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Can Supplements Really Damage Your Kidneys?

I was surprised when my doctor told me to stop taking supplements because my kidney function was low. But after stopping the supplements, my kidney function returned to normal. Can taking a lot of supplements really damage the kidneys?

The effect of supplements on kidney health depends, in part, on an individual's underlying health issues, and which supplements are taken. However, there are reports of certain supplements causing kidney problems. A 2012 review of supplement-induced kidney dysfunction lists 15 herbs and supplements reported to have caused kidney problems, including chromium, creatine, licorice, willow bark, vitamin C and yohimbe (Gabardi, Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2012).

Taking high doses of vitamin C (1 gram or more daily), for example, has been associated with an increased risk of kidney stones, especially in people with a history of kidney stones (see the Cautions section of the Vitamin C Review for more information). Supplementation with cranberry tablets may pose a similar risk in people with a history of kidney stones (Terris, Urology 2001).

In diabetes patients with advanced kidney disease, high daily doses of B vitamins (folate, B6 and B12) were found in one study to worsen kidney function and double the risk of heart attack stroke and death (see the Cautions section of the B Vitamins Review for more information). 

If you are on an immunosuppressive drug, taking very large amounts of turmeric/curcumin may lead to kidney damage -- possibly due to reduced metabolism of the drug).

Minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus also have the potential to affect kidney function.

The National Kidney Foundation advises people with kidney disease, people who are on dialysis, and people who have received a kidney transplant to avoid all herbal supplements, and provides a list of supplements that may be the most harmful. The foundation also warns that some minerals, like potassium, may be present in supplements in which you may not expect them, like turmeric rhizome, evening primrose, noni and garlic leaf can all contain potassium.  

Heavy metal contamination from supplements is another potential cause of kidney problems (Gabardi, Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2012). Long-term exposure to excessive cadmium (which accumulates in kidneys), for example, can cause irreversible kidney damage and may also weaken bones. has reported surprisingly high concentrations of cadmium in some popular cocoa powders. To avoid unnecessary exposure, it's best to use supplements that have been tested by an independent testing organization, like, to be sure that a supplement does not exceed heavy metal limits. 

Learn More About Supplements and Kidney Health

Can taking certain forms of potassium, such as potassium citrate, reduce my chances of getting kidney stones? I've read a study that says it can, but it's unclear how much I should take. >>

Can taking too much vitamin B-6 be dangerous? The label on my multivitamin states it contains 2000% the Daily Value!  >>

Can taking too much vitamin B-12 be dangerous? The label on my B-complex states it contains 50,000% the Daily Value!  >>

After developing kidney stones, I was told to avoid tea -- but recently I've heard that green tea might actually be helpful for kidney stones. Is that true? >>

Can lemon juice or lemonade reduce my chances of getting kidney stones?  >>

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Scott12803   March 8, 2017
The answer does not address that he/she may have been taking protein supplements, which to my understanding, pose the greatest risk to one with compromised kidney function. While there is some benefit to timely ingestion of protein for muscle maintenance, especially in the elderly, most of us meet our protein needs with a balanced diet, or exceed our needs on a typical diet.

Jeanne12798   March 8, 2017
One thing I rarely see mentioned in the world of supplementation is that we are all different in what we need and what we can tolerate. Finding someone who could test me made all the difference in the world!

Vicki12830   March 15, 2017
Jeanne - how did you go about finding someone to test you for supplements? My primary, of course, isn't any help in the supplement area stating there are not enough clinical studies to justify supplements.

Thank you

Jeanne12837   March 19, 2017
I found someone in MA when I was living there. He is now in NH. His waiting list was at least 700 people when I last heard. He discovered that I had a delayed reaction system and didn't show any sensitivities until the next day. I would suggest researching everyone in your area and talking to people. That's how I found this man - asking at a health food store in my town! I have been going to him for almost 30 years! He tests foods and supplements. It changed my life!!

Donald12791   March 8, 2017
Nonsense Frank. Talk to anyone in the agriculture industry.

Arthur12806   March 8, 2017
I have to agree with you on your comment. Frank's statements seem partially unsubstantiated and partially true. How did Frank measure the "nutritional density"? Mixing good and bad information weakens the argument overall.

Velga12807   March 8, 2017
People in the agriculture industry are the last people to contact for an answer to what Frank wrote. They have to protect their "industry" and they will poo poo most anything that claims that their methods are at fault for anything. My in-laws were dairy farmers, but had a huge veggie garden. Everything was grown in the way that their parents had farmed back in Europe. The veggies were like nothing you can find in the supermarkets.

Donald12829   March 15, 2017
Actually, I've talked to academics at our agricultural university, who have no agenda to protect anyone. The reason supermarket vegies may seem less tasty is simply that they are not as fresh. It is true that some crops bred for larger size or better shipping hardiness may be less nutrient dense. But the best advice about vegies is still to eat more of them!

Frank11668   February 11, 2017
One very good reason for taking supplements is that we cannot get the nutrients from fresh foods these days that were available to our great grand-parents. This is due to modern agricultural methods. To make up for this we need general supplements from plants grown in healthy soils manufactured in a way that the nutrients and phytonutrients are not lost from the picking to the end product. In plants, as in all nature, there is a lot of synergy. We still don't know what all the thousands of phytonutrients do, and maybe never will, but they almost certainly provide some synergy to the nutrients we can identify. Also, remember, 'organic' does not necessarily mean that the plants have been grown in a healthy soil. I have found the nutritional density of organic vegetables bought in the supermarket to be less than those not labelled 'organic'. The nutritional density is related to the 'healthiness' of the soil and all its components. The plants produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from free radicals. By stressing them just before harvesting the plants therefore have a high level of these phytonutrients which protect us in the same way. The source of the plants that make up the supplements is therefore critical to the benefits.

Velga12808   March 8, 2017
Very well said, Frank.

Martin12812   March 9, 2017
Frank's "very good reason" is misguided. The answer to shortcomings in modern foods is better foods, not supplements, which are concocted in a process designed to deliver a profit to the manufacturer. The difference between previous plant foods and the current generation is almost indistinguishable. Supplements can play a role filling a hole in our nutrition, but it's better to fill it with fresh, local nutrients. "Nutrient density" is a legitimate concept that has a number of specific measures for determining the value of a food, but the concept is not useful on the individual level; food scientists apply it to large populations of people and to foodstuffs that are a major source of nutrients for the population. In short, be wary of advice to load up on supplements, unless your medical professional team is the source of that advice.

Joseph11551   January 2, 2017
Joe, age 87

First do no harm! Research a great deal! Accept the best from any source,
and reject any subscription medication or supplement or advice that appears
questionable! Always review as many reputable sources as possible! When in doubt, back out!

Catherine11547   January 1, 2017
To add to the other good points made below, another problem with general comments about taking supplements is that they are all lumped into the same basket. Some examples include: there are huge and meaningful differences between physiological and pharmacological doses of nutrients; the issues are quite different between herbals and nutrients; and of course there are the baloney concoctions and the well-researched ones, or ones that at least have a biological rationale.

Jason11541   January 1, 2017
I had a similar problem. My doc was concerned with an elevated creatinine level. I am a middle aged man with no significant health problems and no family history of kidney disease. Nephrologist had me hold all my supplements and my creatinine levels returned to normal. I was taking creatine, lots of protein and weight training fairly intensely. All of those things can cause an elevated creatinine.

Creatinine is a natural byproduct of metabolism of creatine. Approx 2% of creatine (mostly in the muscle) is converted to creatinine daily. It is well cleared from the kidney which is why it is used as a marker of kidney function. Creatinine levels do not directly indicate kidney damage. So if there is increased production of creatinine in the body, it may still be out of the normal reference range even if the kidneys are working fine. Causes of elevated production of creatinine include: higher than typical muscle mass, increased protein ingestion, creatine supplements and muscle damage from intense exercise.   January 2, 2017
Hi Jason - Yes, taking creatine can slightly increase plasma levels of creatinine but, in healthy individuals, this is not likely to throw off measures of kidney function, as discussed in the Muscle Enhancers Review (Creatine and Branched-chain Amino Acids):

John96   August 9, 2014
I'm wondering why most of the respondents here seem to be in favour of taking supplements. My understanding is that unless you have a medical problem, there is scant evidence to support any beneficial effects of the daily taking of supplements and growing evidence that many of them can cause harm. Are you all victims of the multi-billion-dollar global supplement industry? There is no quick fix for unhealthy lifestyles. My humble advice: Move more, avoid many processed foods, eat a wide variety of healthful foods, avoid stress and be happy!

Jane98   August 9, 2014
In my case, I began taking herbal supplements when the medical system failed me. I went from one doctor to another with a long list of really debilitating symptoms. It was seriously affecting my quality of life and even my ability to do my job. Every Dr. said it was thyroid, did a TSH test and when it came back in the range of normal, said I was fine. End of story. But I kept getting worse. When I was finally got fired because I was no longer able to even do my job, I had time to do research on my own. Herbal suppliments have been a god-send to me. I am now healthier than I've been in 15 years, no thanks to the medical establishment.

Tracey11657   February 8, 2017
I agree with Jane! Major fail on the part of mainstream medical. Herbs and supplements are slowly getting my health back!

Wallace99   August 10, 2014
John, it is really fine if you are happy avoiding supplements. But, I cannot agree with the "scant evidence" comment. This site is chock full of evidence (yes, sometimes going both ways). Personally, I've concretely seen the clear effects and benefit of celery seed extract for gout (practically a magic bullet), pantathenic acid on rheumatoid arthritis, zinc on sore throat/colds, fish oil on a cholesterol panel, and more. The body NEEDS every mineral in a typical daily supplement, and something may go wrong if we don't take them. For we cannot manage to get the perfect collection in just our food. So, yes, even though I'm healthy, I'm going to keep taking Mg and B6 to avoid kidney stones, for they have stopped me cold having the stones.
I'll never forget meeting a person on a cruise who just finished pharmacy school. She was downright rabid against ANY form of ANY supplement. She would get livid. Somebody taught her this, and it was mainstream medicine ... an area I highly appreciate, but some folks in that area are doing a disservice when they just toss out all of nature's pharmacy and push the hard medicines only. I admit, people should be "careful" and well-researched when taking supplements, but I agree with Lynne95 that standard drugs are actually and typically more dangerous, and we all pop those pills, often without even reading the sheets that come with them!

Jennifer6876   July 22, 2015
What's even odder ....a lot of pharmaceutical drugs have herbs in them! They can't tell you that I suppose ...?

Amy6887   July 31, 2015
Hi Jennifer - Pharmaceutical drugs that contain compounds from herbs will list the purified compound derived from the herb in the ingredients list, but not the whole herb or the familiar herb name.

william12817   March 12, 2017
What's NOT ODD is that most pharmaceutical drugs are based on an active ingredient or derivative(s) of plants that show a medicinal effect. Big Pharma is constantly attempting to mimic the health benefits of plants and herbs in the hope that they can then patent and protect their outrageous profits. Look at the statistics on how many people DIE from pharmaceuticals vs vitamins/ herbs. Clearly the statistics do NOT FAVOR pharmaceuticals.
Doctors receive on average 4 hours of nutritional education during their 4 YEARS of Rockefeller controlled pharmaceutical based profit driven system in the US.

Read the book - Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs

you'll never look at the industry the same

Catherine11546   January 1, 2017

Stan11660   February 9, 2017
Well said, Wallace!
Most of us would not be using this website if we had not found that supplements were indeed useful and helpful in maintaining our health in some respect.
To generalize and say that all supplements are bad or worthless is simply not true.

Brian11535   January 1, 2017
Strong evidence is certainly hard to find. This is due in part to the fact that double-blind, placebo controlled studies are costly to perform on humans. I think a lot of people take supplements based on animal studies and scientific theory regarding efficacy. Even more people take supplements based solely on the compelling, and often questionable marketing of the product. That said, there are two factors that can't be overlooked. One is the placebo effect, which can be remarkably powerful. The other issue is behavioral. I know a lot of bio-hackers who have altered their lifestyle in a positive way, and supplementation is at the core of this effort. These are the same people I see working out, eating right, and avoiding self-destructive behavior. So there could be an indirect benefit of a supplementation "mind-set". All in all, these facts make it really hard to attribute the health and well being of these individuals to the actual ingredients of their supplements. My personal approach is to first avoid harm. Consumerlab has been crucial in this effort to avoid things like kidney damage. I just wish more people did the research, understood it, and applied critical thinking to look past the marketing hype.

Michael12805   March 8, 2017
There are many Gold Standard studies, you just have to look for them. Try Google Scholar. I was on three different blood pressure medications until I started supplements. Now, I am on NO BP meds.

judith12816   March 12, 2017
what supplements are u on to lower blood pressure?

Lynne95   August 9, 2014
I am always skeptical when supplement warnings are issued. Many people die from over exposure to medications, but never does the public receive a warning until thousands of people have been affected. Often I review possible side effects of medications and even though some are quite dangerous, everyone is advised to continue the medication as it is very likely prescribed because you need it. There is a built in presumption in this advice that one's body is lacking in medication (chemicals) while vitamins and minerals, which the body requires to thrive, are the unnatural substances. I agree with those who are tired of the warnings and retractions regarding supplements that are a too frequent occurrence. This is an effort to confuse the public and to scare them away from nutrients that are required for health. I agree that people with any disease should be careful about what they ingest and do some research of their own before accepting any health advice.

Wallace92   August 8, 2014
Yes, people with serious conditions, and the very aged (esp. with diabetes, kidney failure, etc.) should be careful. Most healthy/normal people have little to fear. So, I'm a little put out by the over-reaction and anti-natural remedy by mainstream medicine.
Vitamin A is good, then bad (can we EVER get over the Finnish smokers aspect of study?), C is good, then useless, now good again? except causing kidney stones (1g+ is a lot! - normal doses should be okay). NIH says 65% of Americans are deficient in Magnesium (which can help normalize sugar & help absorption of Calcium), and should be JUST FINE unless you have kidney impairment. Actually B6 + Mg can help prevent kidney stones. Vitamin E is good then bad (but studied in only one form and without C to help it work), Echinacia is good then useless?? (study used paltry amounts) Zinc is helpful with colds, then "useless" (terribly done study). Seniors were told to go strong on B complex, now it is dangerous? These mixed signals explain why so many friends say they "stopped listening" to the conflicting info. That said, I DO appreciate this site greatly. It does a valuable service in the testing and getting latest reviews out. It just seems that many latest studies are designed to shoot down anything not prescription.

Rhoda94   August 8, 2014
I totally agree with you Wallace92. I like this health/news report letter, but I see no reason to panic every time something comes up about certain supplements. I take many natural supplements & I see a Nurse Practitioner that monitors all of my levels thru blood work. If you are healthy and following the advice of your doctor or whomever you feel most comfortable with, then you should ignore all the negative HYPE about supplements being BAD!!!
When taken as directed and followed properly with healthy eating and exercise, there is nothing and I mean NOTHING WRONG WITH NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS!

India97   August 9, 2014
Just an FYI ... 1 gram is not a lot of vitamin C. It's 1,000 mg.

Shar11544   January 1, 2017
My 2 cents. I take lysine immediately when I feel a cold sore/fever blister coming on. It's stops it from further development. I don't take lysine as a daily supplement. I suffer leg cramps on occasion when my potassium is low. I then will take potassium. I never use it as a daily supplement. I take resveratrol daily. As with anything too much of anything is not good. Supplements have there purpose.

Richard15555   September 21, 2017
Yes, it is a field of landmines to dance in with supplements. Very good points made here about the bouncing ball of good and bad vitamins. Chocolate? good - bad... good again. My mother made 85 years and never took a vitamin but she did spend most of the summer in my huge garden picking and preparing the daily meals and preserving the rest for the winter. My grandfather smoked 3 cigars a day and made 80 years. and never had any cancers. No pill will take the place of a garden and daily movement for good reason. I am down to just a few verifiable supplements now and feel better.

Susan89   August 7, 2014
Although supplements are natural substances, and anyone reading this certainly believes them to be valuable in preventing or treating health problems, perhaps taking a lot of pills all at once places too great a "concentrated" metabolic demand on the body all at once. A person with a health problem would investigate and avoid the supplements that might be making their own problem worse (this article suggests several examples), but even healthy people might decide to spread out the supplements over the day so the body can assimilate slowly, instead of taking a dozen pills at one meal. It does seem sensible to me, to let a smaller amount of supplement "accompany" the food.

John86   August 7, 2014
I understand why a doctor might ask a patient to stop taking all supplements as part of a process of determining which ones are causing a problem. However, the next step should be to reintroduce some of the supplements to see which supplements cause the problem again. Simply stopping taking all supplements forever seems like a really dangerous and dumb thing to do unless you don't believe in any value to supplements. I feel asking if taking supplements can cause kidney damage is like asking if taking medicines can cause kidney problems or eating too much food can cause kidney problems so stop eating stop taking all medicines. If supplements affect the body positively then some people seem to believe that all supplements are good but if some supplements cause a problem then all supplements are worthless. Such generalities are not useful. Consumerlabs does a great service because you are able to bring intelligence to this supplement discussion.

Elaine91   August 7, 2014
John86 is so reasonable in his thinking. That is why we are each look toward intelligent sources for information about supplements. It is almost impossible to eat without some kind of contaminants in our food. Taking steps to offset harm and to counterbalance the risks to our bodies is the reasonable thing to do.

This CL Answer initially posted on 8/7/2014. Last updated 8/8/2017.

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