A guide to keeping your kidneys healthy

Keeping your kidneys healthy is vital to your overall health, wellbeing, and longevity. Healthy kidneys mean that your body can filter and get rid of waste properly, can produce necessary hormones and can undertake other essential functions to keep your body strong and healthy.

The vital functions of kidneys

Kidneys are a vital organ, cleansing your blood of waste products, impurities, and excess water by filtering this waste material from out of your blood, and sending the waste to your urine where you pass it naturally. If your kidneys are unable to perform this function, serious health problems and premature death (if left untreated) can result.

Your kidneys also regulate potassium, salt, and pH levels in your body, produce blood pressure regulating hormones, control your red blood cell production and activate a type of vitamin D which helps your body to absorb calcium. Overall, maintaining kidney health is vital for your health and your longevity.

Kidney stone disease

Kidney stone disease is one of the most common disorders of the urinary system. Made of minerals and salts, kidney stones are hard substances formed inside your kidneys.

They often form when the fluid in your urine can’t dilute crystal-forming substances including oxalate, calcium and uric acid. As a result, these minerals can crystallise and stick together.

You probably won’t know that you have a kidney stone until you experience pain or other symptoms. Untreated or not managed appropriately, kidney stone disease can block your urine flow, cause infection, kidney damage, or at worst, kidney failure resulting in premature death. But kidney stone disease is treatable. Sometimes you can pass kidney stones naturally with pain medication and lots of water. But if a stone becomes lodged in your urinary tract and you are at risk of infection or complications, you may need surgery.

A range of factors can increase your risk of developing kidney stones including family or personal history, digestive diseases and surgery, certain supplements and medications, and other medical conditions as well as lifestyle and dietary factors.

How to keep kidneys healthy?

A healthy kidney lifestyle includes:

Regular exercise – this lowers the risk of getting chronic kidney disease, and by reducing your blood pressure and boosting the health of your heart, it also prevents kidney damage
Monitoring your weight – if you’re overweight or obese, your risk for conditions that result in kidney damage increases
Controlling your blood sugar – people who have diabetes or other conditions causing high blood sugar may develop kidney damage, but by controlling your blood sugar you can reduce this risk
Not smoking – smoking damages your blood vessels leading to slower blood flow to your kidneys, and also increases your risk of cancer

A healthy kidney diet

A healthy kidney diet is important. It’s not about what food is good for kidneys or foods for kidney health, but rather – what foods to avoid for kidney health.

Specifically, for a healthy kidney diet, you should:

Limit sodium – too much salt increases how much calcium your kidneys need to filter out, significantly increasing your risk of kidney stones developing. Doctors recommend that your total sodium intake should be a maximum of 1500mg per day
Limit animal proteins – animal proteins including red meat, seafood, eggs, and poultry may boost the amount of uric acid in your urine, leading to the formation of uric acid kidney stones
Limit processed animal-based meats – these are dangerous not only because they may boost the amount of uric acid in your urine, but also because they usually contain high levels of sodium
Minimise oxalate-rich foods, including nuts, beets, okra, spinach, tea, sweet potatoes, chocolate, and soy products – these may lead to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones
Drink plenty of water – dehydration increases your risk of developing kidney stones. Doctors recommend drinking 2-3 litres of water every day to prevent your urine from becoming concentrated

How do I check if my kidneys are healthy?

The first port-of-call should be to visit your doctor if you suspect you might have kidney issues. If urological treatments are required, you may be referred on to a urologist or kidney specialist who will discuss treatment options with you. If you do require urological treatment, the type of treatment recommended will depend on the details of your particular case.

Sources:

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-to-avoid-with-kidney-disease

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/kidney-health

Katelaris Urology: https://www.katelarisurology.com.au/kidney-stones/

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/multimedia/how-kidneys-work-video/vid-20207497

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-stones/symptoms-causes/syc-20355755).