Alcohol and Kidney Disease – Can I Have A Beer?

beers (Photo credit: uberculture)

I got an email from a customer with a great question this week:

 “What about alcohol?”  Basically – Alcohol and Kidney Disease, Can I Have A Beer?

When you get so wrapped up in choosing the right foods and eating the right things, you forget that food used to taste great and was pleasurable to eat, not a battle.  Maybe it’s not a battle for you – even better.  But you spend a lot of time thinking about what you CAN eat, and what you DO eat and how it affects your labs and kidneys, and I found this question to be a very important question to answer.  Many people enjoyed a beer or glass of wine before they got diagnosed with kidney disease.  Can they continue?

What about alcohol and kidney disease?

Moderation is key.  Yes, you can have alcohol with both pre-dialysis and dialysis kidney disease but you have to make sure you are drinking in moderation.  (And talk to your doctor about it)

Moderation means 1 drink per day for women and older people, and 2 drinks per day for men.  Why the difference?  Women and older people have less weight and less water in their body so the alcohol becomes more concentrated quickly.  One drink is defined at a 12 ounce beer or wine cooler, a 5 ounce wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits.  So you can have a glass of wine with your dinner.

What Are The Potential Problems with Alcohol And Kidney Disease?

Alcohol can and does interact with medications.  Some very important medications that you may be taking.  So – one of the main reasons to talk to your doctor – is because alcohol may interact with one of your medications.  Be cautious.  You might be on just a few meds or your might be on quite a few, but either way, discuss if alcohol affects your medications.  By the way, this is true no matter what you have going on, whether or not you have kidney disease.  Much the same is true of grapefruit fruits and juices.

Alcohol can also increase urination through the effect it has on your anti-diuretic hormone – and that in turn concentrates your blood and increases the levels of calcium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium in your blood.  It directly affects this hormone, so you may find yourself with the need to urinate within 20 minutes of drinking.

Alcohol is mostly processed through the liver, so as long as you don’t have liver damage you can drink in moderation.  If you have been a long time drinker and have any sort of liver problems or disease, you should stop drinking due to your liver not being able to process the alcohol easily.

If you are on dialysis – the amount of liquid counts toward your fluid allowance for the day.  So, a 1.5 ounce shot is less fluid than a 12 ounce beer.  Not that I am endorsing either of them.  It’s just a thought.  Watch how your lab results are and adjust your intake.  Click here for a chart on Davita about the nutritional value of different alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol and Kidney Disease – What About Calories?

Alcohol may not have much nutritional value, but it does have calories.  When I say nutritional value, I mean – vitamins and minerals.  Alcohol as 7 calories per gram.  In general, a beer will contain 120-140 calories.  Depending on your needs, that might or might not fit in.  But don’t think it doesn’t have calories, because it does.  You can really overdo your diet if you drink too much.

Learn to enjoy your beer – don’t feel like you have to stop drinking.  But do pay attention to your fluid intake if you need to on dialysis, and check to make sure it works ok with your medication.

Learn to enjoy a renal diet by following a meal plan – choose the right one for your needs!

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