Acute kidney injury associated with the use of traditional medicines

Nat Clin Pract Nephrol. 2008 Dec;4(12):664-71. doi: 10.1038/ncpneph0970. Epub 2008 Oct 7.


The use of traditional medicine is common worldwide, with rates of use of over 80% in some populations. Considering the large number of people using traditional remedies throughout the world, it does seem that most do so without major adverse effects. Nevertheless, many folk medicines can cause kidney injury. Drug-induced nephrotoxicity reportedly contributes to up to 26% of cases of hospital-acquired acute kidney injury (AKI) and 18% of cases of community-acquired AKI globally, and folk remedies account for up to 35% of cases of AKI in the developing world. The kidney is highly susceptible to toxic insults because its intrinsic functions expose it to exceptionally high concentrations of any particular toxic substance. Clinical syndromes of nephrotoxicity can be defined according to the predominant regions of the kidney affected by the toxin, and reversibility of the injury is likely related to the severity and nature of the injury and also to the duration of toxin exposure. In countries with well-developed health-care systems, a large proportion of patients with nephrotoxicity will recover at least some renal function with adequate supportive care and dialysis. Health-care practitioners in all countries should be aware of the high prevalence of the use of alternative therapies and should be proactive in obtaining this information from patients. In poorer countries, where large proportions of the population rely on traditional medicine, attempts should be made to integrate traditional healers into the health-care system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / chemically induced*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional*