When it comes to special days of the year, they range from the wonderful and funny to the downright bizarre. Pizza Day may be the perfect excuse to indulge in your favourite toppings, and National Read a Book Day may be a great time to start your reading habit in earnest, but there are other days that are far more significant.
The 10th March 2022 is World Kidney Day. It’s part of a global campaign to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys to our overall health. World Kidney Day is a perfect time to appreciate all the incredible things your kidneys do for your body and start to take steps to better take care of yours. But unlike other days, this isn’t one you should forget about once it’s over. Looking after your kidneys — and your health in general — is a long game, but it doesn’t have to be tough. All it takes is to make some small lifestyle changes — and the benefits make it well worth it.
Why Are Our Kidneys So Important?
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of our kidneys when they’re viewed almost as disposable. While the majority of us have two kidneys, the body only needs one. Some people choose to donate one of their kidneys to a loved one in need, and others need to have one surgically removed. A small percentage of people are born only with a single kidney.
If we only need one kidney, why have two?
The kidneys’ primary function is to filter waste, excess water and impurities from the blood. This waste is then stored in the bladder and expelled when you go to the toilet. But the kidneys also regulate salt and potassium in the body, blood pressure and the production of red blood cells. The kidneys are also vital for maintaining the strength of your bones, as they help your body absorb calcium.
While it’s safe to have just one kidney, such as if you have one removed, your remaining kidney is doing the work of two, so it’s vital to protect it.
If you have two kidneys, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of them. Chronic kidney disease is a common — and incurable — condition that affects approximately three million people in the UK alone. Global statistics suggest that one in ten have the disease. While it can be managed if detected early, it can also be deadly. Medical researchers project that by 2040, chronic kidney disease will be the fifth leading cause of death worldwide.
What Can You Do?
Preventative measures make a real difference to your health and can help prevent kidney disease and other problems, such as painful kidney stones.
Fortunately, you may already be doing some of these things. If not, you can easily integrate them into your daily life and experience their benefits, not just to your kidneys but also to your overall health and wellbeing.
Up Your Water Intake
We’ve all been in the situation where we get so caught up in our day that we forget to drink enough water, but having plenty of fluids helps your kidneys do their job.
Water is healthy, cheap and easy to get, but if you find normal tap water a little plain, you can also drink sparkling water or squash with no added sugar.
Ideally, you should drink between 1.5 and 2 litres per day. If you’re exercising or doing a strenuous activity, make sure you drink more water, as your body will lose it as you sweat.
Stop Smoking and Cut Down on Alcohol
If you smoke, you’re probably already aware of the dangers. But alongside upping your risk of lung cancer, smoking damages the blood vessels, making it harder for blood to circulate to your kidneys.
If you want to quit, it can be tough to rely on willpower alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of aids available to help, from patches and gums to nasal sprays and lozenges.
What about alcohol? Most of us enjoy a tipple or two at the end of a long day, but as with all things in life, moderation is key. Drinking too much alcohol raises the blood pressure — more on that in a moment — so avoid drinking more than the recommended units.
Watch Your Blood Pressure
Many health conditions, medications and even everyday circumstances can affect blood pressure. High blood pressure — or hypertension — is more common in adults who are overweight or have diabetes, but it can also happen if you don’t get enough exercise or regularly have a poor night’s sleep.
High blood pressure and chronic kidney disease are closely linked. Hypertension can be managed through medication or lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, getting more exercise and developing a bedtime routine to help you sleep better, but it all starts with checking your blood pressure.
You can get your blood pressure tested at multiple places, including your GP surgery, a private hospital or at home if you have a blood pressure monitor. A healthy reading is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If it’s between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg, you are at risk of developing high blood pressure and its associated risks — including kidney disease — so you should take steps to reduce it.
Check Your Medication
If you’re prescribed medication by your doctor to manage a health condition, it’s vital to take it as directed. However, some over-the-counter medications are known to increase blood pressure, which can cause chronic kidney disease. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen.
Taking the occasional painkiller for a headache or an arthritis flare-up won’t do any damage, but if you’re relying on these tablets regularly to manage chronic pain, they could be doing more harm than good. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for kidney-safe alternatives to managing your pain.
Look out for the Signs
Kidney disease is the ultimate silent disease. Symptoms don’t often appear until the condition is advanced, and by then, much of the damage has already been done. Many of the signs of advanced kidney disease are symptomatic of many other conditions — some of which aren’t as problematic. For example, nausea could be a sign of a stomach bug or a bout of food poisoning. However, if you’re consistently experiencing multiple symptoms, it’s vital to go to your GP for a checkup.
Some of the common signs of reduced kidney function are:
- High blood pressure
- Needing the toilet more frequently and changes to your urine
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Shortness of breath when exerting yourself
- Pain in the lower back
Chronic kidney disease is a dangerous condition. Left untreated, it can progress to kidney damage and you may need a transplant — and you could face a long wait. Even a mild decrease in kidney function can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems, which may lead to a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, kidney disease is preventable with a few small yet impactful changes to your life.