Kidney Superfoods That May Delay Or Alleviate Disease

In the US, around 15% of the population has chronic kidney disease, and one in ten people have had kidney stones. Although there’s no foolproof prevention for kidney diseases, diet helps. During a 2013 study, scientists discovered that an unhealthy diet could increase your risk of kidney disease.

If you want to lower your risk of disease–or if you already have it–you may wonder what to eat. From dairy to spices, you have plenty of kidney-healthy options. These organs filter toxins from your body, so you might as well clean your kidneys. Read about the kidney superfoods that may prevent or alleviate diseases.

An Apple A Day Keeps Kidney Stones Away

A small girl eats a green apple.
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Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2009, research by the American Society of Nephrology determined that eating fruit prevents the formation of kidney stones. However, many fruits contain high levels of potassium, and too much potassium can create stones as well. Apples are the perfect balance of kidney-helping nutrients.

Apples have a type of fiber called pectin, which also supports your kidneys. During an animal study, Russian scientists found that pectin supports healthy urine formation in the kidneys. When it comes to kidney stones and infections, an apple a day really helps keep the doctor away.

Got Low-Fat Milk?

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In 2016, research in Scientific Reports found a benefit of drinking milk. Participants who drank low-fat milk had a lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease. Milk provides essential minerals for your kidneys, such as calcium, protein, and B vitamins, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Per the 2016 study, regular and high-fat milk did not seem to change the outcome. For your kidneys, low-fat milk is the best option. Remember that milk also contains phosphorus and potassium, so limit the drink if you have or are recovering from a kidney ailment.

Go Spicy, Go Healthy

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People who eat chili, as a spice or vegetable, are less likely to get chronic kidney disease. In Nutrients, researchers analyzed over 8,000 participants and found that kidney disease didn’t appear as often in chili diets. These included pepper, dried, and whole chilis.

The Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Foundation recommends seasoning meals with chili instead of salt or other inflammatory toppings. However, avoid chili sauces that could have a high amount of sodium, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Busting The Myths About Kale

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David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

A common myth is that more calcium causes kidney stones, says registered dietitian Kristina Penniston. But having too little calcium actually encourages kidney stones. To prevent disease, eat calcium-rich vegetables like kale, as dark leafy greens are known to combat kidney ailments.

As kale has grown in popularity, some people have worried that its oxalate levels contribute to kidney stones. But there’s no need to worry, says kidney specialist Dr. Frederic Coe, who has studied kidney stones for 45 years. Kale doesn’t have enough oxalate to create new stones.

Buckwheat: The Perfect Grain For Kidney Care

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Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images

Like most superfoods, buckwheat offers powerful antioxidants that may prevent kidney damage. During a 2002 animal study, buckwheat extract improved kidney damage in rats. In 2016, research in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management stated that buckwheat relieves symptoms of diabetic kidney disease.

According to DaVita Kidney Care, buckwheat is a perfect whole grain for kidney care. With low levels of phosphorus and potassium, buckwheat is safe for those with chronic kidney disease. It also provides fiber and nutrients for proper kidney health.

Go Ahead, Enjoy Lemonade!

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Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Research has found a connection between citrus juices and fewer kidney stones. In 2006, scientists discovered that lemonade increases the citrate in urine, which prevents kidney stone formation. “If you drink and enjoy lemonade, it gives you an additional benefit,” says Marshall Stoller, the chairman of urology at the University of California, San Francisco.

However, these results only occur with low-sugar lemonade. Too much sugar may aid in creating kidney stones. Professor of urology Steven Nakada recommends mixing 1/2 cup of lemon juice with seven cups of water. Then, add a little bit of sugar or a substitute.

Relief From Fatty Fish

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David McNew/Getty Images

Did you know that eating fish may ward off kidney disease? Research in the Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin states that omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) can relieve symptoms of chronic kidney disease. If you don’t have the disease, omega-3s still improve kidney function in older adults, says a 2009 study.

Salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, and mackerel are all fatty fish with healthy omega-3 acids. The acids relax blood vessels in the kidneys to help them function better, according to Current Pharmaceutical Design. Researchers recommend two servings of fatty fish per week.

Pour More Vinegar For Your Kidneys

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You may want to add more vinegar to your salad since it’ll help your kidneys in the long run. According to a 2019 study in EBioMedicine, people who ingest a bit of vinegar daily have a lower chance of developing kidney stones. The acid in vinegar prevents calcium oxalate crystal formation in the organ.

Earlier, a Chinese study reported that countries who frequently consume vinegar have a lower rate of kidney stones. The vinegar needs to have acetic acid for this effect, researchers say. So have some fun cooking with vinegar!

Heal Organ Damage With Blueberries

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Julian Stähle/picture alliance via Getty Images

As a superfood, blueberries can aid almost any part of the body, including kidneys. According to a PLoS ONE study, the antioxidants in blueberries can heal damage and injuries in the kidneys. Although this can’t cure kidney disease overnight, it helps the organs recover and regenerate.

Blueberries are praised for their anti-inflammatory flavonoids called anthocyanins. In the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, blueberries are reported to combat diabetes, neural decline, and heart disease. It’s no surprise that blueberries may fight kidney disease as well.

Start Cooking With Olive Oil

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Several studies have revealed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which frequently uses olive oil to cook food. For instance, a 2014 study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that olive oil prevents kidney decline. People on a Mediterranean diet had a 42% lower chance of renal decline and 17% lower risk of kidney disease.

In 2015, another study promoted the benefits of olive oil. The oil lowered blood pressure and harmful kidney activities in rats. Although olive oil has many calories, its healthy fats and nutrients are well worth the indulgence.

Chop More Garlic

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Brianna Soukup/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

As a diuretic, garlic pushes the body to remove urine. Recent research suggests that garlic could have positive impacts on our kidneys. The compound in garlic, allicin, reduces hypertension and oxidative stress that causes kidney disease, according to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

In general, diuretics keep your kidneys healthy. They remove salt from the body, which keeps your blood pressure stable, says a 2017 scientific review. Garlic is a tasty diuretic with kidney-helping compounds, and it doesn’t send you to the restroom every ten minutes.

Crack Open An Egg For Kidney Vitamins

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Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Although health experts have debated over eggs for years, many recommend them for renal disease. In 2018, a study in Nutrients said that eggs help patients with chronic kidney disease. The yolk contains the compounds lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin D, which improve kidney function.

Eggs also provide a blood protein called serum albumin. According to Renal & Urology News, low levels of serum albumin are a common marker of those with kidney disease. Plus, eggs supply healthy protein with low amounts of fat. It’s a deal for your kidneys.

Pick A Grape! It’ll Help

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ThomasRosenthal.de/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In 2013, Canadian scientists discovered how to reduce kidney damage with grapes. They extracted grape seeds and skins and fed them to rats. The rats received less harm to their kidneys, possibly because of grape’s strong antioxidants.

Some researchers believe that grapes could soothe symptoms of renal disease and cancer. In 2016, another study noted that grape seed powder improves kidney function, possibly preventing renal failure. Since grapes are also low in potassium, they’re safe for people with chronic kidney disease.

Time To Dish Up Some Brown Rice

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Erin Hale/picture alliance via Getty Images

While brown rice and white rice have the same amount of carbohydrates, brown rice has more nutrients. It provides more fiber, B vitamins, and a bit of calcium, according to the National Kidney Foundation. A study in Diabetes Research reported that eating brown rice may slow the progression of kidney disease and renal failure.

However, these findings were accompanied by a low-protein diet, which benefits people with kidney ailments. People with chronic kidney disease may want to eat white rice, which has less potassium and phosphorus. But brown rice may aid in prevention.

Buy Some Bell Peppers

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Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images

The National Health Service frequently recommends red bell pepper as a kidney-friendly food for its low potassium. But the vegetable helps your kidneys in other ways. One cup of chopped bell pepper contains three times the vitamin C of an orange, says ABC News. Vitamin C repairs the kidney and may prevent future diseases.

A study in Kidney & Blood Pressure Research recommended vitamin C to chronic kidney disease patients because it removes oxidative stress. But don’t go overboard on the bell peppers; a Harvard study noted that too much vitamin C could prompt kidney stones.

Chop Onions For Long-Term Benefits

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Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Onions don’t just add flavor to a dish; they also support your kidney health. In 2017, Iranian scientists discovered that eating onions and garlic have long-term benefits. Those who eat onions regularly have a 32% lower chance of chronic kidney disease. Like other superfoods, onions have anti-inflammatory antioxidants that combat kidney damage.

In 2012, researchers published an animal study in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin. The onions delayed kidney failure in the rats tested. That said, there’s plenty of evidence for onions keeping your kidneys healthy.

Smell The Rosemary

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Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rosemary has many antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that can benefit the kidneys. According to the Journal of Biomedical Science, rosemary may protect the kidneys against future ailments. It removes toxins from the liver and kidneys to lower the risk of stones and diseases.

In 2013, the Iranian Journal of Kidney Diseases noted that rosemary extract could delay acute kidney failure. Rosemary has long been noted for its kidney-guarding abilities. You can steep it in tea or flavor food with the sprigs to support your kidneys.

Cranberry Care

Actress Maria Menounos poses amongst 2,000 pounds of fresh, floating cranberries at Ocean Sprays cranberry bog display.
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TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

You may have heard that cranberries help to prevent UTIs. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it’s because cranberries remove bacteria in the kidney. The fruit supplies compounds that remove harmful bacteria from the urinary tract.

In 2019, a study in Food & Function noted another benefit of cranberries. The anti-inflammatory effects of cranberries benefit patients with chronic kidney disease. Because fresh cranberries aren’t always in season, you can buy dried cranberries or juice year-round. Over time, it may improve your urinary tract and kidneys.

Here Are Some Reasons To Eat More Strawberries

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In 2016, researchers from the Salk Institute found a unique compound in strawberries called fisetin. During their study, fisetin lowered the chances of kidney disease in people with diabetes. Although diabetes makes people more prone to kidney problems, fisetin still helped.

That’s only one reason to eat strawberries, says the National Kidney Foundation. Strawberries are also packed with anti-inflammatory properties that can protect your kidneys over time. However, you don’t want to eat them all the time, since their high potassium could create kidney stones.

Broccoli Can Help…Some People

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Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

With its calcium and vitamin C, broccoli is a great choice for those who want to help their kidneys. Oddly, though, research says that broccoli’s benefits depend on your genes. In 2019, scientists from the American Society of Nephrology found that broccoli lowers the risk of kidney failure, but it mainly does so if an individual lacks the gene GSTM1.

Individuals without GSTM1 are more prone to kidney disease and injury, the researchers said. Broccoli’s high antioxidants can “significantly [lessen] kidney injury” in some people. Plus, it’s healthy to eat overall.

Use Herbs Instead Of Salt

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Eating excessive amounts of salt upsets the balance in your blood, which makes your kidneys struggle to remove water. According to 2018 research in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, this could lead to kidney disease. Unfortunately, many Western diets tend to overindulge in salt.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that people limit their salt intake to one teaspoon per day, or 2,300 mg. That’s about one-third less than most people consume. Watch out for high sodium in pre-cooked and processed foods, as this is where kidney damage can sneak up on you.

Don’t Take Too Many Pain Relievers

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KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, heavy use of pain relievers like Tylenol results in 5,000 cases of kidney failure in the U.S. each year. But how much is too much? Researchers noted that the most dangerous time to take painkillers is after fasting. If you take pain relievers with food occasionally for a headache, you should be fine.

According to Stanford medical professor Dr. Grant Lipman, pain relievers decrease the blood flow to your kidneys. Over time, this could cause your kidneys some serious strain. Dr. Lipman says that one in five marathon runners will develop the risk of kidney damage.

Treat Yourself When You Get Sick

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Christina Sabrowsky/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Center for Disease Control estimates that most people get two to three colds a year. Although these common illnesses are annoying, don’t ignore them. The longer you’re sick, the more antibodies your body will produce. Over time, these antibodies may inflame your kidneys.

Don’t be one of the 72% of Americans who go to work while sick. Be very cautious of bacterial infections such as strep throat and ear infections, because these have the highest risk of straining your kidneys. Take care of yourself to get well as soon as possible.

Don’t Hold It In

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Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Believe it or not, holding in your pee is a primary cause of kidney problems. Dr. Cheamandeep Bali of Toronto Naturopathic Health Clinic told Huffington Post that ignoring nature’s call causes many health problems. The longer that urine stays in your body, the more bacteria it produces. When bacteria travels to your kidneys, you’re in trouble, Dr. Bali says.

Urologist Mark Gordon says that most people use the restroom eight to 10 times a day. Sometimes, you have to hold in your urine, but don’t make that a routine. If you have to go, you have to go.

Don’t Light Up

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Most people know that smoking hurts your lungs and heart. But did you know that it damages your kidneys, too? During a 2000 study in Annals of Internal Medicine, chronic smokers (current and former) had a higher risk of kidney disease. Substance abuse creates creatinine that injures your kidneys.

To make matters worse, this kidney damage does not create symptoms. So people might be poisoning their kidneys without even knowing. The one bright side is that former smokers have less damage than current smokers. It’s never too late to quit.

The Danger Of Processed Foods

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

To stay fresh for longer, processed foods often contain high amounts of sodium, which will damage your kidneys. But that’s not the only kidney-harming nutrient in processed food, according to NEPHCURE Kidney International. Other culprits include potassium and phosphorus.

While kidneys usually filter through potassium levels, too much potassium can put a strain on kidneys. The same goes for phosphorus. People with weak or ailing kidneys have to limit the amount of potassium and phosphorus they consume. If you eat processed foods sparingly, you won’t have this problem.

Steer Clear Of Soda

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Unsplash/@elijahsad

Unlike other drinks, soda provides no nutrients other than sugar. A typical 12-ounce soda has as much sugar as three and a half donuts. Researchers agree that drinking two or more sodas a day doubles your risk of kidney disease.

And it’s not just the sugar. In 2007, researchers noted that cola increases kidney risk due to its phosphoric acid. This acid threatens to mess with gene mutation to damage kidneys over time. Limiting your soda intake to one a day will drastically improve your health. Better yet, restrict your soda splurge to once a week.

When You Stay Up Late, Your Kidney Overworks

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Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2016, researchers from the University of Chicago linked poor sleep to a higher risk of kidney disease. Participants who slept 6.5 hours a night had a 19% higher chance of kidney failure. The reason is that your sleeping cycle tells your kidneys when to work and when to rest.

Researchers for the National Kidney Foundation explain that when you stay up late, your kidneys continue to work hard. Over time, chronic sleep disruption can tire out these organs. Remember that you need between seven and nine hours per sleep every night.

Stick To Your Prescription

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Take your daily medications as prescribed. Even if you feel better, stopping or pausing your medication can hurt your kidneys. In particular, blood pressure and pain medications put a strain on your kidneys if you take them sporadically. Some can cause a “rebound” where a patient experiences a second heart attack or kidney failure.

Kidneys benefit from routine. If you change your medication every day, you’ll throw your entire body off. Talk to your doctor about whether your medication could harm your kidneys. Some antibiotics pose a substantial threat to kidney health.

Research Your Supplements Before You Take Them

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Darren McCollester/Getty Images

If you take daily supplements or vitamins, beware. High doses of certain supplements have been reported to harm your kidneys. A 2012 review by the American Society of Nephrology pinpoints the main culprits: cranberry, willow bark, wormwood oil, licorice, geranium, and vitamin C.

In particular, high doses of vitamin C and cranberry increase your risk of kidney stones. If you have a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes or an auto-immune disorder, consult your doctor before taking supplements. Even natural supplements like turmeric will hurt your kidneys if combined with certain medications.

You’re Exercising, Right?

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Leon Neal/Getty Images

Regular exercise isn’t just for dieters. It’s also for those who care about kidney health. The National Kidney Foundation states that exercise lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, and enhances muscle function. In other words, exercise reduces all the major risk factors for kidney disease.

You don’t have to go hard to see the benefits. During a 2019 study, people with kidney disease benefited from 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That’s a little over 20 minutes of walking, gardening, dancing, or biking per day. Plus, exercise releases endorphins to help you feel happier.

Don’t Go Too Hard At The Gym

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

It is possible to exercise yourself to death. Rhabdomyolysis, often called Rhabdo, is a syndrome caused by muscle breakdown. When several muscles are injured, they release enzymes that hurt your kidneys. In 40% of cases, this can result in kidney failure.

Rhabdomyolysis is dangerous but rare. Dr. Maureen Brogan of New York Medical College says that most cases occur during the first class. For instance, if a person goes to hard during their first time cycling, they’re at a higher risk. Muscles need to build up slowly, so don’t push yourself too hard.

Lighten Up On The Energy Drinks

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Unsplash/@neonbrand

Researchers are demanding that the FDA regulate energy drinks, which they have yet to do. Why? Because a study in Frontiers in Public Health links kidney disease to energy drinks, especially in children. Excess caffeine produces high blood pressure and stress, all of which lead to kidney damage.

Another concern revolves around the amino acid taurine. Often found in energy drinks and sports supplements, taurine tackles the kidneys head-on and is potentially dangerous to those with chronic kidney disorders. Until more research is done, err on the side of caution and limit your energy drinks.

Are You Drinking Enough Water?

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One of the kidney’s main roles is to filter water, so you must keep it hydrated. The National Hydration Council reported that most kidney stones result from chronic dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, your urine has a higher concentration of minerals. These minerals can form crystals inside your kidney that grow into stones.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there’s no hard rule on how much water you should drink. The Institute of Medicine estimates nine cups a day for women and 13 for men. But your recommended water intake varies depending on how thirsty you feel.

Too Much Red Meat Is Toxic

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Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While eating red meat is healthy on occasion, consuming too much will hurt your kidneys over time. The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology confirms that red meat is “possibly kidney toxic.” The reason is still unclear, but researchers suggest that red meat may produce too much dietary acid.

On the flip-side, plant-based proteins repair kidney injury. According to the research, replacing one serving of red meat per week lowers your risk of kidney disease by 62%. It’s a tiny change that could impact your health in the long run.

You May Want To Stand Up More Often

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Marty Caivano/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

If you have a sedentary job, you’ll want to watch out. Sitting for extended periods every day results in a higher risk of kidney disease. During a 2018 study in PLoS One, researchers found that an extra hour of physical activity per day reduces your chances of kidney failure significantly.

Researchers still don’t understand why sitting encourages kidney disease. Dr. Thomas Yates of the University of Lancaster suggests that exercise leads to lower blood glucose and cholesterol. High blood sugar and blood pressure both contribute to kidney failure. Standing instead of sitting will improve your kidney health.

Skip The Butter

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Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A recent health trend advocates for replacing margarine with butter. In terms of your kidneys, this isn’t a good option. Butter contains saturated fats which, in high amounts, can damage your kidneys. According to the National Kidney Foundation, these fats raise LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) that harm your kidneys.

You can enjoy butter in small amounts, but don’t eat it every day. If you use margarine instead, look for one with no trans fat or “hydrogenated” fats. Trans fats are worse than saturated fats in raising LDL cholesterol.

Try Not To Overeat, Even During The Holidays

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Unsplash/@abimiller

During holidays and celebrations, many people treat themselves by eating too much. But overeating strains your kidneys, according to Dr. Sreedhar Mandayam of Baylor College. The more you eat, the harder your kidneys work to sift through all the food, says Dr. Mandayam.

The worst overeating combination involves a lot of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Unfortunately, most Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners include these. You can indulge occasionally, but take care not to overeat regularly. Limit your portion sizes and only eat when you’re hungry, not tired or bored.

Work To Lower Stress

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Unsplash/@benwhitephotography

Chronic stress leads to kidney disease. For years, researchers have agreed that stress harms your kidney health, although they still don’t understand why. In Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease, scientists speculate that stress raises blood pressure, which scars your kidneys over time.

When people feel stressed, their eating and sleep often decline, which can become a cause for kidney problems. If you’re struggling with chronic stress, tackle it first by contacting a mental health professional. It could be the root of your other health problems.

Substitute Sugar

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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In moderate amounts, sugar isn’t a problem for your kidneys. The issue arises when your blood sugar rises too high. According to the American Diabetes Association, high blood sugar and diabetes force the kidneys to filter too much blood. Overworking can cause the kidneys to develop diseases over time.

Researchers from the University of Montreal found a symbiotic relationship between diabetes and kidney disease. Diabetes causes kidney disease, and kidney disease can cause diabetes. Get your blood glucose checked regularly to prevent the chance of both diseases, and limit your sugar intake.