1. Get checked, stay healthy
The easiest way to look after your long-term kidney health is to ask your GP for a check-up each year. The earlier problems are detected and treated, the less chance you have of any lasting damage. "This check-up may include blood tests to assess kidney function and a urine test to check for the presence of protein," says kidney specialist Professor Alan Cass. "If protein is found, this can indicate problems with the part of the kidneys that filters the blood."
2. Aim for stable blood glucose
"Elevated blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing their health and function," says Sue Leahy, a diabetes educator with Diabetes NSW. Her recipe for healthy kidneys starts with keeping your blood glucose happy by eating well, exercising regularly, limiting stress and alcohol as much as possible, and getting enough sleep.
3. Take the pressure down
High blood pressure is the silent enemy of kidney health. "Over time, it can damage the lining of the arteries in the kidneys," says Prof Cass. To reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, try to limit your salt intake, as too much salt can put a strain on vessels and elevate blood pressure. An easy way to do this is to minimise your intake of packaged foods and avoid adding salt to meals. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure regularly, too. "If your blood pressure is repeatedly elevated, your doctor is likely to prescribe medications to lower it, such as ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers and/or diuretics to address fluid retention," says Prof Cass.
4. Watch your weight
"Even losing just five kilograms reduces blood pressure in most people who are 10 per cent above a healthy weight," says Prof Cass. To kickstart your weight loss the easy way, try eating more high-protein, low-GI foods. "Low-GI foods cause less of a spike in your blood glucose levels and keep you full for longer," says Leahy. Low-GI choices include grainy breads, SunRice Doongara rice, baked beans, apples and berries.
5. Tame your cholesterol
"High blood fats cause an inflammatory response inside the blood vessels that supply the kidneys, which can cause damage," Leahy says. It helps to keep saturated fats to a minimum while eating plenty of vegies, fruits and whole grains. Limiting your sugar and alcohol intake will also ease the load on your liver, which is responsible for cholesterol production. Not only does smoking increase blood pressure, "it also causes narrowing of the arteries, including the small vessels in the kidneys," says Leahy. Speak to your GP about tools to help you quit for good, including prescription medications and nicotine replacement therapy.
6. Amp up your exercise
Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and better blood glucose levels, which will benefit your kidney health, so aim to do 2.5 to five hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Keep your body challenged by regularly changing your routine. Adding weights can help you burn kilojoules even when resting.
8. Monitor your meds
Some common medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, aspirin and antacids, can cause kidney problems, so check with a doctor or pharmacist.
9. Watch out for UTIs
People with diabetes are at higher risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). These can cause complications, particularly if your kidneys are already not functioning well. Luckily, if you can control your blood glucose levels, bacteria are less likely to grow and cause an infection. If you do come down with a UTI, seek help promptly.
10. Silence those snores!
Snoring isn’t just hard on your bed partner! The reduction in oxygen can ramp up blood pressure, which can also increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you snore, ask your GP to sign you up for a sleep study. It will screen you for sleep apnoea, which causes elevated blood pressure due to short pauses in breathing that occur several times an hour and deprive your body of oxygen. If you are found to have the condition, it may be recommended that you sleep with an oxygen mask.
By Stephanie Osfield