Your kidneys are two of your body’s best friends. Besides filtering and cleaning your blood, they also regulate fluids, acidity and key minerals…produce hormones that control blood pressure…and manufacture a form of vitamin D that strengthens bones.
But modern life can really clobber your kidneys—high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and obesity all can damage these vital organs and are major risk factors for chronic kidney disease (CKD).
THE BEST DEFENSE
Controlling the big risk factors mentioned above are the best ways to prevent or control CKD. But recent studies have revealed several new risk factors that might threaten your kidneys. These include…
PROTON PUMP INHIBITORS
Americans spend about $11 billion yearly on acid-reducing, heartburn-easing proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec).
New finding: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied more than 10,000 people with normal kidney function. After 15 years, those using PPIs were 20% to 50% more likely to develop CKD.
Possible explanation: PPIs may cause interstitial nephritis—inflammation and scarring in the kidneys.
What to do: The researchers found that people who took an H2 blocker—such as ranitidine (Zantac) or famotidine (Pepcid)—instead of a PPI for heartburn did not have a higher risk for CKD.
Note: Many of my patients find that TUMS and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding spicy and fatty foods and eating more slowly, can greatly reduce heartburn.
HIGH ACID DIET
Just as our oceans are becoming more acidic and threatening marine life, scientists are finding that an acidic diet threatens our kidneys.
New finding: When researchers analyzed 14 years of health data for nearly 1,500 people with CKD, they found that those who ate a high-acid, junk food–laden diet that included red meat, processed foods, sweets and few fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to develop kidney failure.
What to do: Adopt a more alkaline diet. In a recent study, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center followed 900 people for nearly seven years and found that those who routinely ate a Mediterranean-type diet—rich in alkaline foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and heart-healthy fats like olive oil—were 50% less likely to develop CKD than those who didn’t eat these foods.
TOO MUCH PHOSPHORUS
The mineral phosphorus is a must—for cellular health, energy and digestion, a steady heartbeat and strong bones and teeth. But too much phosphorus damages the kidneys and the circulatory system.
New findings: In a study I conducted with fellow kidney specialists involving nearly 10,000 people, we found that an excess of phosphorus in the diet was linked to more than double the risk of dying from any cause and three times the risk of dying from heart disease. In another study, higher levels of dietary phosphorus sped up the decline from CKD to end-stage renal disease.
Red meat and dairy products are rich in phosphorus, but about 40% of the phosphorus in our daily diets is from phosphorus-containing additives used to extend shelf life and improve flavor and texture. Those additives are just about everywhere—including in many flavored waters, iced teas, nondairy creamers and bottled coffee beverages.
What to do: Whenever possible, choose a natural food over a processed food—eat fresh green beans, for example, rather than canned… and homemade bread rather than highly processed bread.
Also helpful: If you must eat a processed food, check the label for the word phosphate or phosphoric acid, which indicates the presence of phosphorus—and try to pick a product without the additive.
SITTING TOO MUCH
It’s not just lack of regular exercise that contributes to chronic health problems such as heart disease— it’s also excessive sitting. And sitting takes a toll on your kidneys, too.
New finding: In a study of nearly 6,000 people, every 80-minute period of sitting during the day increased the likelihood of CKD by 20%, according to research from the University of Utah School of Medicine. That was true whether or not the person exercised regularly or had diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.
What to do: When the same team of researchers looked at people with CKD, they found that standing up and/or walking around for just two minutes an hour lowered the risk for death by 41%. Research also shows that regular exercise is good for your kidneys.
My advice: Walk at least 30 minutes, three times a week (in addition to getting up every hour you sit)…or check with your doctor for advice on the best type of exercise for you.
Should You Be Tested for Kidney Disease?
More than 25 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD)—but only 6% know it! Beware: The symptoms of kidney disease (such as swollen legs, feet and/or ankles…frequent urination…fatigue…and/or dry, itchy skin) are not likely to be noticed until you reach end-stage renal disease because the body is very good at adapting to loss of kidney function until most of the function is gone.
Blood test for measuring kidney function: Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR). A filtration rate of less than 60 mL/min for more than three months means that you have CKD. Most insurance companies pay for the cost of the test if the patient has a risk factor for kidney disease—such as high blood pressure…type 2 diabetes…obesity…age (65 or older)…or a family history of the disease (a parent or sibling who has CKD). If you have a risk factor for CKD, get the test every year. Otherwise, there’s usually no need for testing, but be sure to consult your doctor for advice.