Which organ produces red blood cells, balances fluids and minerals in your blood, helps regulate blood pressure, and is necessary to maintain bone strength? Your kidneys do all that, and more, but may not always get the attention they deserve. If you are guilty of ignoring kidney health, setting aside some time this National Kidney Disease Month may be a good idea.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) recognize March as National Kidney Disease Month to raise awareness about kidney disease. Though it is a serious condition, kidney disease is largely preventable with healthy lifestyle behaviors. Lark is a digital coaching program that you can use on your smartphone to help make smart health choices that can lower risk for chronic conditions and related concerns.
Roles of the Kidneys
A primary job of your kidneys is to filter waste out of the bloodstream and get the waste ready to be eliminated from the body in the form of urine. The kidneys help regulate fluid and electrolyte balance in your body. The kidneys have other important roles.
- Helping convert vitamin D into a more active form for your body to use
- Production of certain hormones related to blood pressure regulation
- Supporting bone health
- Producing red blood cells
Some degree of loss of kidney function makes no difference in your health. That is why people can donate an entire kidney with no ill effects. However, losing too much function is detrimental.
What Is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease happens when your kidneys cannot filter blood properly, allowing waste products to build up to toxic levels in your bloodstream.
Acute kidney disease happens as the result of a specific incident, such as a kidney injury or an infection. It may not be preventable, and kidney function is often regained.
The focus of this article, however, is chronic kidney disease (CKD). It is often preventable through choices related to diet, exercise, and controlling blood sugar and blood pressure. It is a progressive condition defined by glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is a measure of how fast your kidneys filter the blood .
This is how CKD is defined.
- Stage 1: GFR at least 90 mL/min per 1.73 m2 and proteinuria (protein in the urine)
- Stage 2: GFR 60-89 mL/min per 1.73 m2 and proteinuria
- Stage 3: GFR 30-59 mL/min per 1.73 m2
- Stage 4: GFR 15-29 mL/min per 1.73 m2
- Stage 5: GFR under 15 mL/min per 1.73 m2
Kidney function is very limited in Stage 4 CKD, and someone with Stage 5 CKD needs a kidney transplant or dialysis. Stage 5 is also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and a common cause of death is coronary heart disease.
How Common Is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease may be more common and impactful than you think. About 1 in 7 American adults may, or about 30 million, may have CKD. Over 600,000 Americans have kidney failure (ESRD), with about two-thirds of those living with dialysis.
Kidney diseases, including CKD, are together the ninth-leading cause of death in the United States. They kill more people each year than some of the higher-profile, most-common cancers: breast and prostate.
Diabetes, Hypertension, and Kidney Disease
Two-thirds of CKD cases are related to diabetes or hypertension . In diabetes, blood sugar is higher than normal, while blood pressure is high in hypertension. The NIDDK reports that 1 in 3 people with diabetes have CKD, and 1 in 5 with hypertension have CKD .
High blood sugar can place extra strain on the kidneys by causing them to filter more waste from the blood. High blood pressure can strain the kidneys by forcing them to filter a higher volume of blood. In addition, high blood sugar can lead to kidney damage when molecules of sugar, or glucose, attach to parts of the kidneys and harm them.
Other Risk Factors for Kidney Disease
Some of the other risk factors for kidney disease are non-modifiable, but many of them are modifiable, which means you can do something about them. Risk factors include the following.
- Being African-American, Hispanic-American, and American Indian
- Being an older adult
- Having a family history of ESRD
- Having heart disease
- Being overweight or physically inactive, or eating a low-nutrient diet
It is good to ask your doctor for a GFR or kidney function test if you have not had one recently because CKD is often symptomless until later stages. The NIDDK reports that fewer than half of people with stage 1, 2, 3, and 4 CKD are aware of their condition, which is a shame because it is possible to slow progression of CKD in the early stages.
Preventing Kidney Disease
The same lifestyle choices that can help prevent diabetes and hypertension can help lower risk for kidney disease. These include the following.
- Eating a more nutritious diet
- Increasing physical activity
- Losing excess weight
- Avoiding or stopping tobacco use
- Limiting alcohol to 1 (women) or 2 (men) drinks per day
- Managing diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease with lifestyle changes and any prescribed medications
Nutritious Diet for Kidney Health
- Limiting sodium consumption to 2,300 mg/day. High-sodium foods include canned soups and other goods, frozen entrees, processed meats, sauces and dressings, prepared foods, snack foods, and pickles.
- Increasing potassium consumption by choosing plenty of vegetables, fruit, and legumes.
- Choosing whole instead of refined grains.
- Baking or broiling instead of frying.
- Limiting trans fats and added sugars.
Lark programs are designed to help you make smart choices that fit into your lifestyle and can become habits. Specialized programs are available to manage diabetes and hypertension, and help you get ready to quit using tobacco if you want. This National Kidney Disease Month can be a great opportunity to explore your options for support for a healthy lifestyle.
Taking a few moments this March to think about kidney health can be well worth the investment. Losing weight, controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, getting active, and eating right can all lower your risk for kidney disease. Lark can help with these and other steps to promote kidney health and to help manage or prevent other chronic conditions. Find out if you may be eligible to join Lark through your healthcare plan!