Habits like eating a diet rich in vegetables, and going easy on sweetened beverages like soft drinks aren’t just good for your heart and brain. They also foster the health of two under-appreciated organs that form half of your body’s internal ‘detox’ system: your kidneys.
If that sounds like an important job, it is. And there’s no substitute for healthy kidneys. Dialysis, the main treatment for end-stage kidney disease, is an imperfect replacement. Not only is it time-consuming, it also leaves many people with symptoms such as debilitating fatigue, which severely curtail quality of life. What’s more, only 41 per cent of older adults who start dialysis survive more than five years.
However, knowing about any risk factors you might have for developing chronic kidney disease (CKD), and, if you have any, getting periodic blood and urine tests to check for it, offers the opportunity to slow or even stop it from progressing. The reason it’s important to do that is that by the time CKD starts causing symptoms, typically it’s already reached a moderate to advanced stage.
So what are those risk factors? High blood pressure and diabetes are two of the most common. Others include high LDL cholesterol, a history of heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease; regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen and naproxen), as well as lupus and certain other autoimmune diseases.
If you’re between the ages of 60 and 75, and have one or more of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about how often you should have periodic health checks that include tests to measure your kidney function.
In the meantime, there a number of steps you can take to help keep your kidneys as healthy as possible, including exercising, eating a healthy diet, and addressing any risk factors.
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Kevin Burns, professor of medicine and director of the Kidney Research Centre at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa.
- Dr. William Clark, an emeritus professor of medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont.
- Dr. Allan Grill, a family physician in Markham, Ont., associate professor of family medicine at the University of Toronto, and provincial primary care lead with the Ontario Renal Network.
- Dr. Patrick Parfrey, a nephrologist, John Lewis Paton distinguished university professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s.
- Shirley Pulkkinen, a renal social worker with the Algoma Regional Renal Program, Sault Area Hospital, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
- Neil Thompson, a renal social worker with Alberta Kidney Care — South (formerly known as the Southern Alberta Renal Program) in Olds, Alta.