High blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney failure put one in three Americans at an increased risk of developing kidney disease. But even if you don’t have any of those risk categories, it’s important to take care of these critically important organs.
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There are several things you can do to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible at every stage of life:
- Hydrate, but don’t overdo it. “Contrary to popular belief, no studies have proven over-hydration as an effective practice in enhancing kidney function,” says nephrologist James Simon, MD. So, while it’s always a good idea to drink enough water, drinking more than the typical four to six glasses a day probably won’t help your kidneys do their job any better.
- Eat healthy foods. Dr. Simon points out that most kidney problems arise out of other medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Because of this, he suggests you follow healthy eating habits to control weight and blood pressure. Preventing diabetes and high blood pressure will help keep kidneys in good condition.
- Exercise regularly. Like eating a well-balanced diet, regular physical activity can stave off weight gain and high blood pressure. But do be mindful of how much exercise you do, especially if you’re not conditioned. “Overexerting yourself when you’re not in good shape can lead to serious problems, especially if you are at high risk for heart disease,” Dr. Simon says. If you are at high risk for heart disease and don’t exercise but want to start, talk to your physician before beginning any new workout program.
- Use caution with supplements and herbal remedies. Excessive amounts of certain vitamin supplements and some herbal extracts may be harmful to your kidneys. Talk to your doctor about any vitamins and herbs you plan to take.
- Quit smoking (and vaping!). Smoking can damage blood vessels, which decreases the flow of blood in the kidneys. When the kidneys don’t have adequate blood flow, they can’t function at optimal levels. Smoking also increases the risk of high blood pressure as well as the risk of kidney cancer. While vaping may not expose someone to many of the toxins in tobacco smoke, the nicotine is still very addictive and hard on the body, Dr. Simon says. Plus, there are many chemicals in the vaping solutions.
- Don’t overdo it with over-the-counter medications. “Common non-prescription pills like ibuprofen and naproxen (NSAIDs) can cause kidney damage if taken too regularly over a prolonged period,” Dr. Simon says. If you have healthy kidneys and use these medicines for occasional pain, they probably don’t pose a risk. But he says that if you take them for chronic pain or arthritis, you should talk to your doctor about monitoring your kidney function or finding alternative ways to control your pain.
- If you’re at risk, get regular kidney function screening. “If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, your physician should screen for kidney dysfunction as part of routine care for those conditions,” Dr. Simon says.
The big takeaway
The most important thing you can do to keep your kidneys safe is to take care of your body to reduce your chances of developing diseases that put a strain on your kidneys.
“Eat healthily, exercise regularly and control your weight,” Dr. Simon reiterates. “These healthy practices are not new and definitely not specific to kidney health. Healthy kidneys like a healthy body.”