Health & Fitness

The 7 golden rules for kidney health

The kidneys are your body's waste management system. Make sure they're doing their job properly with these rules for kidney health.

If you’re like most people, chances are you don’t spend much time thinking about your kidneys. But did you know that the kidneys play a huge role in your overall health? When it comes to looking after your kidneys, prevention is key – and there are several things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy and happy for years to come.

Let’s take a minute to learn a bit about these bean-shaped organs before we introduce you to the 7 things you can do to keep your kidneys working properly.

What do kidneys do? 

Your kidneys are about the size of a fist and sit at the bottom of your rib cage. Their main function is to filter waste, toxins, and excess water from your blood so that your body can eliminate them through urine. 

But that’s not all – the kidneys also help regulate blood sugar and release hormones that control your blood pressure. Plus, they keep your blood pH, sodium, and potassium levels in balance, control the production of red blood cells, and activate vitamin D in your body, which promotes bone health.

Why is kidney health important?

When the kidneys become damaged, they can’t filter waste from your body as effectively. If the body becomes overloaded with toxins, it can lead to kidney failure, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. 

Poor kidney health can also lead to a number of other health conditions, including heart problems, high blood pressure, weak bones, nerve damage, or anemia (low red blood cell count). 

According to the World Economic Forum, about 700 million people globally are affected by chronic kidney disease. To put that into perspective, that’s about the population of Europe.

Certain factors can increase the chance of developing kidney issues, including: 

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • family history of kidney problems 
  • being over 60 years old
  • taking lots of pain medications
  • having an autoimmune disorder
  • frequent urinary tract infections

 In the EU and the US, 1 in 3 people are at risk of developing kidney disease. 

How to check your kidney health

Symptoms of kidney disease usually don’t show up until it’s at a more advanced stage, so the only way to catch it early is through lab tests. Regular testing is important for everyone, but especially for people at risk of developing kidney disease. 

There are several tests that measure kidney function

Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is a blood test that checks how well your kidneys are filtering waste from your blood. To calculate the filtration rate, a healthcare professional will assess your levels of creatinine based on your age, biological sex, height, ethnic background, and weight. 

According to the National Kidney Foundation, a normal GFR is 90 ml/min or higher. A value below 60 ml/min signals that the kidneys aren’t working as they should. 

Creatinine is a waste product of your muscles that the kidneys usually remove from the body. A creatinine test checks if there is a buildup in the blood. A high level (over 1.2 mg/dL for females and 1.4 mg/dL for males) suggests that there’s a kidney problem. 

Avoid working out right before your creatinine test, as this can lead to a sharp rise in your levels and give you a false result. Research shows, eating cooked meat before the test can also significantly increase creatinine levels, so some medical experts advise not having meat for 24 hours prior to the test. 

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is a waste product that comes from your body’s breakdown of protein from food. Like creatinine, your kidneys normally remove BUN altogether from your blood. But when kidney function decreases, BUN level increases. 

A healthy BUN value is between 7 and 20 mg/dL. Some medications like aspirin and antibiotics can elevate BUN, so be sure to tell your doctor about anything you take regularly.

Sometimes, doctors suggest testing the amount of uric acid in the blood or urine, particularly if someone is experiencing frequent kidney stones. Uric acid is another waste product that your body makes when breaking down substances in your cells and in foods. A high level of uric acid can cause kidney problems. 

Finally, you may also test your levels of urine protein (mainly albumin) to check for kidney damage. 

Getting regular checkups is a key way to monitor your kidney health, and there are also many things you can do day-to-day to protect kidney function and boost your overall well-being.

Fun fact

Alcohol consumption inhibits ADH, a hormone that limits how much urine the kidneys produce. This is why you need to use the restroom more often when drinking alcohol and why you feel especially thirsty after a night out.

What you can do to improve kidney health: 7 tips for prevention 

1. Maintain healthy blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against blood vessel walls as it circulates around your body. High blood pressure can eventually harm the kidneys. 

Your lifestyle affects your blood pressure, and making some small changes like reducing alcohol, maintaining a moderate weight, and working out can help keep it at a healthy level. 

Eating less salt is another key way to control blood pressure and protect kidney health. When you eat salt, the level of protein in your urine goes up. A 2021 meta-analysis of 85 studies found that reducing sodium lowers blood pressure and boosts heart health. The American Heart Association recommends adults have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day – that’s about two-thirds of a teaspoon. 

2. Manage blood sugar with balanced nutrition

Blood sugar, or glucose, comes from foods and fuels your body with energy. Everything you eat and drink goes through your kidneys and affects your blood sugar levels. Having high blood sugar levels over time can have negative effects on overall health and can clog and damage the blood vessels inside the kidneys. 

Eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and lean proteins, along with limiting sugary foods and drinks and highly processed foods are great ways to keep your blood sugar in check and protect your kidneys. Good nutrition also helps prevent conditions linked with poor kidney health like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

3. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water is key to healthy kidneys. Here are a few of the benefits:

  • It’s easier for your kidneys to filter waste from your blood
  • Water helps blood and essential nutrients flow to your kidneys
  • It prevents problems like kidney stones and urinary tract infections 

In general, most people can stay hydrated by simply drinking water and other healthy drinks like unsweetened juice or herbal tea when they are thirsty. You can tell if you’re dehydrated by looking at the color of your urine: if it’s dark yellow, it means you aren’t drinking enough. 

Have you ever noticed that your urine is especially dark in the morning? This is a good sign: your kidneys retain water at night because you don’t hydrate while you’re asleep. 

4. Get regular exercise

Moving your body regularly is essential for your overall health and preventing some chronic illnesses, including kidney disease. It’s also good on the waistline. 

If you don’t see yourself working out at the gym, no worries. There are plenty of activities you can do to stay healthy. Walking, biking, swimming, dancing, playing a sport, and even doing household chores like cleaning and gardening are all great ways to exercise. 

5. Be careful when taking supplements and medicines

Make sure to discuss any herbal and vitamin supplements you take with your doctor, as excessive amounts may damage the kidneys. 

Common non-prescription painkillers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can harm the kidneys if you take them regularly over a long period. They do this by reducing the flow of blood to the kidneys, which leads to tissue damage. But people with healthy kidneys who take these medications once in a while don’t need to worry. 

Frequent use of antibiotics like penicillin, sulfonamides, and cephalosporins can also cause kidney problems. Evidence shows that up to 60% of acute kidney injuries during hospital stays are caused by medication.

6. Stop smoking

Smoking harms blood vessels and decreases blood flow, which reduces kidney function. It makes chronic kidney disease progress faster and raises the chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. 

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. And it’s never too late. Kicking tobacco now can reverse the harm that’s already done. 

7. Limit alcohol

Alcohol alters kidney function in several ways. It makes it more difficult for them to filter the blood and control fluid and electrolyte levels in the body and disrupts certain hormones that affect the kidneys. 

So how much alcohol is too much? Experts say that having over 4 drinks per day on a regular basis can double the risk of developing kidney problems. People who smoke and drink regularly are around 5 times more likely to develop chronic kidney disease. Unfortunately, there is no healthy level of alcohol consumption, so try to cut back if you feel like you’re drinking too much.

The bottom line

The kidneys are vital organs that serve many important functions, including removing waste from your body. Take care of your kidneys, and they will take care of you. 

By living a healthy lifestyle including balanced nutrition, regular exercise, enough water, and not overdoing it with medications and alcohol, you can significantly decrease your risk for kidney problems and other chronic diseases.

At Aware, we offer easy access to blood testing so you can monitor important biomarkers over time, including those for kidney health. If you're ready to check, track, and improve your health and well-being, become an Aware member today.

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