You rely on your kidneys every day to filter your blood and remove things, like urea, that would interfere with your health if they were there in high quantities. Unfortunately, thanks to modern lifestyles, many people develop chronic kidney disease, also sometimes called CKD. CKD is a degenerative condition: it gets worse and worse the longer you leave it. The kidneys slowly lose their function, and waste products begin to build up in the bloodstream.
The body can handle a small loss of kidney function and mild elevation of these dangerous chemicals, but it’s not a pleasant experience. Profound loss of function, however, can lead to coma and death – definitely something you want to avoid. Today, more than 37 million Americans live with CKD, and millions more are at risk of developing the disease.
Modern medicine is increasingly realizing that the way to deal with chronic diseases of the modern era (like heart disease and diabetes) is to prevent them from ever developing in the first place. Eating healthfully, sleeping well, exercising, and avoiding smoking can all bolster your body’s natural defenses and keep you disease-free. The same approach applies to the management of chronic kidney disease. Take a look at these nine ways you can prevent it.
Follow A Low-Salt Diet
Your kidneys work by filtering your blood through a dense network of capillaries. Over time, however, high blood pressure can damage these small blood vessels, leading to a loss of renal function. Waste products can’t osmose out of the blood and into the ureter causing all kinds of problems. Salt is linked with high blood pressure, so following a low salt diet may help reduce this damage and protect your renal system.
Cut Down On Animal Protein Intake (Or Avoid It Altogether)
Our kidneys are “highly vascular organs,” meaning that they contain a lot of blood vessels. They rely on these blood vessels to do their job. Their role is to remove stuff the body doesn’t want or need from the blood.
Animal protein, however, may damage the vascularity through a process called “hyperfiltration.” Our kidneys are fabulously adaptable organs, able to react to changes in biological circumstances. When we eat a big chunk of meat, our kidneys help to filter out all of the waste products that come from that at an increased rate.
What’s interesting about this process, though, is that the kidneys can only keep up that high level of performance for a short time. If they go all out for longer – weeks or months – then it can damage their structure, and they begin to fail. It’s a bit like running the processor in your computer faster than the manufacturer specifications indefinitely: you can do it, but you’ll shorten its life.
Interestingly, protein from vegetables doesn’t appear to induce this state of hyperfiltration. You can gorge yourself on beans as much as you like with no adverse side effects. Plus, beans enlarge and soften your stools, making going to the bathroom more comfortable too.
Cut Down On Animal Fat
Animal fat – the rind on bacon or the marbling in beef steak – is another potentially harmful constituent of animal food. Studies show that fat from animals can clog up the works in our kidneys. Autopsies of patients who died from renal failure show just how badly fat can penetrate the kidney tissue and lead to radical loss of function. It’s something that our nephrologists diagnose regularly.
Avoid Cholesterol-Containing Foods
Our bodies need cholesterol to build cell walls and brain cells. Because of this, it sounds like we should be eating as much of the stuff as we can shovel down our necks. But don’t be fooled. While we need cholesterol molecules to form the building blocks of our cells, our bodies make all of the cholesterol that we need. We don’t need to get it from food.
And if you want to look after your kidneys, you shouldn’t. LDL cholesterol (both small dense and not so dense) damages the lining of your blood vessels, leading to the formation of plaques. These plaques then interfere with the ability of your kidney to filter the blood, getting in the way of this vital process.
Avoid Acid-Containing Foods
By acid-containing foods, we don’t mean citrus or Balsamic vinegar. These foods start as acidic, but they are alkaline-forming in the body. We’re talking (again) about animal foods. Meats, eggs, and cheese are acid-inducing foods once in the body, increasing the dietary acid load.
Why does this matter for your kidneys? Acid-forming diets impact kidney function via “tubular toxicity.” They damage the tiny tubes that allow the body to produce urine. Over time, this damage builds up, eventually leading to the failure of the entire organ.
Eat Base-Forming Foods
Just as you want to avoid acid-forming foods because of their effect on the ability of the kidneys to make urine, you also want to base your diet around base-forming foods.
Base-forming foods are, you probably already guessed, plant-based foods. Veggies, in general, are the most alkaline, so loading up on broccoli, watercress, peppers, sweet potatoes, and celeriac is a good idea. But so too are fruits, including citrus fruits, apples, melon, and grapes.
Beans are also highly base-forming with other common starches like bread and pasta, either neutral or slightly base-forming.
Eat A Plant-Based Diet
Nephrologists at our clinics in San Antonio and others around the country have known for decades that eating a low-sodium, plant-based diet is one of the most potent chronic kidney disease treatments. But research also shows that eating mainly vegan can reverse the disease too.
You can track urinary protein excretion – the amount of protein loss in a CKD patient’s urine – and see how it changes over time. Without a plant-based diet, protein leakage is high. If a patient’s kidneys aren’t working as they should, put them on a plant-based diet, and the protein leakage goes down substantially – they get better. Put them back on a standard American diet, and the protein leakage goes back up again. Put them back on a near-vegan diet, and protein excretion goes down again. It’s as if you can turn the disease on and off just by feeding people less meat and more plants. It’s miraculous.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
The overwhelming evidence suggests that alcohol is not a healthy part of a “balanced diet,” nor it is “good in moderation.” Alcohol is just alcohol, and the best available evidence appears to suggest that it has practically no beneficial effects on the body and a host of negatives.
Nobody is saying that you need to go teetotal to avoid kidney disease. But if you are a heavy drinker or you have alcohol two or more times per week, then you may need to cut down. Alcohol makes the kidneys work harder than they would otherwise have to while at the same time exacerbating the hyperfiltration issue we talked about earlier.
When To See A Doctor
CKD is a serious condition. It’s crucial, therefore, that you come and see us at the first sign of trouble. What are those signs?
The first thing to look out for is feeling more tired and having less energy than usual. In its early stages, kidney failure can make you feel lifeless and unable to enjoy yourself. You may also find that you experience trouble sleeping or that you have a poor appetite.
More severe issues include things like muscle cramping and swollen feet and ankles. You may also notice extreme puffiness around your eyes or dry and itchy skin in the morning. If you see any of these symptoms, it’s vital that you immediately seek attention from friendly professionals like us.
The good news is that by making some lifestyle modifications now, you can manage your disease and go on to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.
If you are in a risk group, then it’s even more vital that you seek attention fast. Being old, having a history of diabetes, or high blood pressure can increase your risk. So too can have a family history of kidney disease. See one of our nephrologists, San Antonio, for a consultation.