Taking care of our Kidneys

The worldwide increase in the number of patients with chronic kidney disease and ultimately end-stage kidney disease requiring kidney replacement therapy is threatening to reach epidemic proportions over the next decade.

This has an adverse effect on one’s health and quality of life, and gives rise to high health care expenditure.

Caring for your kidneys is important because healthy kidneys filter out toxic waste products from the blood caused by environmental toxins.


Role of the kidneys

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs located near the middle of the back, just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine.

The kidneys are very important to your urinary system. It is responsible for cleaning the blood from waste products and also dead red and white blood cells. Then it turns it into urine and stool which is then removed from our body.

It also maintains the amount of water in the body. They process around 200 litres of blood, with around 1 to 2 litres of waste leaving the body as urine.

People with two healthy kidneys have 100 % of their kidney function. Serious health problems occur when people have < 25% of their kidney function. When kidney function drops below 10-15%, a person needs dialysis or a kidney transplant.


5 critical functions performed by the kidney:

  1. Keeps the blood clean by filtering it of waste products and throwing these waste products from the body as urine
  2. Help maintain one’s body’s fluid composition
  3. The kidneys secrete a hormone called erythropoietin, which is responsible for stimulating the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
  4. Kidneys produce an enzyme called renin, which is needed to help maintain blood pressure
  5. Convert vitamin D to its most active form


One should know:

    • Early kidney disease has no symptoms
    • Diabetes, high BP, heart disease, and family history of kidney failure are the main risk factors
  • Hyperuricemia (high level of uric acid in the blood) & Hyperuricemia with gout (overload of uric acid in the blood leading to the formation of tiny crystals of urate that accumulate in the tissues, joints of knee, wrist, hands, ankles, toes.)  are also causes of kidney disease.
  • Blood and urine tests can find kidney disease
  • Kidney disease can be treated, so the earlier you know you have it, the better


Symptoms of a kidney problem

  • Frequent urination or problem controlling urination
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain or a burning sensation during urination
  • Water collection in the lungs, legs, abdomen
  • Swelling around the face, eyes, feet and ankles
  • Blood in the urine
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache,  feeling dizzy
  • Having trouble thinking clearly
  • Severe itching not related to a bite or rash
  • Shortness of breath, or feeling that you can’t catch your breath


Testing for kidney disease

It is important to get one tested by carrying out these two tests to check for kidney disease.

  1. A blood test checks your GFR (glomerular filtration rate) which tells how well your kidneys are filtering.
  2. A urine test checks for albumin in your urine. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged.
  3. A blood test to determine the amount of uric acid in your blood. High levels of uric acid can cause kidney stones in addition to gout.

Check your blood pressure from time to time as high BP can be a sign of kidney disease.


Once diagnosed with any form of a kidney problem, it is important to take proper long-term treatment as prescribed by the doctor as:

  • Reduces new attacks of gout
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease  and kidney disease


Diet Matters

A healthy, balanced diet and adequate water are enough to maintain healthy kidneys. Small changes to your diet can help you manage your diabetes and high blood pressure and thereby protect your kidneys.

Eating the right foods and avoiding excess salt can help keep your kidneys healthy.

Foods good for your kidneys are those rich in antioxidants, healthy protein and low in phosphorous.


10 SUPER foods for kidney health

  1. Red capsicum
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Cabbage
  4. Onion
  5. Garlic
  6. Apples
  7. Berries (cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries)
  8. Fish
  9. Egg white
  10. Olive oil


Food to avoid when your kidney function is compromised

  • Processed and fast foods
  • Canned foods
  • Food high in oxalic acid: peanuts, instant coffee, chocolate, dark leafy green vegetables
  • Food high in sodium/salt content: salty snack foods, soy sauce
  • Potassium-rich food like corn flour, peach, sweet lemon, rice, soybeans, mustard, prawns and cow milk
  • Coffee, tea and aerated drinks
  • Animal-derived sources of protein: fatty meats, bacon, hot dogs
  • Alcohol


Tips for making healthy food choices

  1. Make it a point to eat fruits and vegetable every day
  2. Cook with a mix of spices instead of salt
  3. Choose vegetable toppings like spinach, broccoli, and capsicum for your pizza.
  4. Try different recipes for baking or broiling meat, chicken, and fish.
  5. Try to choose foods with little or no added sugar.
  6. Drink fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  7. Eat foods made from whole grains: whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and whole grain corn every day.
  8. Read food labels. Choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  9. Slow down at snack time. Eating a bag of low-fat popcorn takes longer than eating a slice of cake. Peel and eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice.


Exercise Helps

Can exercise improve kidney function?

Exercise makes us energetic and helps us enjoy our activities.

In addition to increased energy, exercise also helps:

  • improve muscle physical functioning
  • better blood pressure control
  • improve muscle strength
  • a lower level of blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • better sleep
  • better control of body weight.

By exercising regularly, you will help to prevent or control diabetes and hypertension and preserve and improve the health of your kidneys.

  • Aerobic exercise keeps the heart rate elevated. Walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, and swimming helps to improve the overall quality of life.
  • Practice yoga 2-3 times a week. Yoga helps the body relax through breathing techniques and stretching. Meditation can also help to improve BP, benefiting your overall cardiovascular health.
  • Enrol in a Pilates class or purchase a Pilates DVD. Pilates helps to build strength and endurance without vigorous exercise that can compromise an already weakened condition if you are suffering from kidney complications.

Each exercise session should be around 15 to 30 minutes (including warm-up and warm-down).


Methods to introduce and encourage a healthy lifestyle should become a priority for all of us

Key points to remember for good maintenance of your kidneys

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Eat some lean meat like chicken and fish once a week
  • Avoid taking painkiller medicines on a regular basis
  • Avoid high intake of fat-rich diet & sweetening preparations
  • Decrease salt intake & caffeine
  • Drink plenty of water instead of aerated drinks
  • Avoid smoking & alcohol
  • Check your blood pressure regularly
  • Do things that help you relax and reduce your stress levels
  • Take medicines as prescribed by your doctor and for long-term to avoid new attacks of gout  and to prevent complications
  • Live a more active life


Lysaght MJ,  J Am Soc Nephrol 2002 13: S37–S40
National Kidney Foundation:
University of Maryland Medical Center
The National Kidney Disease Education Program (NKDEP)
National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP)