthy immune cell and tissue responses to oxidative stress. Omega-3s may also be beneficial for metabolic wellness, which directly influences kidney function and health, although studies have been small. Larger clinical trials are needed.
Foods like coldwater fish (salmon, mackerel) are good sources of omega-3s. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia can provide precursors to omega-3 fats, but the body isn’t very efficient at this process, and those foods are usually not enough to support adequate omega-3 balance. Fish oil supplements, including vegan options, can support a healthy fatty acid intake for people who do not consume seafood.
Dietary fiber is necessary for a healthy microbiome and to support balanced intestinal elimination. Many people in the U.S. don’t consume enough fiber on a daily basis.
Fiber has several impacts on kidney health. Diets that contain more fiber are associated with better intestinal bacterial composition, which supports healthy pH balance in the body and immune system responses. When these are not supported by adequate dietary intake, kidney function is impacted.
Nutrition professionals recommend 18-38 grams of fiber per day for adults. This range supports healthy microbiota and gastrointestinal function, which directly influence nutrient absorption and systemic wellness. Changes to gut health can increase the detoxification burden for the kidneys. Studies have found that only around 5% of Americans consume enough fiber.
A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can provide plenty of fiber as well as essential nutrients that support overall health.
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is the same dandelion that sprouts up in your backyard. It can be consumed as a salad green, but it is also formulated as an extract in dietary supplements.
It is broadly considered to be healthy for kidneys because it has natural diuretic properties. However, very little research has been done in humans to determine the effect of dandelion root supplements on kidney health parameters. A study involving 17 people looked at the effects of taking dandelion extract three times in one day. While the subjects experienced increased urination, there was no blinding or placebo control for the trial. The one-day duration also limits what, if anything, can really be learned.
Animal research has demonstrated that dandelion leaf extract supports healthy cellular expression, DNA health, glutathione levels, and other markers relating to oxidative wellness. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will do the same in humans. Well-designed clinical trials in humans are needed to learn more.
Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis L.) is a popular herbal supplement used for many things, but most evidence to date comes from in vitro studies or animal research. Some of those studies also pair it with other ingredients, making it challenging to determine how marshmallow root affects human health. Additionally, research on marshmallow can be confusing, since some studies do not clearly state that the benefits presented refer to animal-based research. Overall, there’s no clear evidence-based way to determine how marshmallow root impacts kidney health.
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) has a long history of use for kidney and detoxification health, although evidence from clinical trials isn’t there to confirm it. Animal research has found that nettle can support urological health, but it’s unknown whether this is true for humans. Human research does support nettle’s potential benefit for metabolic wellness, but more studies are needed that confirm existing results.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a supplement that aligns with your health needs.
There are many dietary supplement brands, and depending on the specific supplement that you are looking for, you may encounter dozens of different choices. The right supplement for you may depend on several factors.
To ensure that you find a product that meets your needs, consider asking yourself the following questions:
Ask your healthcare provider about specific product questions or brands. Most companies provide detailed information on their websites about how their products are tested and formulated, which may help you find answers to your questions.
Dietary supplements can vary in price. The same supplement, in the same serving size, can have different price points depending on the brand and where you purchase it from.
It can be tempting to try to save money, but many online retail sites—not the direct supplement manufacturers—have had issues with counterfeit products. These may appear to be dramatically reduced in price, which can be a red flag. When in doubt, you can ask manufacturers if they sell online at specific websites.
Many supplement companies, including Care/of, offer simple ordering, subscriptions, and product information online or via convenient smartphone apps.
Any medications and supplements have the potential to affect kidney health, either positively or negatively. This is because substances, including nutrients, that enter the body are metabolized. Byproducts of metabolism are eliminated from the body via the liver, kidneys, and intestines. Substances that leave the body through the kidneys and urine require filtration, and when there is a higher volume of intake, there’s a more substantial workload for the kidneys.
You should always ask your healthcare provider before starting supplements. People with any conditions, whether involving the kidneys or not, should be especially careful to check with their doctors before taking supplements or OTC medicine.
Supplement side effects can vary. While most supplements are not known to produce obvious harmful side effects, health status and genetic individuality can have an influence. Some common side effects that may involve the kidneys include increased or decreased urination, water retention, or changes to the color of urine. Other side effects can also affect the kidneys, but if you are taking anything and notice effects, talk to a medical provider.
There are many ways to naturally support kidney health. A nutritious diet, regular physical activity, and 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night are some of the most important ways. Other advice for kidney health includes to avoid tobacco use, minimize alcohol intake, and find healthy ways to address stress.
Dietary modifications may be instrumental in supporting kidney health. These could include:
Many dietitians and healthcare providers suggest special dietary approaches for kidney support. These can include the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, or a vegetarian food plan. Your personal health needs may differ, so if you want to support kidney health with nutrition, your medical provider and a registered dietitian or clinical nutritionist can create an individualized plan for you.
The kidneys are tiny, but busy organs. They’re essential for healthy detoxification, blood, energy transport, and more. Supplements may be able to support kidney health, but there’s a wide range of evidence to support their effects. Dietary and lifestyle habits that support your overall health can also have a big influence on kidney function. Before starting supplements or making major lifestyle changes, check with your healthcare provider.