Your body does a million amazing things every day, but few of your organs work as hard as your kidneys at keeping your body free of waste and stabilizing your electrolytes.
Each of your kidneys is made up of about a million nephrons, filtering units that help the kidneys do their primary job: cleaning your blood. Every day, your kidneys filter 120 to 150 quarts of blood in order to produce one to two quarts of urine. All this hard work helps to keep your blood composition consistent so that the rest of your body can function at its best.
Even though your kidneys are able to do these amazing acts of filtration, they can be damaged by lifestyle choices and disease. That’s why it’s important that you do what you can to help keep your kidneys healthy today and for the long run.
These tips can help get you started:
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Smoking can damage your blood vessels, decreasing the amount of blood flow that goes to your kidneys. Without good blood flow, your kidneys aren’t able to extract toxins and waste properly, leading to high levels of kidney damaging chemicals in your blood.Alcohol poses similar risks, but a drink now and again can be ok if your kidneys are healthy. One small drink a day for a woman and two small drinks a day for a man may be acceptable, but temper your alcohol intake for your kidney health.
- Stay hydrated, but don’t drink too much. Drinking plenty of fluid helps keep your blood moving smoothly into and out of your kidneys and other organs, but you don’t have to drink yourself sick to achieve proper hydration levels. Four to six glasses of water a day can be enough to give your kidneys a hand, though you may want to increase that amount during the summer. You’ll know you’re properly hydrated when your urine is straw-colored.
- Adjust your diet. Lots of salty food and protein can make your kidneys work overtime. As long as they’re perfectly healthy, they can generally handle the load, but as soon as anything goes wrong, it’ll start to show. It’s better to make a healthy habit today than to wait for your body to force better eating habits on you.Start by replacing your fatty meats with leaner ones and increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Your kidneys will thank you.
- Exercise, but do it gently. Gentle exercise can be extremely helpful for your overall health, decreasing blood pressure and keeping your kidneys at their best. Getting off the couch and doing a little exercise every day is a great habit for kidney health, but don’t overdo it. Overexertion causes excessive breakdown of muscle tissue, making your kidneys work overtime.
- Lose weight, feel great. As you pack on the pounds, you are putting a huge strain on your heart, lungs and — you guessed it — your kidneys. High blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are common results of carrying around excess weight. That high blood pressure and those high blood sugars can lead to kidney damage or Diabetic Nephropathy, an irreversible kidney disease.
- Choose your OTC drugs and supplements carefully. Many over the counter medications are filtered through the kidneys and when taken regularly, can cause serious kidney damage. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve, aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as their prescription-only counterparts, are among the worst for kidney health. Certain antibiotics can also be dangerous if used for a long period of time. Dietary supplements can be also problematic, so always check with your doctor before taking anything new.
- Don’t skip your check-ups. Above all else, it’s important to keep an eye on your kidney function by having a yearly physical. Your doctor will check for signs of kidney deterioration and will be able to catch kidney-damaging problems like high blood pressure or diabetes early. Early treatment means less damage and better kidney health for a lifetime.
You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your kidneys and all they do for you, but they’re workhorses worth spending a few minutes each day caring for. By improving your lifestyle, drinking enough water and keeping diabetes and high blood pressure in check, you’ll be able to extend the life of these vital organs.