The kidney is one of our most unique organs. It’s the only organ in the human body that we only need one of to survive. It’s not unusual for one kidney to do the work of two.
However many kidneys you have, it’s important to look after this vital organ. If you only have one — because you’ve donated a kidney to a loved one in need, had one surgically removed or been born with a single kidney — it’s even more vital to give it the protection it needs.
The 10th of March is World Kidney Day, part of a global campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the kidneys to our overall health.
But what role do our kidneys play, and what can you do to make sure you’re looking after yours?
Why We Need Our Kidneys
The kidneys perform several functions, including filtering waste, excess water and impurities from the blood, which are stored in the bladder and then expelled from the body.
But that’s not the only function they perform. They also regulate potassium and salt levels in the body, help your body absorb calcium and produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells.
When the kidney isn’t functioning as it should, the body can’t filter and expel waste properly. Continued strain on the kidneys can lead to chronic kidney disease.
Chronic kidney disease affects one out of ten people worldwide. An estimated 3 million people in the UK have the incurable condition. Early detection allows for care management, but if it’s discovered too late, it can be deadly. By 2040 — in a little under 20 years — kidney disease is projected to be the fifth leading cause of death worldwide.
How to Protect Your Kidneys
Looking after your kidneys is the best way to avoid developing kidney disease or any other problems. The benefit of these changes is that they won’t just benefit your kidneys — they also work wonders for your overall health.
Drink More Water
We all know the maxim that we should drink eight glasses of water every day, but there’s no denying its effectiveness. Drinking plenty of water keeps you hydrated, and it’s good for your kidneys too.
One of the kidney’s primary functions is to clean toxins and impurities, and water helps clear sodium from your kidneys. By drinking plenty of water, you play a crucial role in helping your kidney do its job. As a rule, you should aim for between 1.5 and 2 litres per day. If you’re travelling in a warm climate or engaging in intense exercise, you should drink more water, as your body will lose water when you sweat.
Watch What You Eat
A balanced diet ensures your body gets all the nutrients it needs, but that’s not the only benefit. Overweight or obese people have a higher risk of developing conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which can cause chronic kidney disease.
To maintain a healthy weight, eat foods that are low in sodium, salt and fat and avoid processed meats. Many fresh ingredients naturally have a low sodium content, including cauliflower, fish and whole grains.
In addition to eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, fill up on wholewheat pasta, bread and rice.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is common in people who are overweight or who have diabetes or a hormone condition, such as an under or overactive thyroid.
However, high blood pressure can happen to anyone. Not exercising enough, eating too much salt, drinking too much caffeine or not getting enough sleep can all increase your risk of high blood pressure.
Consistently having high blood pressure can cause kidney damage, and the impact can be much worse if you have a preexisting health condition.
A healthy blood pressure reading is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, you can take medication, although your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes.
Staying active helps keep you healthy and in shape, but there are many more benefits. Exercising regularly can reduce your risk of kidney disease on its own, but it’s also a great way to keep your blood pressure healthy.
You don’t have to head to the gym for an hour every day or train for a marathon to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether that’s dancing around your living room, going fishing or walking with a friend.
See a Doctor
If you’re worried about your kidney health, it’s vital to see a doctor. There are usually no signs of early kidney disease, but advanced kidney disease can present symptoms including tiredness, swollen ankles, nausea and blood in your urine.
These symptoms may indicate an easily treatable or curable condition, but it’s always better to get a checkup. You may need further tests to eliminate or confirm a diagnosis, which you can get on the NHS or at a private urology clinic.
Looking after your kidneys is vital to your overall health. Severe kidney disease can progress to kidney failure, but even a mild case increases your risk of developing serious problems, including cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, the best ways to look after your kidney health are things you can do every day by making a few small — but impactful — changes to your lifestyle.