How to keep your kidneys healthy
Written by Justyna Wiraszka
Reading Time: 6 Minutes
Well-functioning kidneys are vital for your well-being. They keep you healthy by filtering out harmful and unusable substances from your blood while retaining those that you need. Among others, they are responsible for removing toxins, excess salt, and other waste products from your body.
Additionally, kidneys are regulators, responsible for maintaining a constant environment, or ‘homeostasis’. For instance, they regulate the amount of water and electrolytes, e.g., sodium and potassium, that are present in your body.
Because your kidneys are so important, you should be aware of when their health might be at risk, and what you can do about it. That is why, in this article, we will go over the signs of low kidney function, go in-depth into factors that can affect your kidney health, and, finally, give you a list of activities and lifestyle choices that can support your kidney health.
Signs of low kidney function
Importantly, symptoms of low kidney function are often unspecific, meaning they could point to a different condition as well. Regardless, when your kidneys don't function properly, you may experience some of the following symptoms.
- Itching, also known as ‘uremic pruritus’
- Swollen legs
Unfortunately, some symptoms may only appear at an advanced stage of kidney disease, making it only more important to get the right diagnosis early.
There are many factors that can increase the risk of low kidney function and chronic kidney disease. These risk factors may include:
- Diabetes type 1 and 2
- High blood pressure or ‘hypertension’
- High consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- Advanced age
- Family history of kidney disease
If you would like to know more about how these factors may affect your kidney function, have a look at our blog on this topic.
Keeping your kidneys healthy
There are a few different ways you can take care of yourself to prevent low kidney function. However, it is important to keep in mind that some risk factors, such as a family history of kidney disease, may put this out of your control.
Regular exercise can have a positive effect on your overall health and helps to avoid diabetes type 2 or hypertension, both being among the biggest risk factors for the development of kidney disease.
Many guides, such as the Physical Activity Guidelines from NHS Scotland, recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week and strength exercises on two or more days a week to stay active.
Maintain a healthy weight and diet
Certain food items, such as conservants, medication (e.g. painkillers), and alcohol can affect your kidneys and strain them when taken in excess. Examples of foods to avoid are canned foods, due to their high levels of salt, dark-colored sodas due to high sugar content and additives such as phosphorus and caramel coloring.
For more information on which foods to avoid for a healthy diet stay tuned for the upcoming blog.
A healthy diet can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Overweight can not only promote the development of various medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, but has also been connected to certain kidney diseases, such as kidney stones, and urinary tract infections UTIs. Extra weight also means more work for and pressure on your kidneys, which, over time, can increase the risk for kidney disease.
Avoid excess salt
Too much salt can increase the risk of hypertension, which, in turn, increases the risk of kidney disease.
Salt also increases the amount of protein in your urine and promotes the formation of kidney stones. According to NHS England, the recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6g, or around one teaspoon.
Drink enough water
To fulfill their function as your body’s filter, your kidneys need enough water.
In some common kidney conditions, such as kidney stones and UTIs, drinking plenty of fluids is recommended to increase urination, or ‘diuresis’. This naturally flushes and clears your urinary tract from harmful substances that may lead to, e.g., your kidney stones in the first place.
However, you should consider the type of fluids you consume. While there is a common belief that beer is good for the kidneys because it has a diuretic effect and helps to filter the kidneys, it also contains alcohol, which can have a harmful effect on your body.
What is often recommended instead is low-mineralized water, which doesn’t overload you with excess ions.
Watch out for painkillers
Certain painkillers, especially NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, can damage your kidneys over time, as they reduce blood flow through them. This can lead to a kidney disorder known as interstitial nephritis, which means your kidneys filtration ability is impaired, keeping harmful substances in your body.
Regular intake of one or more of these drugs may also cause chronic kidney problems such as analgesic nephropathy, which can severely damage your kidneys. For advice on how to take medication, it is best to seek advice from a pharmacist or a doctor.
How to check your kidneys function
A good measure for how well your kidneys are functioning is the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which represents how well your kidneys filter blood. It can be estimated based on the cystatin C concentration in your blood. An estimated GFR (eGFR) within a normal range indicates that the kidneys are functioning well, whereas lower levels can indicate decreased kidney function and risk of kidney disease.
If you are interested in measuring your cystatin C levels and finding out your eGFR, you may want to consider trying Bloom Kidney Tests at one of Bloom’s partnering locations.
Would you like to know more about the test? You can read more about it here.
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Healthline Editorial Team. 17 Foods to avoid or limit if you have bad kidneys. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-to-avoid-with-kidney-disease. Accessed September 28, 2022.
Healthline Editorial Team. 8 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy. Accessed September 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/kidney-health.
John Hopkins Medicine. Analgesic Nephropathy. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/analgesic-nephropathy#:~:text=Long%2Dterm%20exposure%20to%20certain,nephropathy%2C%20a%20chronic%20kidney%20problem. Accessed September 28, 2022.
NHS England. Salt: The Facts. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/salt-nutrition/#:~:text=Adults%20should%20eat%20no%20more,)%20%E2%80%93%20that%27s%20around%201%20teaspoon.&text=Children%20aged%3A,a%20day%20(1.2g%20sodium. Accessed September 28, 2022.
National Kidney Foundation.
I read that cola based drinks are not good for CKD. Are all dark sodas cola based? What sodas can I safely drink - root beer, drinks with citric acid? https://www.kidney.org/blog/ask-doctor/i-read-cola-based-drinks-are-not-good-ckd-are-all-dark-sodas-cola-based-what-sodas. Accessed September 29, 2022.
NHS Inform. Keeping active guidelines. https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/keeping-active/keeping-active-guidelines#adults-19-64. Accessed September 28, 2022.