Kidney atrophy is when the kidney shrinks in size, often due to a chronic illness. Left unchecked, this may eventually lead to the irreversible loss of kidney function—but kidney atrophy itself is not completely irreversible.
In fact, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment has been found to be helpful in regrowing and strengthening the kidneys.
Dr. Yuen Oi-lin, a registered Chinese medicine practitioner in Hong Kong, said that she had cases of patients suffering from kidney atrophy after taking painkillers. After trying acupuncture and taking Chinese medicine, their kidneys grew in size. This included terminally ill patients, some with only 10 percent of their renal function remaining, which recovered to 30 percent after treatment.
The causes of kidney atrophy, or renal atrophy, are complex. The most common causes are renal pelvis inflammation, glomerular necrosis, and congenital renal hypoplasia.
Renal atrophy is usually characterized by reduced kidney size and weakened or lost kidney function. Patients often feel lower back pain, combined with symptoms such as bubbly urine, edema of the feet (swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs), and feeling tired.
TCM Treatment Regrows Kidney
Dr. Yuen said one patient had started taking a new painkiller to alleviate his lower back pain, but very soon, he developed kidney atrophy. The symptoms he encountered were lower back pain, foot pain, poor complexion, and lethargy.
Through ultrasound inspection, it was found that his right kidney atrophied and had become smaller in size.
A Western medicine doctor he saw believed it was irreversible and recommended the patient undergo a period of observation, and in the worst case, he might need to have the atrophied kidney removed.
The patient later came to Dr. Yuen and was given three courses of treatment.
First, acupuncture was performed daily for 10 days.
Then, after a few days’ break, the patient began taking Chinese medicine prescribed by Dr. Yuen and underwent another course of 10 acupuncture sessions, this time performed every other day.
Two months later, the patient’s symptoms improved, and by ultrasound examination, it was found that his right kidney had grown bigger. He then stopped taking painkillers because his lower back pain symptoms also improved.
Dr. Yuen used medicine that included the herbs Salvia miltiorrhiza (Danshen) and Panax notoginseng (Tianqi). Both herbs are common medicinal materials in TCM for promoting blood circulation and have the effect of repairing kidney function.
The latest research confirms that the active ingredients in Salvia miltiorrhiza can improve blood circulation in the kidneys and reduce inflammation, thereby treating acute kidney injury.
The active ingredients in Panax notoginseng can delay the deterioration of chronic kidney disease by improving intestinal flora.
Dr. Yuen said that TCM treatment for renal atrophy will aim to invigorate the kidney while also nourishing the liver and spleen.
“Our internal organs are fully integrated. TCM philosophy in its treatment of illness is to treat the body as an organic whole rather than targeting individual parts,” she said.
TCM Treatment Can Reduce Time on Dialysis
Dr. Yuen said treatment in the early stages of renal atrophy is more effective. For patients with advanced renal atrophy or renal failure, TCM treatment can help reduce the time and frequency of dialysis.
Dr. Yuen once had a patient whose renal function was at 10 percent of normal function. After acupuncture and taking Chinese medicine, renal function increased to 30 percent, and dialysis was no longer necessary.
A female patient in her 80s originally had kidney dialysis three times a week but had it reduced to twice a week after acupuncture.
Herbal Medicine Is Good for Chronic Kidney Disease
One Taiwanese study showed that Chinese herbal medicine prolonged the survival rate of patients with chronic kidney disease.
The researchers analyzed the data of 14,718 patients with chronic kidney disease, of which 6,958 took Chinese herbal medicine and 7,760 did not. During the 12 year follow-up period, the survival rate of patients taking TCM was significantly higher than that of patients not.
The most used Chinese herb for chronic kidney disease patients in Taiwan is Salvia miltiorrhiza. The most popular formula prescribed for chronic kidney disease patients is Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, which is the most commonly used tonic in TCM according to Dr. Yuen. In addition to nourishing the kidney, it also has the effect of replenishing the liver and strengthening the spleen and stomach.
The efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic kidney disease has also been confirmed by many medical researchers. Studies have found that acupuncture can improve kidney function, reduce proteinuria, control high blood pressure, relieve pain and itching, and improve insomnia and fatigue.
Avoid High Potassium Foods
People with kidney disease should also pay attention to their daily food intake while receiving treatment. Impaired kidney function makes it difficult to excrete excess potassium, sodium, and other elements from the body, so it is wise to avoid foods that are high in potassium and sodium, such as heavily flavored and/or processed foods. Common high-potassium foods include dates, spinach, peanuts.