Anyone can develop kidney impairment and everyone can minimize their risk of kidney disease. The most important factors, which can adversely affect the kidneys, are untreated high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Severe obesity, nicotine consumption and long-term use of painkillers also stress the kidneys.
“Are your kidneys healthy?” is a quick online quiz, available in 11 languages, which is provided by the International Society of Nephrology (ISN). It helps you gauge your risk of kidney disease and indicates when you should see a doctor.
You can do a lot to keep your kidneys healthy:
Watch your blood sugar
Elevated blood sugar levels harm our kidneys. Diabetes mellitus is considered one of the main causes of kidney disease. Pay special attention to a balanced diet to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Refrain from excessive sugar consumption. No more than 25 grams of sugar per day, or six teaspoons, is recommended. Note: this includes also hidden sugar in processed foods. If you are at risk of diabetes, you should maintain a healthy weight and have regular check-ups. Similarly to kidney disease, an elevated blood glucose level may not cause any symptoms and therefore be undetected. If you have diabetes then you should monitor your sugars closely and have your kidney function and your urine checked regularly; this will allow any kidney impairment to be detected early.
Watch your blood pressure
If your blood pressure is uncontrolled then in the longer term, it can affect your kidneys. Therefore, it is important to check your blood pressure regularly. High blood pressure may not cause any symptoms, which is why hypertension is often diagnosed very late. If your blood pressure is too high, check your lifestyle habits such as weight, diet, salt intake and exercise and talk to your family doctor about medication. It is essential to take any prescribed medication regularly and not to stop it by yourself.
Avoid excess weight
More and more people are overweight or obese. This increases the risk of many diseases including high blood pressure, high sugar and lipid levels. The combination of these effects is called metabolic syndrome. Serious consequences of obesity include type 2 diabetes mellitus and increased cardiovascular risk. These are a serious threat to kidney health. Therefore, try to reach and maintain your normal weight. A healthy diet and sufficient exercise can help you to achieve this.
Reduce your salt consumption
Salt is vital for the body. Too much, however, is harmful. Since the kidneys have to excrete excess salt, they are put under strain by high salt consumption. In addition, salt consumption has a negative effect on blood pressure and blood vessels, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Three to six grams of salt per day are recommended. This is equivalent to one teaspoon.
Be careful with salt and alternatively season your dishes with herbs and spices. Avoiding salt may be difficult at first, but your taste buds can adjust quickly.
Watch out for processed foods such as bread, sausage, cheese and especially convenience foods. They often contain a lot of hidden salt.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can help to prevent kidney disease itself as well as preventing many of the diseases that may cause damage to the kidneys in the first place. What does healthy eating mean?
– Prepare as many fresh meals as possible.
– Eat plenty of fruits and even more vegetables – as varied, regional and seasonal as possible.
– Serve legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, etc. several times a week.
– Nibble on a handful of nuts every day.
– Give preference to whole grain products.
– Eat fish instead of meat.
– Avoid soft drinks and limit your intake of sweets – do not eat more than 25 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of six teaspoons. Always beware of hidden sugar.
– Reduce your salt consumption and alternatively season your dishes with herbs and spices.
Even those who already suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes can achieve a lot with a healthy diet and lifestyle; blood pressure can improve and type two diabetes can often be cured.
Drink enough – preferably water!
For the kidneys to work well, they need sufficient fluid. For most, this is at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day, and 2 to 3 litres may be necessary in hot weather. Dehydration can contribute to kidney disease. Mineral water, unsweetened tea or occasionally some juice with water are ideal for an adequate fluid supply. Alcohol should only be consumed in moderation.
Patients who already have kidney or heart disease should always discuss the daily fluid intake with their doctor. In this case too much might have a negative effect on the patients’ health.
You do not have to play competitive sports to keep your kidneys healthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. This corresponds to about one 20-minute walk a day. If you want to actively improve your health, you should exercise twice as often, or about 5 hours a week. Regular exercise can, for example, help to lower blood pressure, strengthen the musculature and improve general well-being.
Give up smoking
People who smoke are not doing their kidneys, or their health generally, any good. Regular nicotine consumption drives up blood pressure and causes damage to the renal filtering system. Therefore, try to avoid nicotine products and consumption of tobacco.
Do not take painkillers longer than your doctor or the package insert allows
Painkillers such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, voltaren or etoricoxib are often a blessing – they inhibit inflammation and relieve pain. However, caution is advised when these are taken frequently, as they may damage the kidneys over time. These substances affect a hormone, which regulates the renal blood flow. Therefore, never take over-the-counter painkillers for longer than necessary, discuss the use with your doctor and pay attention to the recommendations on the package insert.
Check your kidney health regularly
Since kidney function can deteriorate over a long period of time without any symptoms, regular check-ups of those at risk are especially important. If you are at risk due to increased body weight, elevated blood pressure or family history you should consult your doctor regularly. In addition to the assessment of the creatinine level in the blood and a urine test, the blood pressure should also be monitored.
A rapid urine test should be part of every health check-up at the family doctor. It provides valuable information about the protein concentration in the urine. The less protein found in the urine, the healthier the kidneys. Healthy people excrete 20 milligrams of protein a day, but no more than 200 milligrams. If the test shows 200 or more, further tests should follow. In some European countries, you may already have the opportunity to check your kidney function at home, using an over-the-counter urine test from the pharmacy. Developments are underway, so that the test will be widely available in the future.
The kidney check-up includes two tests, a urine test for protein and a blood test to evaluate renal function.
Even if all test results have been normal in the past, have your values checked regularly. Kidney disease develops slowly over a long period of time. The sooner kidney dysfunction is detected, the better are the chances of treatment.