Young and seemingly healthy, Selena Gomez shocked fans by announcing she had undergone a kidney transplant in 2017. Afflicted with lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself, Gomez was facing total renal failure when her best friend donated the needed organ. Because the immunosuppressive anti-rejection medication taken by transplant recipients can also treat lupus, her kidneys should remain healthy.
The news made many curious about the condition. After all, one out of three Americans is at risk for kidney disease. Worldwide, kidney disease has climbed by almost one-third over the past 30 years. Yet lupus is a relatively rare condition. The good news is the two primary causes of kidney disease–diabetes and high blood pressure–are preventable. So what are the symptoms and what can you do to keep your kidneys healthy?
Keeping Your Kidneys Functioning
Your kidneys are hard working little organs filtering about half cup of blood every single minute. Your cells generate waste products that your kidneys should be actively removing. One sign that your kidneys aren’t functioning optimally is you may urinate more often––especially at night. However, during Stage One, the earliest stage of kidney disease, many people are symptom-free. This is why doctors recommend that adults get a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) test. The GFR test reveals how fast your kidneys filter waste products. Because the kidneys are involved in your body’s production of red blood cells which deliver oxygen to your tissues and organs, you may feel short of breath while your muscles get worn out faster. Besides anemia, other symptoms include dizziness, loss of appetite, puffy face, itchy skin, and a metallic taste in your mouth. These symptoms are more likely to occur at later stages of kidney disease––when treatment options are limited. That’s why prevention is the best treatment.
The two main causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. Once a disease that predominantly afflicted older adults, type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common among younger people. Worldwide, its numbers have tripled over the past 40 years with nearly 450 million people afflicted. It is the most common form of diabetes, intricately linked to poor diet and lack of exercise. That also means it is preventable. Also called non-insulin-dependent, or adult-onset, diabetes, it results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. The majority of people with diabetes have type 2. Studies show that a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and nuts can cut the risk of developing diabetes by more than half. Avoiding high-glycemic foods like white bread or pasta that can lead to blood sugar spikes (and crashes) is recommended. Recently coffee consumption has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
Like diabetes, high blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease. This increase in the force exerted by our blood against blood vessels as it flows through our body is also called hypertension. Because it eventually damages blood vessels connected to organs like the kidneys, high blood pressure can cause them to stop working properly. As with diabetes, lifestyle changes, including increased activity levels and reduced sodium (which is highest in processed rather than fresh foods), can prevent the condition.
Other causes of kidney disease include overuse of some over-the-counter medications like aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen along with abusing alcohol or heroin. Only the third leading cause of kidney disease–glomerulonephritis–isn’t preventable. This disease affects the kidney’s filtering unit, and it may be triggered by an infection. It is sometimes inherited while in other cases the cause is unknown.
Still, the more studies are done about the causes of kidney disease and numerous other debilitating conditions, the more researchers realize that genetics are not destiny. The choices we make in our youth can irreparably affect our middle age. But it’s never too late to change your diet or start to exercise to improve your health.
Written by John Bankston
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