The kidneys are among the most extraordinary – and important – organs in our bodies. Our kidneys filter our blood, removing waste and other toxins. They also help regulate blood pressure, stimulate the production of red blood cells, promote strong bones, and more.
Functioning kidneys are vital to our overall wellbeing, but it is easy to overlook them until it’s too late. Damaged kidneys cannot filter the waste and toxins in your blood, leading to a number of significant health concerns.
According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in seven adults in the U.S. – about 37 million people – has chronic kidney disease, but most of them don’t know it.
Chronic kidney disease, often referred to as CKD, is characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function. It is a chronic condition, meaning it worsens over time, though treatment can slow the disease’s progression. If left untreated, CKD can lead to kidney failure, at which point dialysis or kidney transplant is necessary for survival. Unfortunately, kidney disease generally goes undetected until it is very advanced.
The good news is that no matter your age, there are steps you can take now to protect your kidneys, keeping them healthy for many years to come.
Know Your Risk for Kidney Disease
Approximately 33% of Americans are at risk for kidney disease. Understanding your overall risk is the first step in prevention.
Although anyone can develop CKD, the most common risk factors are:
- Diabetes: More than 34 million Americans have diabetes, one of the most significant risk factors for kidney disease. Diabetes is responsible for almost half of all kidney failure cases. Maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active, and medicine can help manage diabetes and prevent health problems like kidney damage.
- High Blood Pressure: About a third of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, increasing your risk for developing kidney disease. Taking steps to lower your blood pressure may help prevent kidney disease.
- Family History: Your risk of developing kidney disease increases if someone else in your family has it. Knowing your family health history is an essential step in understanding your risk for kidney disease.
- Age: Being over 60 years of age puts you at an increased risk for kidney disease. As you age, your kidneys naturally do not work as well as they did when you were younger. Additionally, people age 60 or older are more likely to have diabetes or high blood pressure, the two leading causes of kidney failure.
- Race/Ethnicity: African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans are at an increased risk for developing kidney disease.
Having one of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will get kidney disease. Still, if you have one or more of the risk factors above, talk with your doctor about getting screened for CKD.
Taking Care of Your Kidneys to Prevent Kidney Disease
There are steps you can take to protect your kidneys and potentially prevent CKD. If you already have kidney disease, these steps can help keep your kidney damage from getting worse.
Stick to a Low-Sodium, Low-Fat Diet
A low-sodium, low-fat diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure – two critical factors for kidney health.
Limit your sodium intake by substituting fresh herbs and spices for salt while cooking or eating. Look for items that are reduced- or low-sodium when you are grocery shopping. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables over canned veggies, which are often stored in a liquid that is extremely high in salt. Avoid fast food and processed foods.
Focus on cutting fat from your diet, where possible. Start by choosing lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish. Instead of frying your foods, grill, bake, or broil them. When you are grocery shopping, look for fat-free or low-fat options for things you usually purchase. Choose egg whites over whole eggs and replace vegetable oil with olive or canola oil.
Stay Physically Active
Physical activity can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your heart health – all critical factors in keeping your kidneys functioning properly.
Set a goal to be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week. It’s perfectly OK to start slowly and work your way up to this goal. Just try adding a bit more exercise to your daily routine. Opt to take the stairs instead of the elevator or try going for a walk each day.
Remember, always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine. They can help determine which exercises are safe for you.
Limit Alcohol & Eliminate Tobacco Completely
Excessive alcohol intake can cause high blood pressure, a top risk factor for kidney disease. Drinking less can help you keep your blood pressure under control.
Additionally, tobacco can make high blood pressure and kidney problems worse – and it can lead to a variety of other serious health issues. If you use tobacco, talk to your doctor about quitting. Doing so can lower your chance of developing CKD or help prevent your kidney disease from getting worse.
Work with Your Doctor
Caring for your health is a team effort, and your doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are essential members of your team. It is your job to communicate with your team to ensure you receive the best possible care.
If you have one or more risk factors for kidney disease, talk to your doctor about getting screened for CKD. A simple blood and urine test can help your doctor evaluate your current kidney health. From there, you can make a plan to stay healthy and keep an eye on your kidneys moving forward.
Are you at risk for developing kidney disease? The National Kidney Foundation has a one-minute quiz that can help determine your risk. Click here to take the Kidney Risk Quiz.