Alcohol consumption is very common. In the United States, over 50% of adults have drank alcohol in the past month. You may be wondering if you can still drink alcohol if you were diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD). In short, yes, you can drink alcohol if you have CKD. But there are some points you want to take into consideration. In this blog post I’ll discuss some points to consider when drinking alcohol. Always check with your doctor if you are unsure if drinking alcohol is safe for you.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol, also called ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is a substance that is made by fermentation of yeast, sugar and starches. Alcohol is considered a depressant and slows down brain activity, which is why it can impair judgement and slow our reaction time. When alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed mainly from the small intestines into your blood stream. The liver breaks down and eliminates alcohol, but it’s only able to process a small amount at a time, so the rest of the alcohol circulates through the rest of the body and impact all organs.
How does alcohol affect the kidneys?
The kidneys are our bodies filtering units, so they do play a role in handling everything we put in our body. About 10% of alcohol is excreted by the kidneys so this can strain your kidneys if you drink in excess. Excess alcohol causes inflammation which further hurts your kidneys. Long term alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, high blood pressure, in turn, causes further damage to the kidneys (1).
How much alcohol is safe to have?
There is no standard amount of alcohol that we can say is absolutely 100% safe for all people. Most people, including those with CKD, can handle alcohol in moderation. A “moderate” amount of alcohol is defined as one drink or less per day for a woman, and two drinks or less per day for a man.
One drink is considered:
- 12 oz beer (5% alcohol)
- 8 oz malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- 5 oz wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 oz distilled spirits or liquor
Are there any benefits of alcohol for CKD?
It is unclear if there are benefits to the alcohol itself, but alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, contain other natural components that have health benefits. Red wine contains polyphenols which are special chemicals that can protect the body’s tissues against oxidative stress and inflammation. Researchers have found that light wine drinkers (<1 glass per day) with CKD had lower odds of developing cardiovascular disease (2). Keep in mind there are plenty of food sources of polyphenols as well such as strawberries, blueberries, spices and chocolate.
Nutrition Content of Alcoholic Beverages:
If you have CKD, chances are you are a label reader! Nutrients of concern with chronic kidney disease include sodium, protein, phosphorus and potassium. Nutrition Facts labels are optional for alcohol manufacturers as they do not fall under the rules of the Food and Drug Administration in the US. This means you may not be able to find the nutrition content of many alcoholic beverages listed on the package, like you would for packaged foods. Here is some nutrition information on common alcoholic beverages that were found through the Nutrition Coordinating Center Food & Nutrient Database (NCCDB).
Remember to account for the nutrition content if adding a mixer to your liquor. That tends to be where more carbohydrate, potassium and phosphorus is added.
One drink of alcohol per day for women and two drinks for men seems to be safe for CKD. There may be some health benefits to some alcoholic drinks, like red wine, but the benefits may not be great enough to start a daily drinking habit. Alcohol drank in excess is not good for your kidneys or other organs. Always ask your doctor if you are unsure if alcohol is safe for you. But in general, most people with CKD are able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage on special occasions, in they choose, without worry. Cheers to that!
Need help navigating other questions on what to eat or drink with chronic kidney disease? Reach out to me today!
1. Fan Z, Yun J, Yu S, Yang Q, Song L. Alcohol Consumption Can be a “Double-Edged Sword” for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients. Med Sci Monit. 2019 Sep 20;25:7059-7072. doi: 10.12659/MSM.916121. PMID: 31538630; PMCID: PMC6767945.
2. Jespersen T, Kruse N, Mehta T, Kuwabara M, Noureddine L, Jalal D. Light wine consumption is associated with a lower odd for cardiovascular disease in chronic kidney disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Nov;28(11):1133-1139. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2018.06.018. Epub 2018 Aug 22. PMID: 30143406; PMCID: PMC6588355.