Seven Ways to Keep Kidneys Healthy

An estimated 37 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Of that group, 90% are unaware of their condition. Here are seven ways to improve kidney health and reduce one’s risk of developing the disease.

Function of Kidneys
Healthy kidneys are crucial to the maintenance and support of the human body. They help filter and remove waste, regulate sodium, potassium and acid content, as well as blood pressure and the production of red blood cells. Kidneys also aid in the conversion of vitamin D, which is vital to maintaining strong bones. Initially, when kidney function is impaired, individuals experience few or no symptoms. However, as it progresses, they may notice swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, as well as fatigue, nausea, persistent itching, muscle cramps and low urine output.

The Difference Between Kidneys and the Liver
The liver and kidneys have similar but slightly different jobs. They both help to detoxify the body by filtering waste. Yet, the liver is part of the digestive system, while kidneys belong to the excretory system. The liver’s primary functions include bile production, mineral storage and the metabolization of fat, carbohydrates and protein.

Ways to Keep Kidneys Healthy
There are multiple lifestyle factors that can affect kidney health. The following modifiable behaviors can help manage or prevent the onset of CKD:

  • Don’t smoke: Smoking is a leading risk factor for kidney failure. It can limit blood flow and act as a gateway for toxins to enter the body. It’s also linked to multiple cancers including kidney and lung, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Eat a healthy diet: The most influential change a person can make is their diet. Eat nutrient-dense foods such as lean protein, whole grains, heart-healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Limit items that are high in sodium, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Choose kidney-friendly foods like cranberries, apples, chicken, cauliflower and radishes.
  • Exercise more: Regular physical activity can improve one’s health from the inside out. It helps with weight management, improves sleep quality and blood pressure, while reducing the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.
  • Manage blood pressure: Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, causes the heart to work harder, eventually damaging vessels throughout the body. When this occurs, the kidneys can’t function properly, which leads to waste and fluid buildup. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a blood pressure target below 140/90 mm but talk to a primary care physician for a personalized goal.
  • Manage blood sugar: Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is particularly harmful for individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It can cause severe damage to the heart, eyes, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys. Like high blood pressure, it’s important to talk to a doctor about a healthy target and necessary dietary changes.
  • Monitor medications: Continuous use of over-the-counter pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause kidney damage. Aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen should not be taken daily without instruction from a doctor. Certain antibiotics and prescription laxatives can also be harmful when not used correctly.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking adequate water is a critical part of maintaining kidney health. Water is roughly 60% of the body and is the primary vehicle to remove waste. It also helps blood transport nutrients to vital organs. On average, adult women should consume 11.5 cups of water, while men should drink 15.5 cups.

About the Author: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is an associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

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Photo credit: Shidlovski

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