The kidneys manage essential bodily functions, cleaning the blood of waste and toxins and transforming that waste into urine. The kidneys lie deep inside the abdomen, on either side of the spine, which is why kidney infections can cause pain in the back or side. Though it is possible to live with only one kidney, taking care of these organs is essential to preserving health and preventing the serious diseases malfunctioning kidneys can cause.
Our kidneys perform many functions to keep the blood free of waste and eliminate excess water, making them as life-sustaining as the heart, lungs, and liver. When the kidneys are not working as they should, this build-up waste and excess water can cause headaches, lethargy, fluid retention, and other more serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, abnormal heart rhythm, and even death.
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Meat and dairy products contain animal proteins, which research shows have a profound effect on kidney function. While proteins are important nutrients for many functions in the body, they also break down into waste products that have to be removed from the blood by the kidneys. Eating too much protein may put an extra burden on the kidneys and aggravate existing kidney disease. A kidney-friendly diet will also limit the number of saturated fats and micronutrients such as potassium and phosphorus.
The kidneys purify the blood by passing the toxins to the bladder; the latter organ then disposes of them through urination. Drinking inadequate fluids leads to dehydration, which is important to avoid during the early stages of kidney disease. However, people with advanced chronic kidney diseases should limit the amount of water they drink because the damaged kidneys cannot remove the extra fluids.
Exercise plays a vital role in keeping the body fit, strong, and healthy. Taking up jogging, cycling, or walking improves mental and physical health in general, and kidney health specifically. Many people with kidney conditions report improvement in their health after taking up light exercise. Regular exercise can prevent high blood pressure, which can also affect kidney health.
Smoking damages many organs and parts of the body. It is also the most preventable cause of premature death. Smokers have a higher risk of heart disease, strokes, and various cancers. Additionally, the habit slows blood flow to important organs like the kidneys. Smokers also have an increased risk of kidney diseases, especially when the person also has diabetes. Quitting smoking is hard, but there are many methods available to people who want to improve their health.
Though sometimes essential, medications can affect the way the kidneys function. Because the organs filter many medications, this effort over time can cause deterioration of kidney function. Reduced kidney functionality means the medications start to build up, further affecting the kidneys and the rest of the body. Cholesterol medication, many painkillers, antiacids, anti-diabetics, and antibiotics may need to be adjusted or replaced by a doctor if the patient has kidney disease. Anyone who needs to take medication, over-the-counter or prescription, for any length of time should speak to their doctor about the potential side effects.
As well as medications, certain supplements affect kidney function. A review in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology listed 17 dietary supplements that can cause direct injury to the kidneys. The list included licorice, cat's claw, willow bark, creatine, and yellow oleander. Patients should always inform their physicians of any supplements they are taking.
Eating salt increases the amount of sodium in the bloodstream. Too much sodium causes the body to hold on to more water. That extra water raises blood pressure, which has a direct effect on the kidneys, making them less able to remove water. They must work harder to complete this function, which strains both the organs. Limiting the consumption of processed foods is important, as these contain high amounts of salt.
Caffeine is in tea, coffee, and other products. Many people rely on a cup of coffee in the morning to kickstart the day, and while one cup is not bad, caffeine still affects all the body's systems, including the kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation recommends drinking coffee in moderation and avoiding coffee with additives such as flavored syrups or creamers.
Preventative measures can help detect the progression of kidney disease including kidney failure. People with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, or diabetes, however, should attend regular screening appointments to make sure a doctor catches and treats any issues early.
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