How to Maintain Healthy Kidneys

Two Parts:Fostering Healthy KidneysAvoiding Unhealthy Habits

Your kidneys are vital organs that function mainly as filters and, therefore, have a big impact on fluid and electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, urine creation, red blood cell production and energy levels.[1] Symptoms of kidney dysfunction and disease include edema (puffiness), high blood pressure, lethargy (lack of energy), shortness of breath, confusion, back pain and abnormal heart rhythms. Maintaining healthy kidney function is usually a combination of stopping certain harmful behaviors along with adopting some beneficial habits.

Part 1
Fostering Healthy Kidneys

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    Keep well hydrated. Most Americans don't drink enough water during the day, which probably has the biggest negative impact on their kidneys. Being the high-volume filters that they are, the kidneys need adequate water to remove toxins, waste products and unwanted or unneeded compounds from the blood. As such, drinking plenty of water at regular intervals throughout the day will help your kidneys function properly and not get too congested or calcified.[2] Aim for four to six 8-ounce glasses of water a day if you're sedentary, or eight glasses if you're more active or live in a warm climate.[3][4]
    • During hot summer months or when exercising strenuously, you need to drink more water than usual to make up for fluid lost by perspiring.
    • Your urine should be fairly clear or straw-colored when you go to the bathroom. If it's any darker than that, then it may be a sign you are dehydrated.
    • Caffeinated beverages (coffee, black tea, soda pop) obviously contain water, but caffeine is diuretic and triggers frequent urination, so they are not great sources of hydration. Stick with filtered water and natural fruit/veggie juices.
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    Maintain healthy blood pressure. As noted above, high blood pressure is damaging to blood vessels throughout the body, including the small arteries within the kidneys that are so important for its filtrating ability. As such, keep your blood pressure at a target set by your doctor, which is typically less than 140/90 mm Hg.[5] Blood pressure below this level can help delay or prevent kidney dysfunction and failure.
    • Check your blood pressure regularly, either at your local pharmacy, health clinic, or at home with some purchased equipment. Hypertension often has no obvious symptoms, so you need to keep on eye on your numbers.
    • Eating a low-salt diet, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight all help maintain normal blood pressure.
    • If lifestyle changes don't make a big impact, then blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors and ARBs may be able to protect your kidneys by reducing your blood pressure.
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    Get regular exercise. In addition to watching your calories, getting regular cardiovascular exercise is a great way to maintain your weight, which fosters kidney health. Obesity strains the heart and blood vessels, which leads to higher blood pressure and eventual kidney damage.[6]. Just 30 minutes of mild-to-moderate cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis is associated with better kidney health as it can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as trigger weight loss. Start by simply walking around your neighborhood (if it's safe), then transition to more challenging terrain with some hills. Treadmills and cycling are also great for cardiovascular exercise.
    • Avoid vigorous exercise to start with, especially if you've been diagnosed with a heart issue. Vigorous exercise (such as long-distance running) temporarily increases blood pressure, which strains the kidneys and heart.
    • Thirty minutes of exercise five times a week is a good start, and an hour is even better (for most people), but much more time spent exercising doesn't appear to be significantly more beneficial.
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    Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies. A healthy, low-salt diet is healthy for the kidneys because it keeps blood pressure in check. For the most part, fresh fruits and veggies are low in sodium, high in vitamins and minerals, and a good source of antioxidants, which is all beneficial for the cardiovascular system and the kidneys.[7] Fruits and veggies are also good sources of water, which the kidneys need to properly filtrate the blood.
    • Veggies that contain moderate amounts of sodium include artichokes, beets, carrots, seaweed, turnips and celery — so go easy on these.
    • Fruits that have a little more sodium than average include tropical mammy apples, guavas and passion fruits.
    • Canned and pickled vegetables are usually high in sodium and should be avoided or minimized in your diet.
    • Fruits and veggies especially rich in antioxidants include: all dark-colored berries, strawberries, apples, cherries, artichokes, kidney and pinto beans.
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    Consider taking helpful supplements. The standard American diet is not only too high in sodium, but it's usually deficient in a variety of essential nutrients (certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids). Eating a nutritious diet certainly reduces the risk of experiencing any nutritional deficiencies, but supplementing can be beneficial and make up for any gaps in your diet. Supplements that have demonstrated to be beneficial to kidney health in studies include vitamin D, potassium, coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 fatty acids.[8]
    • Clinical trials conducted on chronic kidney disease patients concluded that vitamin D supplements improved kidney and heart function.[9] Remember that our skin can make vitamin D in response to intense summer sunshine.
    • The sodium-potassium balance in the kidneys is crucial for proper function, so adding more potassium to your diet (via foods or supplements) helps to reduce the negative effects of high sodium levels.[10]
    • Coenzyme Q10 helps normalize blood pressure and decrease hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels, both strong risk factors for kidney disease.[11]
    • Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation helps to decrease the prevalence of chronic kidney disease by reducing blood pressure and excess protein in the urine.[12]

Part 2
Avoiding Unhealthy Habits

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    Cut back on drinking alcohol. It's no secret that over-indulging in alcoholic beverages (which contain ethanol, a carcinogen) is strongly associated with numerous types of cancer and organ damage, including the kidneys.[13][14] Ethanol damages the delicate internal structures of the kidneys, making them less able to filter your blood and balance fluids / electrolytes — frequently leading to high blood pressure.
    • Binge drinking (about 4-5 drinks within a couple of hours) can raise blood alcohol levels to the point that the kidneys essentially shut down — a condition called acute kidney injury.[15]
    • As such, either stop drinking alcohol entirely or limit your consumption to no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day.
    • The least harmful alcoholic beverage is considered to be red wine because it contains antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which can help prevent free radical damage of blood vessels and other tissues.
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    Don't overdo it on medications. All medications are toxic to organs such as the liver and kidneys at least to some extent (dosage is obviously an important factor too), but some are much more damaging than others. For example, common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin are well known to cause kidney damage if they are taken regularly over a prolonged period of time.[16] The byproducts of their breakdown within the body can easily damage the kidneys and liver.
    • If your kidneys are otherwise healthy, then occasional use of these medicines for inflammation and pain control is probably fine, but keep continuous use to less than 2 weeks and dosages under 800 mg daily.
    • If you're taking anti-inflammatories on a long-term basis for arthritis or other chronic conditions, ask your doctor about monitoring your kidney function via certain blood and urine tests.
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    Intake less salt. The typical American diet is relatively high in salt, which is comprised of sodium and chloride. Too much sodium inhibits your kidneys from filtering and excreting water, which builds up in the body and increases blood pressure.[17] High blood pressure (hypertension) creates turbulence within the kidney's small blood vessels, which leads to damage and dysfunction. As such, avoid high-sodium foods and stop using the salt shaker during meals.
    • You should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day if your kidneys are healthy, and less than 1,500 mg if you have kidney dysfunction or high blood pressure.[18]
    • Avoid or limit consumption of foods high in sodium, such as: processed meats, crackers, salted nuts and snacks, canned soups, pickled foods, frozen foods and most processed condiments and dressings.[19]
    • Consider adopting some form of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that's based on low sodium foods, such as fresh fruits and veggies.
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    Monitor your protein consumption. Protein is obviously an essential macronutrient needed to build muscle tissue, skin, enzymes and many other compounds in the body. However, high-protein diets tend to be hard on the kidneys because they must work harder to filter all the protein and amino acids out of the bloodstream.[20] Furthermore, high-protein diets may worsen kidney function in people with kidney disease because their bodies often have trouble eliminating the waste products of protein metabolism.[21]
    • The amount of dietary protein that's healthy for you and your kidneys depends on your body size, muscle mass and activity levels. Men need more protein than women, and athletes need more than people who are sedentary.
    • In general, the average-sized adult needs between 46 to 56 g of protein daily, depending on their weight, muscle mass and overall health.[22]
    • Healthy sources of protein include beans, most soy products, unsalted nuts, hemp seeds, fish, skinless poultry.
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    Stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes on a regular basis is one of the most harmful things you can do to your body. It's well established that inhaling cigarette smoke damages nearly every organ and blood vessel in the body.[23] Smoking is bad for the kidneys because the toxins that become dissolved in the bloodstream damage the small blood vessels and "filters" inside the kidneys. The toxic compounds essentially decrease the flow of blood in the kidneys by clogging them up, which compromises their function.[24] Clogged up arteries (referred to atherosclerosis) also increases the risk of high blood pressure within the kidneys and elsewhere in the body.
    • Deaths related to cigarette smoking is estimated to be about 480,000 per year in the United States — most are related to lung disease, stroke and heart attack, but some are related to kidney failure.[25]
    • The best solution is to stop smoking entirely. Stopping "cold turkey" may not work well for you, so consider using nicotine patches or gum to help wean yourself off slowly.


  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is considered the most important measure of kidney function. It measures the volume of blood plasma that the kidneys clear each minute.
  • Creatinine and blood urea nitrogen can also be measured in order to assess kidney function.
  • Cystatin C is a newer blood marker for kidney function and has numerous advantages over other tests.[26] Ask your doctor about it if you're concerned about the health of your kidneys.
  • X-rays or CT scans are usually taken if kidney stones are suspected.

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