You can say it a million times, and it still won’t be enough. Your kidneys are one of the most important—if not the most important—organs in your body. Being a vital organ, kidneys are responsible for a wide array of functions and processes. For starters, they regulate the levels of many minerals in your body, including sodium, calcium, and potassium. When you’re low on minerals, your kidneys are the first organ to react, sending you a signal that there is something wrong.
And if you thought that your heart was more important, think again. Kidneys are the main regulators of blood pressure, producing hormones that ensure proper function. They also support the formation of red blood cells.
The kidney function most of us are familiar with is flushing toxins and excess fluid. Kidneys act as the filters of the body. Along with the liver, they remove extra toxins, wastes, and excess fluid. Properly functioning kidneys can filter up to 200 quarts of blood daily to produce two quarts of urine.
With that being said, it’s essential that you keep your kidneys as healthy as possible. Problem is, most of us are damaging our kidneys without knowing it. Let’s start with two simple questions: Do you drink alcohol on a regular basis? And do you smoke cigarettes on a daily basis? Well, those are just at the top of the list of kidney-damaging habits. But there are many other lifestyle habits we don’t realize are damaging our kidneys. Here are some.
Not drinking enough water
Some healthcare people like to refer to kidneys as flowers. You need to water them so they can function properly. In order to regulate blood pressure and flush out toxins, your kidneys need water. No water = no flushing toxins.
How much is enough water? Well, most people refer to the eight ounces per day rule, but that’s just a general rule of thumb. Some people need more water, some people need less. I’d say you should stick close to the general rule of thumb. However, if you’re overweight, you need even more water. And if you work out on a regular basis, you need more water, just so you don’t dehydrate.
True, using painkillers is not something most of us do on a daily basis. However, I know people who can’t live without painkillers, and I try to explain to them that painkillers do as much harm as good. Over-the-counter medicines alleviate your pains and aches, but they harm the kidneys in the process. People who already have kidney disease should stay away from painkillers (or at least reduce their regular use of them).
I’ll urinate later
The worst mindset you can get. If you need to go, you need to go. As simple as that. When you delay urination, you put pressure on your bladder—and that means that all the toxins that your kidneys are trying to flush out are staying inside you (and for a longer period of time). Think of urination as a way to be healthier. And if you need to go five times, you need to go five times. Break or no break, don’t delay urination.
There is still no clear research that shows how and why a sedentary position affects the kidneys. But some studies have likened kidney disease to sitting for long periods of time. Personally, I would say go with the 45:15 rule. That means that for every 45 minutes of work in sedentary position, try to move or take a break for 15 minutes. And if your work doesn’t allow that, take at least a five-minute break to stretch your legs.
If your work demands long office hours in a sedentary position, you just have to work out. You need exercise in the evening hours to balance your office hours. If nothing else, some walking will be enough.
Cigarettes and alcohol
I don’t know which is more dangerous: alcohol or cigarettes. I would say avoid them both as much as possible. Yes, alcohol can be beneficial; a glass of wine is proven to be good for circulation. However, when I talk about alcohol, I’m talking about drinking a lot of booze.
Alcohol and cigarettes are rich in toxins that your kidneys have to work extra hours to process. Cigarettes and alcohol are two of the main causes of end-stage renal diseases. When you consume either of them, your uric acid is stored in the renal tubules. The result is obstruction of the kidneys’ work, and therefore a higher risk of kidney damage, kidney failure, and kidney disease.
Too much salt
To function properly, your kidneys need to metabolize 95% of the sodium you consume through food. Consuming too much salt will force your kidneys to work overtime. And if you put your kidneys in overdrive, you reduce their ability to function properly.
As a result, your body retains water and you increase the risk of high blood pressure and kidney disease. So, stay away from the salt shaker and processed foods.
Too much meat
Yes, meat can be healthy. After all, meat is the best source of animal protein. However, that doesn’t mean that you should eat two servings of meat per day. In addition to protein, meat is also a source of acid that’s harmful to the kidneys.
And yes, you need protein to grow and repair your muscles. But stick to the 1g of protein per 1 pound of body weight as a maximum limit.
Too much sugar
Consuming foods that are high in sugar will increase your risk of obesity. And obesity leads to high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are high risk factors for kidney disease.
Now, when we talk about high sugar foods, chocolate is at the top of the list. But that list also includes sugary drinks, grains, condiments, white bread, white flour, and many more foods that are hidden sources of processed sugar.
Not getting enough sleep
When I was younger, in my teenage years, I knew I could sleep for just three to four hours and function properly. But that was far from healthy. And as you get older, sleep becomes even more crucial. In the case of your kidneys, a good night’s sleep will help them maintain the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. If you don’t get the proper amount of sleep, your kidneys will work excess hours, putting even more pressure on them.
Early signs of kidney damage
If you notice one of the following symptoms, consider changing your lifestyle habits. Yes, some of the habits damaging your kidneys are actually healthy (eating meat, but that’s absolutely the only one). Here are signs that your kidneys are sending:
- Feelings of tiredness, fatigue, low amount of energy and trouble concentrating.
- Dry and itchy skin. Without proper kidney function, wastes and extra fluid stay in your body. And itchy skin is a sign of a mineral disease that accompanies kidney disease.
- Frequent urinating. If you urinate more often than you usually do, chances are you have damaged your kidneys. This happens mostly during the night.
- Foamy or bloody urine are two other signs of kidney damage. Urine that is foamy, with excessive bubbles, means you have protein in your urine, which is never a good sign.
- Poor appetite is another symptom of kidney damage. Yes, it’s a general symptom, but due to buildup of toxins and reduced kidney function, you just don’t want to eat.
- Swollen ankles and feet might not look like a symptom of kidney disease, but it actually is. Due to sodium retention, your ankles and feet are swollen. This can also be a sign of heart or liver disease.
- Cramping of the muscles is one of the most common symptoms of kidney disease. Poor kidney function results in an electrolyte imbalance (mostly low calcium levels).