Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a growing worldwide problem that is increasingly shown to be interwoven with cardiovascular disease (CVD), smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, because of the kidneys’ important and varied role in the body, impairment of their function can result in a range of disorders, from mild differences in fluid balance to acute kidney failure and death. Alcohol, one of the numerous factors that can damage and reduce kidney function, can interfere with kidney function directly, through short term excess or long term consumption, or indirectly, as a consequence of liver disease.
The benefits of smoking or alcohol consumption are very difficult to identify and are at best minimal and of no real tangible benefit to its users. However, the harmful effects of these common social pleasures are well documented but not commonly known.
This post is aimed at educating readers on the harms of these silent actors to a common and growing problem of kidney disease and kidney failure. In summary, there is no safe amount of cigarette smoke to be exposed to. There are levels of alcohol intake above which health problems occur including kidney disease.
Alcohol and the kidney
Drinking alcohol can affect many parts of your body, including your kidneys. A little alcohol—one or two drinks now and then—usually has no serious effects because the body can easily and quickly get rid of the alcohol from the body. But drinking too much even if you do not have a damaged liver can harm your health and worsen or accelerate kidney disease.
For instance, alcoholics with damaged livers have been shown to have enlarged kidneys with reduced blood flow to the kidneys. Alcohol can have effects on the kidney even in people without damaged livers by causing loss of water (remember the frequent urination?) as well as nutrients in the body such as magnesium, phosphate, calcium, sodium and potassium all of which have important functions in the body. Alcohol taken in large quantities over months to years can also impair the ability to control blood pressure through mechanisms that are yet to be fully understood and has a negative impact on the ability of the kidney to control acid balance.
How much alcohol is too much?
When experts talk about one drink, they are talking about one 350 ml bottle of beer, one glass of wine (150 ml), or one shot (45 ml) of “hard liquor.” Hard liquor includes vodka, brandy, whisky and other spirits.
Having more than three drinks in a day (or more than seven per week) for women, and more than four drinks in a day (or more than 14 per week) for men, is considered “heavy” drinking. The kidneys of heavy drinkers have to work harder. Heavy drinking on a regular basis has been found to double the risk for kidney disease and kidney failure requiring dialysis and kidney transplantation.
Binge drinking (usually more than four to five drinks within two hours) can raise a person’s blood alcohol to dangerous levels. This can cause a sudden drop in kidney function known as “acute kidney injury.” When this happens, dialysis is needed until a person’s kidney function returns to normal. Acute kidney injury usually goes away in time, but in some cases, it can lead to lasting permanent kidney damage.
Some people should not drink at all. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink, especially if you have a medical condition or take medicines that might be affected by using alcohol. Women, older people, and those with smaller bodies should be especially careful. Of course, pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol.
For more information on the use of alcohol in Nigeria and the harmful effects including the impact on liver disease and road traffic accidents, read a world health organization report by clicking here.
Smoking and the kidney.
One of the many things that contribute to the poor understanding of the harmful effects of cigarette smoking is a lack of knowledge of what is contained in a cigarette. There are few effective labels or warnings about the dangers or harms of smoking.
Nicotine is the principal substance contained in cigarettes that not only has impact on brain function but has addiction potential. There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous or can damage the kidney.
Many of these chemicals are also found in consumer products, but these products have warning labels. While the public is warned about the danger of the poisons in these products, there is no such warning for the toxins in tobacco smoke.
Here are a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are found:
- Acetone – found in nail polish remover
- Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye
- Ammonia – a common household cleaner
- Arsenic – used in rat poison
- Benzene – found in rubber cement
- Butane – used in lighter fluid
- Cadmium – active component in battery acid
- Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
- Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
- Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
- Lead – used in batteries
- Naphthalene – an ingredient in moth balls
- Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel
- Nicotine – used as insecticide
- Tar – material for paving roads
- Toluene – used to manufacture paint
Can smoking cigarettes affect my kidneys?
Yes, for the following reasons:
- Smoking can interfere with medicines used to treat high blood pressure. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled high blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease.
- Substances released from inhaling cigarette smoke can damage blood vessels and eventually slows the blood flow to vital organs like the kidneys and can worsen already existing kidney disease.
E-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don’t know:
- the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended,
- how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or
- whether there are any benefits associated with using these products.
Additionally, it is not known whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.
What health problems are related to smoking?
According to the World Health Organization, smokers have an increased risk of developing:
- Lung cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Lung disease
- Mouth cancer
- Heart disease
- Pancreas cancer
- High blood pressure
- Cervical cancer
- Pregnancy complications
- Kidney cancer
- Early menopause
For more information on the impact of tobacco use on health, read the world health organization fact sheet on tobacco use by clicking here.