Alcohol and Kidney Disease

Alcohol, which includes beer, wine, ciders and spirits (like gin, rum, vodka, etc) are a big part of the world we live in. In fact, during the pandemic nearly 66% of Canadians reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. Alcohol activates the pleasure or reward centres in the brain which can give a feeling of relaxation. It is also a central nervous system depressant meaning it slows down brain and bodily functions (like breathing and heart rate) and thought processes. But you may be wondering can you consume alcohol with kidney diseases?

Alcohol absorbs into your bloodstream. And most of the body’s organs and tissues are exposed to the same amount of alcohol as your blood, this includes your kidneys, but your liver is exposed to more.

The Kidneys and Alcohol

Healthy kidneys work to remove excess waste, toxins, and fluid from your blood.  And this includes alcohol. Alcohol causes changes in the function of the kidneys and makes them less able to filter the blood. But alcohol can affect the kidney’s ability to regulate fluid and electrolytes in the body. 

Somethings to consider with alcohol and kidney disease are:

  • Alcohol also causes dehydration in the body. 
  • Too much alcohol can also affect your blood pressure. 
  • Alcohol can also impair your judgment (perhaps you will forget your medications then) and motor skills, can could cause you to fall or have an injury. 
  • If you live with diabetes and CKD, alcohol can cause your blood sugar levels to drop. If your healthcare team has said it is okay to drink alcohol, it is important to do so with food to prevent low blood sugars.
  • Alcohol itself provides empty calories. There is no nutritional benefit and the calories can add up quickly. Additionally, depending on the drink type it may also have carbohydrates which can impact blood sugar levels for those with diabetes. 
  • Some medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, may interact with alcohol and cause the medicines not to work properly or cause your blood alcohol level to rise. Speaking with your pharmacist is important.

Drinking Guidelines

Drinking large quantities of alcohol and binge drinking have been associated with higher risk of kidney disease. More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure and progressing your kidney disease. Current recommendations in Canada, which are under review, aim to limit alcohol to: 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days, and  15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days.

A standard drink is considered:

  • Beer 341 ml (12 oz.) 5% alcohol content 
  • Wine 142 ml (5 oz.) 12% alcohol content 
  • Cider/ Cooler 341 ml (12 oz.) 5% alcohol content 
  • Distilled Alcohol (rye, gin, rum, etc.) 43 ml (1.5 oz.) 40% alcohol content

What About Mocktails?

Here are some tips and tricks for kidney-friendly holiday beverages:

  • Offer to bring your own holiday beverages to parties to ensure there are kidney-friendly options available. Try these: apple cider, tea, lemonade.
  • Consider a “mocktail”, a non-alcoholic mixed drink that is cocktail-style beverage made without alcoholic ingredients, instead of alcohol-containing beverages. Like my Lime and Mint Soda or Pineapple Punch recipes with the Kidney Community Kitchen. 
  • Make a spritzer by mixing a small amount of wine (2 oz.) with sparking water (250 mL) and ice to reduce the calories and alcohol.
  • If you are on a fluid restriction, try sipping on hot or chilled beverages slowly as this allows you to enjoy smaller portions longer.
  • If you are consuming alcohol, remember to make it kidney-friendly and consume responsibly. Try to have half as much, sip slowly and avoid high calorie mixed drinks

What Should You Do?

Alcohol is common at many social gatherings and celebrations, and the desire to have a glass or two is understandable, but your health should always come first. Remember to keep track of your alcohol consumption and monitor your overall fluid intake. Make smart decisions with alcohol and chronic kidney disease and making smart decisions will help you preserve your kidney function. If you choose to drink alcohol, check with your nephrologist or renal dietitian to find out if alcohol is safe for you. 

If you’re looking to feel empowered and supported with your nutrition and health needs, working with a dietitian can help you preserve your kidney function.

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