Kidney health is important for everyone! But, some people have extra motivation to keep their kidneys healthy. Maybe you’ve donated a kidney and want to make sure your single kidney stays healthy. Maybe you have a family history of kidney disease and want to do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you. Or, maybe you just know how important kidneys are, and want to do everything you can to keep them healthy.
Whatever the reason, these tips will help your kidneys filtering happily for years!
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Keep Salt in Check
A low sodium diet is key to keep your kidneys healthy. Too much salt can hurt your kidneys. A high sodium diet can cause high blood pressure, which is the #1 cause of kidney disease in the United States. (1)
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend everyone limit sodium to 2,300mg per day. This is about 50% less than most of us are eating! One teaspoon of salt has 2,300mg of sodium.
If you have high blood pressure the recommendation is only 1,500mg of sodium per day.
For most people, the first step to cutting the salt is to choose foods that are low in sodium in the first place. Most of the salt in our diet is already in food, not necessarily the salt we add to food. Deli meat, condiments, fried foods, bacon, sausage, chips and crackers are common salty culprits. Food from restaurants is typically pretty salty as well.
Always check the food label to see how much sodium is in your food!
Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Study after study has shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop kidney disease. (2)
Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day! One “serving” is:
- One cup raw
- 1/2 cup cooked or canned
- 1 piece of fruit
Your kidneys love to be well hydrated. Dehydration can cause kidney damage. This damage can be irreversible.
Fluid needs are different for everyone, but most people should drink around 2 liters (or 60 fluid ounces) of fluid each day. Ask your doctor how much water is right for you!
Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days. If that seems overwhelming, try breaking it up! Fifteen minutes of activity in the morning and another 15 minutes in the evening works just as well.
Also, remember that activity does not have to feel like prescribed “exercise”. I’d argue activity shouldn’t feel this way! Instead, focus on activities that you enjoy and look forward to. This way, you will be much more likely to stick with it!
My favorite “non-exercise” exercises are:
- Walking around the neighborhood
- Yoga (personally, this doesn’t feel like exercise to me!)
- Chasing kids around
Preventing stress from happening in the first place tends to be much more effective than trying to get rid of it. I know, I know…easier said than done. But, try to brainstorm something small you can do every single day to help control stress.
Your self-care routine shouldn’t add more stress to your life. Start with something small that you’ll look forward to.
Here are my favorite self-care activities:
- Physical activity that feels good and that you enjoy (a dreaded workout routine probably will just add more stress)
- Therapy (truly everyone would probably benefit from regular therapy!)
- Regular deep breathing exercises
- Prayer and/or prioritizing spiritual life
- Bubble baths!
- Yoga (I LOVE Adriene with Find What Feels Good – and she has tons of FREE videos!)
- Calm or other apps
- Walks outside (or, even just sitting outside to get some fresh air!)
- Phone calls with friends or family members you haven’t connected with in awhile
- Systems for prioritizing your “to-do” list and breaking it down into manageable chunks (this one literally changed my life!)
- Make a recipe you’ve been dying to try!
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
Unfortunately, kidney disease often goes unnoticed. In fact, nearly 90% of people with kidney disease do not know they have it!
Kidney disease usually does not have symptoms until the very late stages. So, people with kidney disease usually feel fine and have no reason to suspect something is wrong.
A blood test is the only way to know how well your kidneys are doing. Your primary care doctor likely checks the level of creatinine in your blood at your annual check up. Ask your doctor about your creatinine level and how your kidneys are doing!
Keep An Eye On Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is very hard on kidneys. In fact, high blood pressure is the #1 cause of kidney disease. So, controlling your blood pressure is key to keeping your kidneys healthy.
A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Your doctor will probably check your blood pressure at each appointment.
Your blood pressure is often higher at the doctor’s office compared to at home. Your doctor may ask you to take your blood pressure at home to see if there is a difference.
Taking your blood pressure at home is easy! You just need to get a blood pressure cuff* and follow the instructions on the machine. Take your blood pressure a few times a day for a week or so. Keep a log of your blood pressure readings to bring to your doctor.
Avoid Regular NSAID Use
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aka “NSAIDS”) are a group of medications that are in common over-the-counter pain medications. Here are some common examples of drugs that contain NSAIDS:
- Aspirin (Bayer®, St. Joseph®, also in Anacin®, Ascriptin®, Bufferin® and Excedrin®)
- Ibuprofen (Motrin® and Advil®)
- Naproxen (Aleve®)
For most people, these medications taken for occasional aches and pains won’t cause harm. But, NSAIDS could be harmful for people susceptible to kidney damage. In fact, people with chronic kidney disease are routinely told to avoid them.
Taking them regularly could cause kidney damage, even for people without kidney disease.
Ask your doctor which over-the-counter pain medication is best for you!
Steer Clear of Detoxes, Cleanses and Fad Diets
It is easy to be swayed by clever marketing. But, please don’t fall for any supplement or diet regimen that claims to “detox” your body. Your body does not need detoxing. Your kidneys and liver do a wonderful job processing and getting rid of unnecessary waste already!
In fact, many of these diets or supplements can cause harm. For example, smoothie cleanses have been reported to cause kidney damage. (3) Many of these regimens cause severe diarrhea, or recommend consuming dangerously little food or fluid. All of these things can cause severe dehydration, which can permanently damage kidneys.
Also, supplements are not regulated in the United States. So they might have harmful ingredients in them. Because your kidneys (and intestines!) are responsible for getting rid of nearly everything you eat, they are especially susceptible to strange chemicals.
At best, detox or cleanse recommendations will not rid your body of toxins. At worst, they could cause harm. Nearly all detox regiments are not supported by research and should be avoided, especially to help keep your kidneys healthy. (4)
Stay Far Away From Cigarettes
Yep. You can add kidney disease to the list of risks of smoking cigarettes. Smoking can raise your blood pressure, which in turn, can damage kidneys.
If you are ready to quit, check out these tips to help you get started!