Prediabetes is a wake-up call in many ways. Joining a Diabetes Prevention Program such as Lark is for sure a chance to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Knowing that you have prediabetes, and taking action to manage or reverse it, can also help lower risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
A recent Lark DPP check-in talked about links between prediabetes and kidney disease. High blood sugar, as in prediabetes and especially in diabetes, can damage kidney structures and also make the kidneys work harder as they need to filter more sugar from the blood. Together, these stressors can lead to chronic kidney disease and eventually the need for strict diets and possibly dialysis.
There are plenty of easy steps you can take to keep kidneys healthy before any problems even threaten. These are 8 ways to support healthy kidneys when you have prediabetes – or anytime.
1. Drink more water
Getting enough fluid supports your kidney function, while dehydration makes kidneys work harder. Hitting 8 ounces of water a day, plus more if you sweat a lot, is a good goal. Ice water, water with lemon or lime wedges, cucumber slices, mint or basil leaves, or sliced strawberries or peaches, and decaffeinated green or black coffee or tea are all good alternatives to plain water if you need them.
2. Eat less salt
Salt is the main dietary source of sodium. Sodium is an essential mineral, but humans only need a tiny amount. Most people get far more sodium than necessary. Excess sodium causes the body to retain water, leading to higher blood volume and blood pressure, which increases stress on the kidneys. In general, high-sodium foods include bread, soup, olives, pickles, cheese, soy sauce and other condiments and sauces, and processed and prepared foods. Choosing less-processed foods and using more herbs and spices instead of salt in cooking can lead to lower sodium intake.
3. Eat more potassium
Potassium has the opposite effect of sodium on blood pressure, but most Americans get less than they should. Good sources include sweet potatoes and winter squash, white potatoes, tomatoes and tomato sauce, watermelon, leafy greens such as spinach, beans, fish, yogurt, avocados, and cantaloupe. Do you see a pattern here? Potassium is in a lot of unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods that can also improve heart health and lower blood sugar along with supporting kidney health.
4. Lose weight
Weight loss is a focus of Lark DPP, but it does more than lower blood sugar. It can lower blood pressure and reduce the chances of getting kidney disease. Losing weight can also help prevent joint pain, and staying away from painkillers is another way to support kidney health in the long run.
How is “exercise the new medicine?” Let me count the ways. It directly improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar, but is as powerful as a prescription drug in many other ways. Regularly getting in some aerobic activity can lower blood pressure by several points, while adding in some strength training can drop blood pressure further. So, while you are “working out” your frustrations, improving mood, boosting brain function, and looking good, you are laying the groundwork for healthy kidneys for years to come.
6. Keep alcohol in moderation
A moderate amount of alcohol may be okay if you already drink regularly, but too much is a quick path to trouble, possibly including kidney problems. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain due to the high amount of calories in alcoholic beverages and the tendency to eat high-calorie foods while drinking, and it can also cause high blood pressure. The maximum recommended amount, if you choose to drink at all, is two drinks a day for men or one for women. A drink is considered 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
7. Avoid smoking
Smoking is one of the surest ways to get all kinds of chronic conditions, such as lung cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and, well, kidney disease. Tobacco harms the body in so many ways that it is worth pursuing your options for quitting if you use it in any form. There are many resources available, many of them at low or no cost, and your healthcare provider can point you to some if you are interested in quitting.
8. Cut back on sugar
Sugar…diabetes…and kidney disease. Too much sugar raises blood sugar levels eventually, and that can damage kidneys. Furthermore, sugar consumption is linked to high triglycerides, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Ways to cut back on added sugars include choosing water instead of soda, eating fruit instead of cake or other baked goods for dessert, snacking on nuts or seeds instead of candy or cookies, and choosing plain instead of sweetened oatmeal, cereal, and yogurt. These swaps will also bump up your fiber and potassium counts, leading to even healthier kidneys.
Many of these strategies have multiple benefits aside from lowering kidney disease risk. They may lower blood pressure, increase “good” HDL cholesterol, and reduce risk for heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. The great thing is that many of these are already what you may be doing if you are in Lark DPP and working to lower diabetes risk.