Chronic kidney diseases (CKD) are silent killers. They often go undetected as they don’t show bothersome signs until they reach the advanced stage or when, unfortunately, a person would need to get dialysis or a kidney transplant. As many as 9 out of 10 people with CKD are not aware that they have CKD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CKD poses a major public health concern, with a third of American adults at risk. In the CDC’s Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2021 report, 15% of US adults or 37 million people are estimated to have CKD. About two-thirds of CKD cases are caused by diabetes and high blood pressure or hypertension. Additionally, people with heart disease or a family history of kidney failure are also more likely to develop kidney diseases.
Some of the common symptoms of kidney diseases include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor appetite, swollen feet and ankles, frequent urination, especially at night, and puffiness around the eyes.
Taking care of the kidney is important to avoid these symptoms and for a person’s overall health and general well-being because of the kidneys’ vital roles in the body. Kidneys filter waste products, excess water, and other impurities in the body and regulate pH, salt, and potassium levels in the body. They are also responsible for activating vitamin D and aid the body in absorbing calcium for bone formation and muscle function.
If you have the risk factors for chronic kidney diseases, it is important to consult with a doctor regarding your kidney health or get a regular kidney function test. Moreover, practicing good habits to take care of your kidneys is also recommended by health experts.
The lists provided below may help keep your overall body healthy, including your kidneys.
Make healthy food choices
Your kidneys process anything that you eat or drink. If you are not careful about your food intake, you may develop obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions that affect your kidneys.
As a general rule, healthy foods for your heart and your entire body include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. In addition to eating these healthy options, cutting back on salt and added sugars is important. Do not go above 2.3 g or 1 tablespoon of sodium per day, and try to consume added sugars at a maximum level of less than 10% of your daily calories.
Here are some specific tips for healthy food options:
- Instead of using salt in your dish, use a mix of spices to compensate for the taste.
- Instead of frying chicken, fish, and other meat, try broiling or baking.
- If you’re a pizza lover, take veggie toppings like peppers, spinach, broccoli, and other vegetables.
- Serve foods without gravy sauce or added fats.
- Gradually shift from whole milk to low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
- Incorporate whole grains like brown rice, oats, whole wheat, and whole-grain corn into your carbohydrate source.
- Eat as few snacks as possible.
- When eating processed foods, read the label. Choose foods that are low in trans fat, saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
- Keep a written record of your weekly diet. It will help you assess your eating habits so you can work on them.
Drink plenty of fluids
The advice to drink eight glasses of water a day is not magic. It is rather a good goal to encourage one to be hydrated throughout the day. Consistent intake of water helps kidneys to import essential nutrients throughout the body and clear sodium and toxins from the kidneys. Otherwise, if the water intake is insufficient, these filtrates may form into crystals called kidney “stones” and cause infections.
Generally, a minimum of 1.5 to 2 liters per day is required for healthy people, but it could vary depending on your overall health, climate, and physical activities. For example, those with heart or thyroid problems require less, while those who live in a region with a hotter climate require more.
Keep active and fit
Just like a healthy diet, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes and hypertension, which could lead to kidney damage. Some common activities that could keep you fit and active include running, walking, cycling, and even dancing. Make sure that the activity is fun for you, so it will be easier to develop a routine.
If you are not physically active now, ask your doctor for recommendations regarding the types and amounts of exercise or other physical activities fit for you.
Don’t overdo certain medications
When taken very often, over-the-counter pain medications may cause kidney damage. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for ulcers or GERD.
However, if a person with a healthy pair of kidneys takes these medications occasionally, it is safe. So if you’re coping with pain, it is always safer to ask a doctor about kidney-safe treatments.
Manage blood sugar and blood pressure
When there is excess glucose in your blood or your blood pressure is consistently high, your kidneys are forced to work harder. Over the years, this can lead to kidney damage.
To avoid this, monitor your blood sugar level and keep them at the normal level as much as possible. Keep your blood pressure close to your goal. For people with diabetes, the blood pressure should be maintained below 140/90 mm Hg. If you need medication, make sure to take it regularly.
Stop smoking and limit alcohol intake
Smoking is known to damage the body’s blood vessels, making blood flow slower throughout the body, including the kidneys. Moreover, smoking puts kidneys and other body parts at increased cancer risk. For more information on preventing kidney cancer, read Recent Findings in Kidney Cancer Prevention: Risks and Tips.
At the same time, drinking alcohol must be limited as too much alcohol in the body increases blood pressure and adds extra calories, leading to weight gain. Experts recommend limiting yourself to one to two drinks per day. One drink is equivalent to:
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
- 1.5 ounces of liquor