The kidneys, two small, bean-shaped, fist-sized organs, sit above our backsides. They get little attention until they start to complain.
Our kidneys hold us to account for past transgressions. Not staying properly hydrated, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol may eventually lead our kidneys to revolt with stones, urinary tract infections, or even kidney failure.
Fortunately, simple, at-home remedies can ease the ire of our hard-working and under-appreciated kidneys (and bladder for that matter).
Cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections. Apple cider vinegar can help dissolve kidney stones. And basil leaves have compounds known to prevent kidney disease. Each of these plant-based medicines contribute unique properties to the kidney and bladder healing recipe found at the end of this article.
But before that, let’s explore how our kidneys and bladder work and what is proven to help keep them healthy.
Kidney and Bladder Anatomy and Function
Everyone knows the feeling of pressure relieved after urination. In good health, our urinary tract works as it should.
Our industrious kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood each day and separate out toxins and waste. This allows nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and proteins from our diet to return to our bloodstream.
The by-product is urine. The waste products are carried in the urine through two thin tubes, known as ureters, to our bladder. The bladder is a hollow, expandable, balloon-shaped reservoir with about a 2-cup capacity. Urine is stored in the bladder until the next visit to the toilet where it leaves the body through the urethra.
Common Conditions of the Kidney and Bladder
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common issue and affect women more than men. About 60 percent of women experience a UTI at some point in their lifetime. Bladder control problems, urinary incontinence, or the loss of ability to control when we urinate becomes more common as we age. And kidney stones occur in about 1 in 10 people, according to The Cleveland Clinic.
Habits to Support Kidney and Bladder Health
Each golden piece of long-standing health advice you heard from a teacher or your nana, like drink eight glasses of water a day, eat your fruits and veggies, and load up on fiber, reflects lifestyle habits important for your kidneys. Previous generations that advised us to get enough exercise, limit our caffeinated drinks and alcohol, and to not smoke, were also providing good habits for bladder health. The helpful researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) agree.
They also recommend urinating whenever you need to go because holding in urine for too long can weaken bladder muscles. They advocate for pelvic floor exercises for both men and women to keep the pelvic floor strong and maintain healthy bladder and bowel function. It’s a good idea to urinate after physical intimacy to help flush away bacteria from the urethra. And women can further help prevent UTI by wiping from front to back, so away from the urethra, to minimize bacterial exposure to the urinary tract.
The NIDDK also shares other helpful tips including taking note of changes to your urination habits. For example, if you feel the urge to urinate more often, have difficulty urinating, or notice urine leakage, these may be early signs of a problem with your urinary tract. Talking with a healthcare professional may help to prevent a condition from worsening.
There are also the plant-based medicines and traditional remedies mentioned above to treat poor kidney and bladder health.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) contains vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, polyphenols, and organic acids. It has many benefits when used as a nutritional supplement such as aiding weight loss, lowering blood pressure, treating high cholesterol, and supporting general nutrition.
ACV is regarded as safe as long as it is not taken in excess, which can damage tooth enamel. It may eliminate harmful intestinal bacteria, as shown in the study, Antimicrobial Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar Against Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus, and Candida Albicans, published in Scientific Reports in 2018. The study was conducted in cell cultures rather than people but also showed that ACV provides antioxidant defense and has a protective effect against erythrocyte, kidney, and liver oxidative injury.
For over 5,000 years vinegar has been produced for healing and consumption. Hippocrates and traditional medicines use ACV to protect skin wounds and combat infection. To produce vinegar, ethyl alcohol from raw materials like wine, malted barley, fruit, and cider is converted to acetic acid by a genus of acidic bacteria known as Acetobacter. ACV is the result of fermenting apple cider.
Constituents and Healing Activity
An animal study study from 2020 entitled Protective Role of Apple Cider Vinegar showed the protective effects of ACV against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced oxidative damage in the kidneys of rats. The study found that ACV has the therapeutic potential to protect against renal impairment. The treatment also showed ACV markedly reversed the kidney damage to near normal and improved the bleeding lesions caused by CCl4 in the animals’ kidneys.
ACV has notable antioxidant properties and is rich in caffeic acid, gallic acid, epicatechin, catechin, chlorogenic acid, and P-coumaric. Taking ACV has many health benefits and can act as a detoxifying and purifying agent to improve the function of vital organs, including the kidneys.
How to Use Healing Apple Cider Vinegar
Including ACV in a daily routine is easy. It is an excellent ingredient in salad dressings, food preservation, chutneys, and marinades, or it can be taken directly as a tonic, or added to warm or cool beverages. It may also be used as the sour ingredient in hot and sour soups. Recognized as a safe food ingredient, 1 to 2 tablespoons, or 3 to 6 teaspoons of ACV per day is the recommended daily amount.
In 2016, a study titled Comparison of Cultivable Acetic Acid Bacterial Microbiota in Organic and Conventional Apple Cider Vinegar showed that there are more diverse beneficial microbiota in organic ACV, which may make it worth choosing an organic ACV dietary ingredient.
Basil has been used as a folk medicine for centuries. Several studies show the protective role of basil leaves. In addition to the delightful aromatic compounds in basil, it is also a high-powered antioxidant with numerous pharmacological activities. The antioxidant action of basil comes from its many phenolic components including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and rosmarinic acid. A study from 2020 showed basil leaf extract protected rats from kidney toxicity. Interestingly, another animal study from 2019 showed that basil’s anti-diabetic and antioxidant effects protect and preserve the kidneys’ structure against diabetes-induced nephropathy.
The cranberry belongs to the same genus, Vaccinium, as similar berry-producing small shrubs like blueberry, huckleberry, and lingonberry. Clinical evidence supports cranberry’s use as a safe preventative strategy for avoiding urinary tract infections (UTI). Cranberries contain a complex mixture of organic acids, fructose, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, catechins, and triterpenoids.
“Anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins are tannins (polyphenols) that function as a natural plant defense system against microbial infection and are the components thought to be most clinically relevant in preventing UTIs in women,” found a research review published in Nature Reviews Urology from 2018 titled Nonantibiotic Prevention and Management of Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection.
Cranberry Basil Infused Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe
This delightful recipe has so many uses and kidney benefits. It is an excellent example of food as medicine. The preservative quality of the vinegar means you can make large batches of this addictive infusion to keep on hand. To help use the triple power of these kidney-restoring ingredients, this delicious infusion can be added to salads, marinades, tonics, or beverages. A daily kidney cleansing use for this recipe is to add 2 to 3 teaspoons to a glass of fresh water, either warm or cold. This is especially wonderful to drink warm first thing in the morning but is also great to accompany meals.
½ cup dry or 1 cup fresh cranberries
½ cup dry or 1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 to 4 cups of apple cider vinegar
In a clean 1-quart jar place cranberries and basil and cover with 3 to 4 cups of apple cider vinegar. Cover with a leak-proof lid. Place the jar in a dark place away from light such as a cupboard for 2 weeks. Strain the flavored vinegar into a clean container and enjoy.
Use dry ingredients to improve shelf stability in herbal preparations because excess moisture can lead to early spoilage. If fresh basil and cranberries are available, make smaller batches that you will use up quickly, within 2 weeks. Shelf-stable herbal-infused vinegar should last 2 months at room temperature or 6 months in the refrigerator.