7 innocent mistakes that put your kidneys in trouble
If your kidneys aren’t working properly, you could raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Here are seven things you may be doing that could jeopardise the health of your kidneys.
1. You’re a fan of packaged food
Most processed food is chock-full of sodium, which isn’t just bad for your heart, it can lead to kidney problems. When you’re showing signs that you eat too much salt, your body needs to flush the sodium out when you wee, and it takes calcium with it. In turn, having too much calcium in your urine increases your risk for kidney stones, says nephrologist Dr James Simon.
In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council has set an ‘Adequate Intake’ of sodium at 460–920 mg per day (equivalent to about 1.15-2.3 g of salt), however because on average we consume about 10,000 mg of sodium, the suggested dietary target is 1600 mg (equivalent to about 4 g of salt). One teaspoon of salt equals 2300 mg of sodium – 700 mg higher than the dietary target.
Check the nutritional label on processed food, you’ll be surprised just how quickly sodium can add up. In fact, processed and fast food is where more than 75 per cent of the sodium we consume comes from. “People look at carbs and fat and kilojoules, but they don’t pay attention to sodium,” says Dr Simon.
2. Your blood pressure is out of control
High blood pressure is hard on your whole body, including your kidneys. “Kidneys are basically one big set of blood vessels with urine drains,” says Dr Simon. “If you have high blood pressure in your big blood vessels, you have high blood pressure in your smaller blood vessels.” Letting high blood pressure go unchecked could damage the blood vessels leading to your kidneys, plus scar the organs themselves.
3. You haven’t kicked your smoking habit
If you thought lung cancer was the only reason to put down the cigarettes, think again. A 2012 study found that quitting smoking for 16 or more years cut the risk of renal cell carcinoma (the most common form of kidney cancer in adults) by 40 per cent. Plus, smoking can damage the blood vessels and increase your risk of high blood pressure. “It’s another reason smoking is just bad on the body,” says Dr Simon.
4. You never drink when you’re thirsty
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need to down a full eight glasses of water to keep your kidneys working well. Even with just four to six glasses of water a day, your kidneys are probably fine, says Dr Simon. But sticking with just a cup or two a day could challenge the organ. Not only will you not have enough water flushing out your system to keep your sodium levels in check, but a dehydrated body will have a harder time keeping blood pressure steady. “The kidney is very sensitive to blood flow,” says Dr Simon. “It won’t like it if you are so dehydrated that your blood pressure drops and the blood flow to your kidneys drops.”
You probably won’t need to worry about that level of dehydration every day, but make sure you drink enough water if you’re exercising a lot or outside on a hot day, he says.
5. You pop painkillers constantly
Watch out if you take over-the-counter medication for chronic pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs, which include ibuprofen and aspirin, reduce blood flow to the kidneys, and cause scarring because they’re directly toxic to the organ, says Dr Simon. Nobody’s saying you need to suffer through a throbbing headache, but popping anti-inflammatory pills too often can increase your risk of kidney problems. “The people at risk are taking them on a daily basis for long periods of time,” says Dr Simon. But if you already have kidney damage, he recommends avoiding these drugs altogether.
6. You assume supplements are safe
Just because a product is marketed as ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s good for you. “There are plenty of herbal medicines out there that are harmful,” says Dr Simon. Case in point: a plant-based ingredient called aristolochic acid can be found in ‘traditional medicines’, but it can cause scarring in the kidneys. Consumers are warned to stay away from products listing Aristolochia, Asarum or Bragantia on the label, because they probably contain the harmful ingredient. Unless you’re taking a regular multivitamin, always check with your doctor before starting any kind of supplement, advises Dr Simon.
7. Your weight is pushed to the side
No surprises here: extra kilos are hard on your body. Being overweight puts you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which in turn can increase your chances of developing kidney disease. Insulin issues from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause inflammation and scarring in the kidneys, says Dr Simon. “Anybody with diabetes should be getting their kidney function and urine checked on a fairly regular basis,” he says.