HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOUR KIDNEYS: Renal specialist breaks down the problematic relationship

HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOUR KIDNEYS: Renal specialist breaks down the problematic relationship
A Bahama Mama cocktail.

Drinking heavily can increase risk of high blood pressure and diabetes — the most common causes of chronic kidney disease in The Bahamas

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — After a night of one too many cocktails or a weekend of drinking too many beers at the beach, you wake up dehydrated with a stitch in your side. Is that pang your kidneys crying “help”?

Drinking alcohol to excess is linked to several health and social problems, including liver disease and an increased risk of some cancers, not to mention risks from drunk driving, depression, alcohol addiction, domestic violence or accidental injuries while intoxicated.

Many people drink more than they realize. When experts talk about one drink, they are talking about one 12-ounce bottle of beer; one glass of wine — five ounces; or one shot, 1.5 ounces, of “hard liquor”.

Liquor bottles lined off on a store shelf.

Heavy drinking is defined as more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks in a single day for women and more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks in a single day for men.

The relationship between alcohol and your kidneys is a bit nuanced. Kidney specialist Shane A Bobart, MD, FASN, a nephrologist at Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital in Florida, broke down this troublesome pairing.

He noted that kidneys have an important role to fill: they filter waste from blood, regulate the balance of water and minerals in the body and produce hormones.

When people drink heavily, their kidneys have to work harder to filter out the alcohol. Binge drinking — five or more drinks within two hours — can raise a person’s blood alcohol to dangerous levels, causing a sudden drop in kidney function called acute kidney injury. This serious condition occurs when toxins from alcohol build up in the blood so fast the kidneys can’t maintain the proper fluid balance.

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 kidney damage.

Regular, heavy alcohol use can also be harmful to kidneys over time. According to the National Kidney Foundation (USA), regular heavy drinking can double the risk of chronic kidney disease. The risk is even higher in people who drink heavily and also smoke.

Heavy drinking also has an indirect effect on kidney health.

“The body is a big domino set,” said Bobart. “If you have one part of your body that’s not in balance, it can cause problems in many other parts of the body.”

Drinking heavily can increase the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, for example. These conditions are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease in The Bahamas.

Chronic alcohol use is also a major cause of liver disease. When your liver isn’t functioning well, it can impair blood flow to your kidneys.

“Liver disease can have significant impacts on the kidneys,” said Bobart.

What is clear is that heavy drinking takes a toll on your organs, kidneys included.

“I urge anyone who has any trouble with alcohol to seek medical help,” said Bobart. “Doing so is nothing to be ashamed of. We have a lot of avenues to help people, and there are resources out there to get people the help they need.”