Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy

I wrote this article for a senior Indian-American audience in Upstate New York. I share it here as the main points are applicable to all of my readers, regardless of age or ethnicity.

Kidney disease is no stranger to Indians. It affects nearly 1 in 10 people in India and even a higher number for those who come to America. The high rate of kidney disease is thought to be due to the higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes in our demographic. Because of this, it is important to take an active approach to preventing, treating, and reversing these diseases, especially as they relate to kidney disease. Once your kidneys are gone, the options become limited.

Diabetes

Diabetes takes its toll on every part of the body with the kidneys being no exception. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure for both Americans and Indian-Americans, but diabetes occurs at a higher rate in the Indian community than the average American due partly to our propensity for developing the disease and mostly to our dietary habits that include foods high in sugar, fat, and calories; gulab jamun may be tasty, but it isn’t particularly healthy. Up to a third of patients with diabetes don’t know they have it, which is why it is important to be screened periodically, especially if you are overweight. For those afflicted, it is important to lose weight, exercise daily, and eat a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. These recommendations also apply to the second most common cause of kidney failure: high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, puts a strain on the kidneys causing scarring and damage over the years. Like diabetes, many with high blood pressure don’t know they have it–up to half of those affected. Checking your blood pressure can easily be done at a doctor’s office, a health fair, or at home with a portable blood pressure machine. Those who have high blood pressure should limit their salt intake along with other parts of a “bad” Indian diet, like ghee, fried foods, and sweets. Replacing these items with fruits, vegetables, lentils, and beans is crucial to having a normal blood pressure. As with diabetes, losing weight, exercising, and seeing a physician regularly can reduce your risk of kidney disease from high blood pressure.

Medicines

Any discussion of kidney disease in Indians needs to include the risk of medicines, specifically Ayurvedic medicines.  Ayurvedic medications can include heavy metals, like gold, mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, all of which are particularly toxic to the kidneys. For those on Ayurvedic medicines, it is best to consult with your physician on how to avoid exposure to these heavy metals. Another danger is the class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which reduce blood flow the kidney and can cause damage with repetitive NSAID use. Those using NSAIDs–like naproxen and ibuprofen, among others–should minimize the use of these medications and avoid being dehydrated when they are used. Finally, if you are on medications for diabetes or high blood pressure, it is important to take them as prescribed by your doctor.

Summary

We have been blessed to have two kidneys, but, for some, two kidneys are still not enough. Too many patients end up with kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplantation–options that are not as good as preventing kidney failure in the first place. Fortunately, for most of us, kidney failure can be prevented by avoiding the damage of high blood pressure and diabetes and using medications judiciously. By making the right decisions over a lifetime, two kidneys can be more than enough.

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