Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Chronic Kidney Disease


What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic kidney failure, is a term used to encompass damage to the kidneys that is caused by various conditions. It involves the gradual loss of kidney function that develops over months or years. As the kidneys lose the ability to filter the blood and remove waste and extra fluids from the body, a buildup of fluids, electrolytes, and wastes occurs.

Alternative and complementary treatments

Chronic kidney disease has no known cure; however, obtaining appropriate treatment is essential to slow the progression of the disease and contribute to higher kidney function. Conventional medical treatments include medications, dialysis, or a kidney transplant. Alternative and complementary treatments are also available, which may include supplements or traditional Chinese medicine.


Certain supplements may be effective in helping treat CKD. A health care professional should be consulted prior to taking any supplements, including the following:

  • Erythropoietin
    Supplements of this hormone (which may include added iron) can help to increase red blood cell count. This may reduce weakness and fatigue caused by anemia that often accompanies chronic kidney disease.
  • Alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG)
    This supplement is used to create muscles and heal wounds. It may also be used to treat chronic kidney disease. Scientific evidence is lacking in proving AKG as effective for CKD, however, it is sometimes given intravenously to prevent muscle breakdown following surgery or trauma.
  • Rehmannia
    Commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), rehmannia may decrease the amount of protein in the urine when taken with the drug, irbesartan. However, there is no sufficient evidence in support of its efficacy.
  • Soy
    Soy may reduce the amount of protein in the urine, which can improve kidney function. However, there is little evidence to support how effective it may be.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been practiced for thousands of years. It focuses on the connection between the mind and body and the use of herbal supplements to treat a variety of health conditions. TCM that may help with CKD includes the following:

  • Herbal medicine
    Certain herbs used in TCM may be recommended in the treatment of chronic kidney disease. Oftentimes, these herbs are combined into a specific formula. However, some Chinese herbs have been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is associated with kidney damage and urinary tract cancer. A health care professional should always be consulted prior to taking any herbs.
  • Acupuncture
    Acupuncture is performed by an experienced and licensed professional and involves the insertion of fine, thin needles into the skin at specific points of the body. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is described as a method to balance the flow of energy (chi or qi) via pathways through the body. In the Western world, it is considered an alternative treatment. Acupuncture practitioners believe that the strategic placement of the needles stimulates muscles, nerves, and connective tissues. Many alternative medical professionals believe this stimulation increases natural pain-fighting chemicals and boosts blood flow in the body. Acupuncture has been shown to improve the function of the kidneys, reduce the amount of protein in the urine, lower blood pressure, improve anemia, and relieve pain.
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