Your Kidneys Work Hard for You: Here’s How to Keep Them in Shape
Barring a shocking change in the color of your urine, you’d probably never give your kidneys a second thought. But for 26 million people in the U.S., kidney disease is a reality. And though one in three American adults are at risk for kidney disorders, 90 percent of those affected don’t even know they have a problem. It is truly an under-recognized public health crisis, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
“People start to worry about their kidneys once they begin to fail,” says Dr. Nessreen Rizvi, an internist at Henry Ford Health System. “They think kidney disease is something you’re born with and are often surprised to learn that kidney problems can develop.”
Risk factors include diabetes and high blood pressure, especially among minority populations, as well as family history and being age 60 or older.
“Kidneys are vital organs. They maintain circulation and regulate blood pressure, which can help prevent heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Rizvi. “They help remove wastes and toxins from the body, which keep the body’s minerals and electrolytes stable.” When people have kidney disease, they feel fatigued because their body isn’t clearing out toxins or removing excess water, she adds.
“Fortunately, there are things we can do today to help prevent chronic kidney disease later in life,” says Dr. Rizvi.
Know your kidney score
A simple urine test, called ACR, or albumin to creatinine ratio, and a blood test, called GFR, short for glomerular filtration rate, can shed light on your kidney health. Talk to your doctor about which test is right test for you.
Diagnosed early, kidney disease can be slowed or halted. But it’s tricky, because in the early stages of kidney disease, most people don’t have symptoms. Often, it’s only after wastes build up in your blood that you feel sick.
Try Dr. Rizvi’s diet changes for optimal kidney health.
- Limit alcohol. Drink no more than two small glasses a day for a man, one for a woman.
- Shake the salt habit. Sodium can raise your blood pressure, which puts stress on the kidneys, so opt for herbs and spices to add zest when you cook.
- Read nutrition labels. Highly processed foods often have astronomical levels of sodium. Be wary of crackers, chips, pretzels and lunch meats.
- Eat fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables. Give them a chance, and you’ll be surprised how quickly they grow on you. Check out our video for weekly veggie prep tips.
- Use frozen vegetables instead of canned. Canned vegetables can be sodium bombs if there is salt added.
- Skip sugar and limit desserts. Try fruit instead and save the treats for special occasions.
- Eat more whole grains. Choose whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal.
- Drink water. This helps you to avoid dehydration and filter the waste out of the kidneys.
Use these lifestyle tweaks to improve your overall health.
- Quit smoking. Get help from HAP with our smoking cessation resources.
- Exercise regularly. Try for 30 minutes at least five days a week to help keep your blood pressure and weight down.
- Limit use of ibuprofen (Advil and generics) and naproxen (Aleve and generics). Taken for too long, they can lead to kidney damage. Be careful with acetaminophen, too, as it can cause liver damage.
- Check your supplements and vitamins. Show any herbal remedies or supplements to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for the kidneys.
- Get a physical once a year. Making sure you get your wellness checkup each year gives you a chance to discuss any issues with your health care provider. Download our office visit checklist before you go.
- Learn your family medical history. Kidney disease does tend to run in families. If your family has a history, talk to your doctor about getting tested.