No matter what stage of CKD you’re in, taking steps to protect your kidneys and maintain overall health is always a good idea. If you’re wondering how to protect your kidneys, there are a number of simple lifestyle choices you can make to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible and help stop kidney failure.
Protect Your Kidneys with Healthy Food
If you’re accustomed to eating heavily processed food, and a lot of it, changing your diet can support good kidney health and reduce the risks for diabetes and hypertension, the leading causes of kidney disease. Here’s how to protect your kidneys with your diet.
- Limit salt, sugar, saturated and trans fats, and caffeine. These contribute to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and obesity, all of which put strain on the kidneys. Animal fats, fried foods, many canned and preserved foods, sodas, and fruit drinks are just some of the processed food items that are best avoided.
- Eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, especially organic. Compromised kidneys cannot filter out the chemicals that are used in pesticides. Talk to your doctor about healthy fruit intake, especially if you’re diabetic.
- Limit dairy products. Dairy products contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that our bodies need. Studies generally show that dairy can be protective against CKD if your kidneys are still healthy. However, dairy products also tend to contain high amounts of phosphorus, calcium, and potassium, which weakened kidneys cannot properly filter out and balance in the bloodstream.
- Drink an appropriate amount of fluids. Ask your healthcare provider what a safe amount of fluid intake would be for you. It’s important to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to overwhelm your kidneys. Stick with clear liquids as much as possible and avoid cola drinks. Prolonged use of cola drinks can cause damage even to healthy kidneys.
- Eat protein but do it sparingly. Consuming more protein than your body needs causes your kidneys to work overtime.
Protect Your Kidneys with Healthy Actions
Food is a critical component, but it’s still only part of the answer to the question of how to prevent kidney failure. Making smart choices and nurturing healthy habits in other areas of your life are just as important.
- Exercise. Any exercise is better than no exercise for people living with CKD. If you’re one of those people who get bored lifting weights or using a treadmill at a gym, you might choose walking, gardening, yoga, or dancing as an exercise. Even cleaning the house can get your heart rate up and improve blood flow.
- Quit smoking, or don’t start. Smoking inhibits blood flow to your organs, including the kidneys. It can also interfere with hypertension medications, cause hardening of the renal arteries, and hasten kidney function decline.
- Monitor and manage your blood sugar and blood pressure. Check them regularly and frequently. In addition to healthy lifestyle habits, make sure that you take any medications prescribed by your physician as directed.
- Get good sleep. Healthy sleep hygiene – not too little, not too much, and good quality – is easier said than done for many people, but some simple strategies can help:
- Try turning down the lights as you’re getting ready for bed
- Meditate, or just sit quietly in a chair for a few minutes with your eyes closed
- Drink a cup of warm milk (non-dairy if necessary) or herbal tea
- Ask your healthcare provider about safe, natural sleep enhancers
- Avoid frequent use of over-the-counter (OTC) pills. OTC pain-killers and anti-inflammatory pills such as ibuprofen, Motrin, Advil, and Aleve, can reduce blood flow to the kidneys. Antacids and decongestants are also not recommended. Consult your doctor about continued aspirin use if you’re taking it for a heart condition.
Protect Your Kidneys with a Healthy Attitude
Stress can lead to negativity and anxiety, which are bad enough. When stress is chronic, it also puts extra strain on your kidneys by flooding your blood with hormones intended to help you survive in brief moments of danger. Stress also causes high blood pressure, frequently leads to heart disease, and can accelerate renal failure. Reducing your stress-related tension is both healing and protective. Here are some ways to do that.
- Relax. How? By doing whatever safely works for you. Meditate, journal, listen to music, curl up or play with your pet, walk in nature, dance, take a class, paint, sculpt, or knit. Watch a movie, write a poem, play an instrument. Volunteer.
- Express your emotions. Speak, write, and otherwise share your feelings, whatever they may be, in productive ways, without judging yourself. Talk with friends, family, a support group, a therapist. Holding your feelings inside can lead to depression, hypertension, and a host of stress-related conditions.
- Be positive. This doesn’t mean ‘be unrealistic’. Being positive means facing challenges head-on but, instead of focusing your thoughts and energy on the unpleasant aspects and any possible negative outcomes, you focus on the positive steps you’re taking and can take going forward to achieve positive outcomes.
- Take stock of things you’re grateful for. Despite the health challenge you’re experiencing, there are likely still aspects of your life – people, animals, items, activities, etc. – that bring you joy and comfort. Studies show that gratitude can reduce pain and boost your immune system.