According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidney disease kills more than 90,000 Americans annually. That’s more than breast cancer or prostrate cancer. If we want to live long, healthy lives, we need to take care of our kidneys. But our daily habits might be preventing us from doing that.
It’s not too late to unlearn these habits. Simple changes to your diet, supplements, and sleep will prevent kidney disease in the future. New habits may also prevent other illnesses such as diabetes. For the sake of your kidneys, change these everyday habits.
Use Herbs Instead Of Salt
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t Much Better
While a packet of Splenda may lower your calorie count, a growing body of research suggests that it harms your body. During a 2009 study, researchers discovered that drinking diet soda (an artificially-sweetened drink) increases the risk of kidney disease by 30%.
According to the researchers, less than two artificially-sweetened drinks per day won’t hurt your kidneys. Although more research needs to be done on the topic, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Replace your artificial sweeteners with honey or Stevia if you want a sweet iced tea.
Only Drink In Moderation
Drinking forces your kidneys to filter more harmful substances. If you drink frequently, you’ll cause your kidneys to overwork. The National Kidney Foundation defines over-drinking as “more than four drinks daily.” One drink equals a single glass, 12-ounce bottle, or shot.
On the other hand, a 2005 study discovered drinking in moderation may benefit your kidneys. Participants who had at least seven drinks per week (one or two glasses every day) experienced a 30% lower risk of kidney dysfunction. If you are a drinker, limit your servings to stay healthy.
Don’t Use Bodybuilding Medications
Athletes who use steroids may gain muscle, but they’ll cripple their kidneys. During a 2009 study, researchers found that nine out of ten bodybuilders developed kidney scarring from bodybuilding medications. When the athletes stopped using these steroids, their kidneys healed over time.
The American Society of Nephrology advises against steroids. They can raise your cholesterol, lower protein in your blood, and cause swelling–all of which harm kidneys. While you can take steroids for some kidney treatments, don’t take bodybuilding medications recreationally.
Some Heartburn Drugs Hurt You Over Time
While some heartburn medications are safe to take every day, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) aren’t. Research in Kidney International suggests that PPIs, which suppress the acid in your stomach, may impair your kidneys over time. Regularly taking PPIs raises your risk of chronic kidney disease by 26%.
Fortunately, H2 Blockers (a different type of heartburn medication) didn’t produce these effects. If you need to take daily heartburn medication, talk to your doctor about switching to an H2 Blocker. If you only take PPIs occasionally–perhaps once every couple of days–you don’t have to worry.
Check Your Blood Pressure Regularly
Blood pressure is called “the silent killer” because it doesn’t produce symptoms. The American Heart Association recommends getting your blood pressure checked every two years. If you don’t, you’re putting yourself at risk for kidney disease. High blood pressure ruptures the blood vessels inside of your kidneys.
Once your blood vessels fail, your kidneys can’t regulate blood pressure. Then, your blood pressure rises very quickly. Don’t ignore your doctors’ recommendations to get your blood pressure checked. It’s quick and prevents several diseases.
Do You Really Need Another Cup Of Coffee?
Regularly drinking coffee doesn’t harm your kidneys. But if you have several cups a day, you may want to consider the risks, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Caffeine creates sudden spikes in blood pressure. Although research has yet to conclude the effect this has on kidneys, you may want to be wary.
Dr. Jessica Saville of the National Kidney Foundation recommends drinking less than four cups of coffee per day. Remember that coffee additives, such as cream or flavored syrup in lattes, increases the amount of sugar and fats in your diet. These also injure your kidneys over time.
Limit Shellfish In Your Diet
Eating too much seafood–especially shellfish–will beat at your kidneys over time. In the 2014 Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers found a toxic chemical called domoic acid. Also called “Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning,” domoic acid injures your kidneys.
According to the research, low quantities of domoic acid still do harm. To put this in perspective, you would need 100 times the quantity to hurt your brain, but it still hurts your kidneys. If you eat a lot of seafood, you may want to cut back. You have a higher risk of kidney disease than most people.
How MRIs, CT Scans And X-Rays May Hurt You
While getting an MRI isn’t a habit, it’s still an action that could contribute to kidney harm. The tests themselves aren’t an issue, but the contrast dye used could cause problems. The effect of these dyes resulted in a new disease called Contrast Induced Nephropathy (CIN).
According to the National Kidney Foundation, CIN causes the kidneys to shut down for two to three days. Fortunately, CIN is reversible, and only certain contrast dyes increase the risk of this illness. Talk to a health professional if you’re worried about contracting CIN.
Eat Certain Kinds Of Fat
Our bodies need healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The “bad fat” that people advise against is trans fat, often found in industry-produced foods such as refrigerator dough and creamers. In the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a 2015 study observed that saturated fat does not harm the heart, but trans fat increases the risk of disease by 21%.
According to the American Heart Association, trans fat raises LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol that harms our heart. Watch out for hydrogenated oils, a trans-fat solution that the FDA doesn’t consider safe. Whenever you can, pick out foods with 0% trans fat.
One Drink A Day Can Improve Heart Health
Many people know that overindulging in alcohol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. But in 2001, research in the Postgraduate Medical Journal offered a different perspective. After analyzing over 100 studies, scientists concluded that moderate consumption reinforces heart health, regardless of drink type.
“It comes down to moderation,” explained Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a preventative cardiologist with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Aging. “A safe amount–about one drink per day–may support a healthy heart and lower your risk of heart disease, while too much can be damaging.” To clarify, one drink equals about 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine.
Here’s Another Reason To Get More Sleep
In 2014, researchers reported the heart-healthy habits of people who they had studied for over ten years. Of all the habits, sufficient sleep was given an honorary mention in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. Aiming to sleep for at least seven hours a night significantly keeps your heart healthy and disease-free.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, deep sleep activates chemicals that relax your heart rate and blood pressure. Prolonged periods of restlessness, such as with sleep apnea, increase the risk of heart disease by 58%. If you’re struggling to catch seven hours of sleep, talk to your doctor.
For The Sake Of Your Heart, Check Your Stress
When we’re incredibly stressed, our breathing quickens, our muscles tense, and our heart rate accelerates. These are physiological results of stress that have a real impact on your heart. Chronic stress may wear out your heart over time, even in those with no prior history of cardiovascular disease.
“This isn’t just an anxiety attack,” asserts Dr. Deepak Bhatt, director of the Integrated Interventional Cardiovascular Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “When you do a cardiac catheterization procedure on [these patients], an artery that was previously open is now closed.” Engage in a stress-relieving activity such as meditation, a bath, or playing video games, for ten to 15 minutes every day.
Seriously, Eat More Fruits And Vegetables
Which fruits and vegetables support your heart? That’s easy: they all do. In 2017, researchers scrutinized 95 studies and recorded their findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology. They found that five servings (about 2.5 cups) of fruits and vegetables per day slightly lowers your risk of heart disease. Upping that portion to ten servings decreases your risk by 28% and premature death by 31%.
According to the study, the foods that offered the most benefits include apples, citrus fruits, pears, leafy green vegetables, and yellow-orange vegetables. In short, any fruit or vegetable will help.
Don’t Keep The TV On All Day
In 2015, researchers assembled data after studying almost 70,000 women over 20 years. When the study began, nearly all women had diabetes or heart disease, and many cut their heart attack risk by 92%. One of the six healthy habits that they mentioned was watching less than seven hours of TV weekly.
The simple explanation is that TV time robs you of exercise time. A 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association noted that those who watch TV and exercise don’t lower their heart health. Otherwise, watching four hours of TV a day is worse for your heart than a desk job, the study concluded.
Just Fifteen Minutes Of Exercise Helps You Live Longer
Exercise strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure, and reduces stress. Although many people know this, they still debate over how intensely one should exercise. In 2016, research from The American Journal of Medicine analyzed exercise intensity. The authors found that 15 minutes of daily exercise lengthened one’s life three years beyond their peers’.
“The truth is that if you’re exercising for health, it takes very little effort to see enormous benefits,” said Dr. Harvey Simon, the study’s author and an associate professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He claimed that 15 minutes of walking or gardening lowers one’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
Your Friends Can Literally Save Your Heart
If you need another reason to maintain fulfilling relationships, here’s one. Research shows that your friendships impact your heart health. In a 2017 study by the American Heart Association, scientists found that more social integration means less heart disease. This research was backed by a ten-year study review in Frontiers in Psychology.
According to Boston Scientific, researchers believe that social interaction reduces stress and depression, both of which contribute to cardiovascular disease down the line. If you want to carve out more social time, join a support group, adopt a pet, or volunteer at an organization.
Drink Water–At Least Five Glasses A Day
Dehydration results in a less-healthy heart, according to a 2002 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Drinking five glasses daily will keep your heart strong and happy. In contrast, drinking two or fewer glasses of water may weaken your heart over time and open the gates to cardiovascular disease.
Research in the British Journal of Haematology found that blood viscosity directly relates to heart health. The thicker your blood is, the harder your heart works, which may tire it over time. Drinking plenty of water will lower your blood viscosity, so your heart can work with little strain.
Desk jobs are as hard on the back as they are on the heart. In 2015, a meta-analysis of 41 studies noted that remaining sedentary increases adults’ risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. In another 2019 study, researchers stated that eliminating an hour of sitting time per day lowers the likelihood of heart disease by 26%.
The trick is to not sit for too long. If you have a standing desk, use it. Take brief walks throughout the day, or park your car farther away from your office. Consistent exercise will improve your heart health as well.
Measure Your Blood Pressure Frequently
According to a scientific analysis in The Lancet, high blood pressure was the leading cause of heart disease in 2010. This condition leads to hypertensive heart disease, which thickens the heart and narrows the arteries. The American Heart Association asserts that avoiding high blood pressure “should be a healthcare priority.”
If you don’t have high blood pressure, work to prevent it. Checking your blood pressure once a month or even once a year can help. A 2015 study in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the risk of heart disease lowers with a blood pressure of 120 mm Hg or less.
Don’t Assume That You’re In The Clear
If you haven’t had a blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar check-up in a couple of years, you’ve waited too long. The American Heart Association recommends getting your blood pressure checked once a year since symptoms don’t appear in most people. Blood glucose should be measured every three years, and cholesterol should be monitored every four to six years.
“Don’t assume you’re not at risk,” advises Dr. Robert Ostfeld, director of preventive cardiology at Montefiore Health System. If your cholesterol or blood sugar levels aren’t in the normal range, you’ll need more frequent check-ups and possibly medication.
Know Your Ideal BMI
Weight is a touchy subject because it often tugs at peoples’ self-esteem. But for doctors, weight is less about what you look like and more about heart health. Along with other studies, 2018 research in JAMA Cardiology concluded that high BMI (body mass index) leads to a higher risk of heart disease.
To maintain a healthy BMI, you need to know yours first. Visit a doctor to learn about a healthy weight range, as online BMI charts don’t take individual body types into account. “There is no one-size-fits-all,” says Dr. Chanté Wiegand, ND, a Naturopathic Doctor and Director of Education at The Synergy Company.
To Help Your Heart, Brush Your Teeth Daily
Believe it or not, gum disease carries some of the same risk factors as heart disease. According to Harvard Health, bacteria in the gums may travel to blood vessels. These bacteria inflame the arteries and create tiny blood clots that heighten the risk of stroke. Study after study has reported this correlation.
There is some debate over how much influence oral health has on the heart. In 2012, scientists from the American Heart Association reviewed several studies and decided that gum disease doesn’t always harm the heart. Even so, you’ll want to brush and floss daily if you can.
E-Cigarettes Can Harm
A research author for BMJ concluded that “no safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease.” According to the 2017 study, smoking just one cigarette a day contributes to later heart disease and stroke. And researchers have found that adding e-cigarettes increases those odds.
In fact, many states began banning e-cigarettes in late 2019 due to a series of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths across the nation. “Users of e-cigarettes face a higher risk of having a heart attack, experiencing emotional distress, and developing coronary artery disease (CAD) compared to non-users,” reported The American Journal of Managed Care in March of 2019.
Steer Clear Of Secondhand Smoke
Even if you don’t smoke, lingering around people who do can drastically impact your heart. According to a scientific study in Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects, breathing in secondhand smoke heightens the risk of heart disease by 25% to 30%.
“There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whenever you can, aim to limit your interaction with tobacco smoke. Otherwise, you’ll risk breathing in over 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which can cause cancer.