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Kidney Month: 10 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is much more common than most people realize, affecting a whopping 26 million American adults. People tend to recognize what they should or shouldn’t do for other organs (for example, most people know that drinking excessively is bad for your liver and smoking is bad for your heart) but it seems that we don’t give our kidneys the consideration they deserve.

(If you didn’t check it out last year, please be sure to take a look at our kidney awareness infographic.)

CKD is linked to other common medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, as well as aging in general. Not to mention it can be dangerous or fatal all by itself! So let’s get proactive about National Kidney Month with ten tips on how to treat yours right.

Kidney disease sufferer eating healthy during picnic

1) Healthy Food = Happy Kidneys

Sticking to a nutritious diet can help lower your risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes and kidney disease. Eating right involves finding the proper balance of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, beans and lean meat proteins. For this month, we recommend starting off by cutting back on fats and sodium intake. This alone can significantly improve your kidney health over time.

Here some quick tips for improving your portion control:

  • Don’t eat directly from the bag or box– take the time to pick out a healthy portion and put the rest away.
  • Take time when you eat and stop when you’re not hungry– clinical studies have shown that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal the brain that it’s full.
  • Try to avoid eating while watching TV or driving.
  • Take a cue from the box and see what the suggested serving size is for the meal you’re preparing.
  • Keep portion control in mind when you don’t have a measuring cup or scale on hand.

Quick tips for limiting salt (sodium) intake:

  • Don’t sprinkle extra salt on food. Try to implement more spices, herbs or lemon juice to add flavor.
  • Opt for fresh or even frozen vegetables instead of canned veggies.
  • Look for items that have lower levels of sodium when you are at the grocery store.
  • Limit the amount of processed dinners you consume.
  • Find ways to eat less lunch meat.
  • Limit the number of salty snacks and fast foods you consume.

Quick tips for limiting fat intake:

  • Opt for baked, grilled or broiled food instead of fried foods.
  • Opt for lean sources of meat like fish and chicken when you’re at the store.
  • Remove the skin and trim off fats when possible.
  • Opt for olive or canola oil instead of vegetable oil.
  • Choose mono and polyunsaturated toppings in your salad such as oil & vinegar dressing, nuts, seeds, olives, or avocado in place of high saturated fat foods like cheese, bacon, and creamy dressings.

Eating more healthily is just the beginning, however. Would you be surprised to learn that eating too much– even of healthy foods!–can also cause problems for your kidneys? This means that the other essential aspect of eating right for kidney health is portion control.

Here some quick tips for improving your portion control:

  • Don’t eat directly from the bag or box– take the time to pick out a healthy portion and put the rest away.
  • Take your time when you eat and stop when you’re not hungry– clinical studies have shown that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal the brain that it’s full.
  • Try to avoid eating while watching TV or driving.
  • Take a cue from the box and see what the suggested serving size is for the meal you’re preparing.
  • Always keep portion control in mind, even when you don’t have a measuring cup or scale on hand.

2) Add Some Sunshine to your Day

Did you know that one of your kidneys’ key functions is to produce vitamin D?

You may associate vitamin D with sun on your skin, and of course, that’s true too. But your body needs vitamin D even on days you don’t get any sun, which is where your kidneys come into play. They can produce the active form of vitamin D in the same way that light-sensitive receptor cells do when sunlight touches your skin.

Basically, it’s up to the sun and your skin, or it’s up to your kidneys. That means that by spending 15 minutes per day in the sunlight, you can let that radiant ball up there do all the work. This spares your kidneys and gets you some refreshing time outside, which can be good for your body and mind in myriad ways.

People with kidney disease and low vitamin D levels have a 26 percent greater risk of dying than those with healthy levels of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

Don’t neglect a vitamin that’s easy, enjoyable, and free for the taking!

3) Make Some Moves

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or any health-focused publication, you probably already know that exercise is key to long-term health. It’s no different for the kidneys. Here’s our recommendation: try getting at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. If this seems a little daunting, then it’s perfectly fine to start off at your own pace and build up.

Here’s a great routine that’s perfect for a wide range of fitness levels:

4) Control Your Cholesterol Levels

Your risk of developing renal impairment and kidney disease goes way up if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. Add high cholesterol to that situation and you’re really going to be putting your kidneys in serious jeopardy. If you have diabetes, then we recommend getting your blood cholesterol levels tested on a fairly routine basis.

Healthy cholesterol levels are:

  • Total Cholesterol: Less than 200
  • HDL (“good” cholesterol): More than 40
  • LDL (“bad” cholesterol): Less than 100

(Triglyceride levels are also something to look out for and should be less than 150 mg/dL.)

If you find out your high cholesterol levels are too high, or you’ve been clinically diagnosed with this condition, we recommend that you also read up on these top 10 cholesterol lowering foods.

5) Limit Your Alcohol Consumption

Consuming large quantities of alcohol leads to a rise in blood pressure. You should practice limiting your consumption in order to keep your blood pressure down. The national recommendations for alcohol consumption are 2 drinks or less (per day) for men and 1 drink per day for women.

If you’re interested, here is a quick explanation on why alcohol increases blood pressure:

6) Don’t Smoke Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes and ingesting tobacco also raises your risk for hypertension and renal impairment. Please avoid tobacco at all cost if you’ve already been diagnosed with kidney disease. On a more positive note, you can significantly lower your risk for CKD or improve your symptoms by quitting cigarettes.

7) Stay on Top of Your Diabetes

Do you have diabetes? Then please don’t skim over this warning!

If you are currently neglecting or only half-following your treatment plan, now is the time to start following it letter for letter. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease.

Proper diabetes management may include:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Natural medicines
  • Prescription medicines
  • Any combination of the above

We cannot stress enough how important it is to follow your physician or healthcare provider’s recommendations precisely and diligently. If you neglect to do so, it’s only a matter of time before your kidney function will diminish.

(If you’d like to learn more about diabetes, please check out some of our previous blog posts.)

8) Stay on Top of Your High Blood Pressure

Step number 8 is pretty similar to number 7, but in regard to high blood pressure. This is fitting, because hypertension is the second highest cause of diminished kidney function.

If you suffer from high blood pressure, please be aware that this is a critical condition that needs to be managed if you want to improve your kidney health. Your doctor will be able to instruct you on how to manage your condition, and you should follow his or her advice to a T.

9) Be Cautious with Over-the-Counter Drugs

What could be so dangerous about a casual bottle of pills that costs seven bucks at CVS?

Well, like we mentioned in the very first section, too much of a good thing can be bad for your kidneys. Even common nonprescription pills, especially NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen can cause kidney damage if taken too frequently over too long of a time period.

If you have healthy kidneys and only take this type of painkiller every now and then, you should be okay. But always consult with a doctor before you decide to take anything regularly, especially if you have chronic pain or arthritis and need something daily. Your doctor can help you come up with a pain treatment plan that is easier on your kidneys and can help you monitor your kidney function while alleviating your other conditions.

Similarly, certain vitamins and herbs can also damage your kidney function if taken in too high and/or frequent of doses. Make sure to run any potential supplements by your healthcare provider too!

10) Get Regular Screenings if You’re at Risk

“Rather safe than sorry” is the name of the game when it comes to kidney function– not to mention your overall health in general! If you have hypertension, diabetes, or any other risk factors for kidney disease, make sure you’re going to the doctor’s office for frequent screenings.

Conclusion

Remember that by implementing these recommendations you are doing more than just protecting your kidney health. If you’re looking for more information about kidney disease and National Kidney Month, please be sure to visit the National Kidney Foundation this March.

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