I don’t think we can discuss beneficial herbs for kidney disease without mentioning Dan Shen. Its unique benefits mean it’s well placed for use in kidney disease regardless of the cause with a particular affinity for the heart and blood vessels. Read on to find out more about one of our favourite herbs!
Introducing Dan Shen…..
Dan Shen or Salvia militorrhiza (also known as Red Sage) has been traditionally used in Asia for thousands of years to promote blood circulation and remove blood stasis and is used in the treatment of a number of conditions including coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, cerebrovascular disease and kidney disease.
- Kidney tonic
- Protects kidneys
- Helps heal scarring
- Lowers blood pressure
- Heart tonic
- Prevents heart attacks
- Cardiovascular tonic
- Improves blood flow
Why use Dan Shen in kidney disease?
There are a number of properties of Dan Shen that make it a key herb in the treatment of kidney disease but today I wanted to highlight just a few.
Care, J. Evaluation of Salvia miltiorrhiza radix (Danshen) in the treatment of chronic kidney disease: a literature review. Australian Journal of Herbal Medicine, 29(3).
1. Protects the kidneys
A number of studies have demonstrated that Dan Shen can protect against kidney damage from a number of different causes. Animal studies have shown that it prevents kidney injury from everything from contrast dyes to lead to gentamicin (an antibiotic well known to cause kidney damage) to iron overload to high uric acid levels.
But it doesn’t just protect from damage caused by exogenous sources but also from damage caused by high blood pressure and diabetes, the two primary causes of kidney disease worldwide.
Acute kidney injury (AKI) is another potential cause of CKD and it can also contribute to the progression of CKD. Dan Shen has been shown to prevent the progression of CKD after AKI in animal models by directly protecting against renal tubular damage and by reducing inflammation.
2. Helps prevent and heal scarring
Renal fibrosis or scarring occurs after injury to the kidneys and results in a progressive loss of kidney function. Reducing this scarring is an important consideration when it comes to healing the kidneys and improving kidney function.
There are several studies that have shown that some of the active constituents or ingredients that make up Dan Shen can actually reverse these fibrotic changes in both animals and human kidney cells and return damaged or scarred kidney cells back to normal.
This has led to the belief that Dan Shen could facilitate improvement in kidney fibrosis.
3. Cardiovascular tonic
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among patients with CKD and having kidney disease also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
This means that looking after your heart and blood vessels doesn’t just reduce the risk of developing heart disease, having a heart attack or a stroke but also prevents damage to the kidneys caused by heart disease.
Dan Shen has traditionally been used in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), thrombosis (blood clots), angina (reduced blood flow to the heart) and high blood pressure.
It also causes dilation of coronary arteries which increases the amount of blood (and oxygen) going to the heart which improves the ability of the heart to function.
One of its other great actions is its anti-thrombotic effect. This means it reduces the development of blood clots and the build-up of cholesterol and fatty plaques in the arteries (atherosclerosis) which in turn reduces the incidence of heart attacks and strokes.
4. Lowers blood pressure
Dan Shen has long been used for the treatment of high blood pressure in China, Korea and Japan. It lowers blood pressure through a few different mechanisms.
Firstly, it inhibits angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) which prevents an enzyme in your body from producing angiotensin II, a substance that narrows blood vessels causing high blood pressure and forcing your heart to work harder.
You might know the term ACE inhibitor because it’s also a class of blood pressure medications used in hypertension and kidney disease for its blood pressure lowering effects and its role in reducing protein loss in urine.
Unfortunately, ACE inhibitors can cause kidney damage so it’s pretty amazing that we have a herb that has the beneficial effects of ACE inhibitors without the negative side-effects.
Dan Shen also induces vasodilation of blood vessels, reduces the stickiness or viscosity of blood and increases nitric oxide which contributes to its blood pressure lowering effect.
Don’t forget, controlling blood pressure isn’t just important to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease but is also key in protecting the kidneys.
5. Improves blood flow
One of the traditional uses of Dan Shen is improving circulation or blood flow throughout the body. This includes blood flow to important organs such as the kidneys. Diminished blood flow to the kidneys can, over time, damage or destroy their delicate filtering units.
Dan Shen not only improves blood flow (and nutrients and oxygen) to the kidneys and other important organs like the heart but it also protects against ischaemic damage of the kidneys which is the damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
6. Protects against diabetic damage
Diabetic nephropathy is one of the main complications of diabetes and involves increased urine protein levels, progressive kidney damage and loss of kidney function.
Dan Shen has been found to possess antidiabetic activity in clinical trials and it can effectively be used to treat several diabetic complications in humans including diabetic nephropathy.
Animal studies have shown that treatment with Dan Shen significantly reduces kidney damage, reduces protein loss in urine and lowers blood urea nitrogen levels.
Dan Shen protects against diabetic kidney damage by lowering blood glucose levels, improving circulation and importantly due to its antioxidant actions it also prevents the oxidative damage that diabetes causes.
The therapeutic dose of Dan Shen is 1.5gm – 3gm a day.
Avoid the use of Dan Shen if you have increased bleeding tendencies or are taking warfarin or other anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication because it may potentiate the effect of these medications. It also should not be used during pregnancy.
Make sure you consult your doctor or naturopath before starting any new supplements. Because of Dan Shen’s ability to lower blood pressure it may increase the effect of anti-hypertensive medication so close monitoring of blood pressure is advised.
The actions of Dan Shen mean it’s an excellent herb for kidney disease regardless of the cause, but it’s particularly indicated for those with cardiovascular induced kidney damage. Whether it’s a stroke, heart attack or blood circulation issues that has led to a decrease in kidney function or even kidney damage, studies support the use of Dan Shen not only to improve blood oxygen levels and circulation but also to support kidney healing and improve kidney function.
So there you have it, hopefully I’ve been able to give you a better understanding of why Dan Shen is one of our favourite herbs when it comes to kidney disease.
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Take care and have a great week!