Keep Your Kidneys In Tip Top Shape

When we think about big health problems, heart disease or cancer leap to mind but so should obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes as these diseases can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 1 in 7, that is 15% of US adults or 37 million people, are estimated to have CKD. It is more common in people aged 65 years or older (38%) than in people aged 45-64 years (12%) or 18-44 years (6%). CKD is the most common of kidney problems and is preventable. While it isn’t reversable, a healthy eating plan can keep your kidneys healthy or help prevent further decline.

What is CKD?
CKD is the gradual loss of the kidneys’ ability to filter and excrete wastes and excess fluids from your blood for excretion in the urine. Because kidney decline occurs gradually and in stages usually without symptoms, most people are unaware they have CKD. High blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are usually the root causes of it. CKD develops in stages and without symptoms so you may not think about it happening. Routine blood work can measure kidney function. Talk to your doctor.

To prevent CKD, do three things to ensure the finely tuned structures of your kidneys aren’t overwhelmed. Don’t be lazy about any of these.

  • Manage your blood pressure.
  • If you have diabetes, keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
  • Maintain a healthy weight with a plant-based diet, low fat eating plan and daily physical activity.

How Do Kidneys Work
The kidneys are two fist-sized organs that sit on either side of your spine just below the rib cage. The kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid as well as acid produced by the cells in your body to maintain a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium in your blood.

Kidneys also make hormones that help control blood pressure, make red blood cells, and keep bones strong and healthy.

Blood flows through your kidneys from the renal artery into filtering units called nephrons. (Each kidney contains approximately a million nephrons.)  Within each nephron, your blood is filtered by the tiny blood vessels of the glomerulus. The thin walls of the glomerulus allow smaller molecules, waste, and fluid- mostly water to move into a tubule. Larger molecules such as proteins and red blood cells, stay in the blood vessels and leave the kidney through the portal vein. The tubule reabsorbs most of the water along with minerals and nutrients that also pass into the portal vein while wastes along with some water move to the bladder to be excreted as urine.

Kidney Stones
If you have had a kidney stone, you know how painful they can be. Men are more likely to develop kidney stones than women.

The most common stones are calcium oxalate or uric acid stones. Calcium in your food does not increase your chance of oxalate stones. Normally extra calcium not needed by the bones is flushed out in the urine. If that doesn’t happen, calcium stays in the kidneys and forms a stone. Uric acid stones form when your urine contains too much acid. Eating a lot of fish, shellfish, and meat may increase uric acid in the urine. 

Pain Relief Medications
Non-prescription pain relief medications, called analgesics, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) may cause kidney damage if used long term and at high doses. Read the warning label on the package. Check with your doctor if you have kidney disease. Even with normal kidney function you should use analgesics:

  • Exactly as prescribed
  • At the lowest dose possible
  • For the least amount of time

If you have CKD, request a referral from your doctor is see a registered dietitian-nutritionist to help you develop a kidney friendly healthy eating plan.


The National Kidney Foundation

National Institute of Kidney and Diabetes and Digestive Diseases

DaVita Kidney Care

Recipe Tip

Summer Couscous Salad

1 cup pearl couscous

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half or 1 cup tomatoes cut in small chunks

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

1/2 cup diced English cucumber (with skin and seeds)

1/2 cup sugar snap peas cut in half diagonally

2 tablespoons Italian dressing

In a medium saucepan simmer 1-1/2 cups water. Add couscous, salt, and olive oil. Cover slightly and simmer 8 to 10 minutes until couscous is firm but tender. Drain. Pour into a bowl. Toss with a fork to keep couscous from sticking. Chill just until cold. Toss in remaining ingredients. Chill again. Garnish with basil leaves. Servings: 4

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitm