March is National Kidney Month, and a good time to give the oft-ignored organ its due.Unlike attention-grabbing vitals — heart, lungs, liver — kidneys take a back seat, both in terms of public awareness and actual location in the body (the two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs reside in your middle-back, just below the rib cage).But despite this relative intestinal obscurity, robust kidney function could not be more integral to your health.Kidneys keep your blood clean, filtering out waste that then gets secreted as urine.In addition to taking out the trash, your kidneys release hormones that stimulate red blood cell formation, regulate blood pressure and help maintain calcium for the bones.Threats to kidney health fall into three categories: kidney disease, kidney cancer (yes, the two are different) and kidney stones.
Kidney disease essentially constitutes the severe impairment of kidney function resulting from damaged nephrons (the million filtering capillaries that make up each kidney).Kidney disease is sometimes called a “silent killer” because its progression is so gradual, and its symptoms barely detectable until nearly all kidney function is gone.”People find themselves in the emergency room, on dialysis, before they even know they have a problem,” said Dr.Lea, Atlanta kidney specialist.”That’s why it is so important to control diabetes and high blood pressure and have your blood and urine regularly tested for kidney disease, once you know you are at risk.”
Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney failure in the U.S., accounting for 40% of new cases, with high blood pressure accounting for another 30%.Untreated urinary tract infections also pose a threat.Incidentally, while failure provoked by injury is relatively rare, the verb “sandbag” originally meant using sand-filled bags to crush a victim’s kidneys.For villains looking to cover their tracks, this nefarious practice had the advantage of leaving no visible marks on its victims.
Avoid sandbagging your own health through diabetes prevention by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.
While 36,000 people develop kidney cancer each year, the good news is that if diagnosed and treated early enough, prospects for full recovery from renal cell carcinoma are good.Even better, changes in lifestyle and diet can lower your kidney cancer risk.
Go bananas: Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden analyzed the dietary information from 61,000 middle-aged women over a 13-year period and found that those who ate bananas four to six times a week were 50% less likely to develop kidney cancer.Beet and carrot consumption was associated with a 50% to 65% decrease in risk, while eating salads (once or more daily) was linked to a 40% drop in risk.
Kick butt: cigarette smoking doubles your risk of developing kidney cancer.Obesity and high blood pressure are also factors — as is gender, with men almost twice as vulnerable to kidney cancer as women.Both sexes can lower cancer risk through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Afflicting one in ten men, and one in twenty women, kidney stones are compact accumulations of minerals (calcium is the most common) passing through the kidneys.Small stones may pass through the system without too much discomfort, while larger ones can cause considerable pain and lead to medical complications.Here’s what you can do to lower your risk:
Lose weight. According to a Harvard Medical School study just published in theJournal of the American Medical Association, the obese are significantly predisposed to developing kidney stones.After adjusting for other risk factors, men weighing more than 220 lbs.had a 44% increased risk compared to men weighing less than 150 lbs.For these weight categories, older women had an 89% increased risk and younger women, a 92% increased risk.
Drink water.Fluids flush away substances that form stones in the kidneys.Limit coffee and cola, which have a diuretic effect.
Eat fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline and thus help neutralize stone-forming acids in the body.
Eat calcium-rich foods. Conventional wisdom has advised against calcium because it is found in many stones.Harvard Medical School researchers found that women with the highest calcium intake had a 27% lower risk of kidney stones compared with their calcium-averse peers.Interestingly, supplemental calcium intake was not associated with reduced risk of stone formation.Some of the best sources of calcium include nonfat dairy, soybeans, Navy beans, kale, canned salmon, arugula and beet greens.
Limit meat. Excessive protein intake can prompt over-production of uric acid that may lead to kidney stones and gout.