National Kidney Month: How to Care for Your Cleaners
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

National Kidney Month: How to Care for Your Cleaners

by DK Kara MD on Apr 11, 2022

You hear a lot about heart health and brain health. But what about kidney health?

Usually, your body will tell you when something’s wrong. But your kidneys can be pretty stealthy, and won’t always give you clues that something is off kilter. It’s estimated about 26 million Americans have some degree of kidney disease, many of whom aren’t even aware of it (1).

March is dedicated to kidney health. These organs work hard to regulate your body, so it’s important to take care of them. This is especially true if you’re at risk for kidney disease.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what kidneys do, certain health conditions they’re susceptible to, and the best ways to care for your cleansers.

Role of Kidneys

Between the 5th and 12th week of your life, cells are divided on both sides of your main artery, in your lower back area. Two kidneys Iare formed, and soon begin to function (2).

Even though these organs are smaller, these bean-shaped organs play a major role in keeping your body healthy. Some of their biggest roles include (3):

  • Regulates fluid volumes and concentrations: Kidneys help maintain a delicate balance, making sure extracellular fluids aren’t too diluted or concentrated, making sure your organs get the appropriate amount of fluid, and help maintain important electrolyte levels like potassium, calcium, and sodium.
  • Regulates blood pressure: Because your kidneys work to regulate fluid balance, this can also directly affect your blood pressure.
  • Keeps your body pH balanced: Your kidneys help keep blood plasma from becoming too basic or acidic.
  • Gets rid of waste: Kidneys create urine that takes toxins out of your body through your urethra.
  • Produces hormones: Kidneys also help regulate glucose and calcium levels in the body. Hormones such as erythropoietin and renin are produced to help control the balance between salt and water. This can affect your blood pressure.

Health Concerns

Your kidneys go through a lot all the time. As you get older, your body begins to break down and operate at a less efficient level.

While kidney disease and failure are the most common, other health problems related to kidneys are (7):

  • Infections
  • Cysts
  • Cancers
  • Stones

If you notice any pain, discomfort, or abnormalities in your lower back, groin, urinary area, get checked out by a doctor. Urine or blood tests can indicate whether something is wrong.

Caring for Your Kidneys

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your kidneys. Drinking a generous supply of water every day makes it easier for your kidneys to do their jobs. 

Another great way to take care of your kidneys is to provide it with nutrient dense foods. Natural foods are designed to help nourish and fuel your body, and the closer you can get to its pure, raw state, the better.

Some of the best foods to support kidney health encompass three major nutrient groups: protein, good fats, and some carbohydrates (6). Along with those, many fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

Depending on different blood levels, you may need to adjust your food choices.  

While everyone’s situation is different, kidney disease patients are generally advised to limit or reduce three major nutrients: sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.

  • Potassium: If you need to reduce your potassium levels, it’s important to know which foods can help, and which can slow progress. Foods low in potassium are apples, grapes, onions, tortillas, beef, chicken and white rice are good choices.

On that note, limiting or avoiding these high - potassium foods can also help:  avocados, bananas, artichokes, winter squash, spinach, potatoes, beans and brown rice are good options.

  • Sodium: Salt is a natural mineral found in many foods. But high amounts of sodium can cause fluid retention, swelling, and high blood pressure. It can disrupt the balance your kidneys are trying to maintain.

Instead of using salt as your first choice for flavor, try experimenting with different herbs and spices. Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables over canned, and ask your waiter or chef to not salt your meals when dining out.

  • Phosphorus: Compromised kidneys can allow phosphorus to build up in your blood. This can lead to weaker bones. If your doctor or dietician advises you to lower your phosphorus levels, choose foods like corn or rice cereal, unsalted popcorn, and Italian or French varieties.

Avoid foods that are higher in phosphorus, such as dark colored colas, nuts or sunflower seeds, bran cereals, and some whole-grain breads.

If you’re not at risk for kidney disease, you can keep up the good work by continuing to eat lean meats, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables.

Get Involved

In addition to exercise and a good diet, there are ways you can raise awareness in your community. The kidney foundation has a “Take 5 for Your Kidneys” approach by offering these practical activities (1):

  • Stop eating processed foods: A lot of today’s foods are loaded with excess sodium, phosphates, and nitrates. These added ingredients have been linked to health concerns like cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease. Opting for fresh produce and whole foods will increase your health efforts and reduce risk to your kidneys.
  • Lower NSAID use: Reaching for pain relievers like over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may help in the moment, but taking them for long periods of time have been shown to damage the kidneys (4).
  • Get more exercise: Regular exercise can help strengthen your heart, blood vessels, and lower blood pressure levels. This makes it easier for your kidneys to do their jobs.
  • Control your diabetic or blood pressure levels: One of the leading causes of kidney failure is uncontrolled blood pressure or diabetes. Doing your best to reverse symptoms through diet and exercise can help prevent kidney failure down the road.
  • Get tested: If you’re over 60, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney failure, you can ask your doctor for the GFR blood test or ACR urine test. These tests can pick up specific kidney markers that may be overlooked in more generic tests.

To make kidney health more accessible to all, the Kidney Foundation is offering free screenings in certain locations. See locations here (5).

Wrapping It Up

Your body is made up of many different parts – each important and dependent on the others.

Kidneys may not be at the top of your mind when it comes to health, but they’re critical for survival and should be something we protect and preserve.

If you’re at risk for kidney disease, you may need to take extra precautions when it comes to lifestyle choices. Eating foods that are lower in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium may help keep your kidneys from working harder than they need to.

Getting involved in your community can help those who may not be aware of their risk. Share this among your circle and promote better kidney health!

References & Disclaimers

(1) https://www.kidney.org/news/national-kidney-month-take-five-your-kidneys

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387761/

(3) https://mcb.berkeley.edu/courses/mcb135e/kidneys.html

(4) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpain.2021.644391/full

(5) www.kidney.org/KEEPHealthy

(6) https://www.kidneyfund.org/living-kidney-disease/healthy-eating-activity/kidney-friendly-eating-plan

(7) https://medlineplus.gov/kidneydiseases.html

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author