Chances are you haven't thought about your kidneys in a while—or, let's be real, ever.
That should change because your kidneys are extremely important! They regulate fluid levels in the body, filter waste and toxins from your blood (so you don't have to waste money on unhealthy things like "detox teas" or diets!), help regulate your blood pressure, contribute to bone health by activating vitamin D, aid in the production of red blood cells and help to keep your mineral levels (especially potassium) in check.
Despite how crucial kidneys are to our everyday functioning, most of us have at least one bad habit that can negatively impact our kidney health. Here's what experts say is the absolute worst thing you can possibly do for your kidneys.
The One Thing You Should Absolutely Never Do If You Want To Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
If you've been subsisting on fast food, your kidneys are begging you to please stop!
"The worst thing you can do to harm your kidneys is to have a consistently poor diet that includes high salt and fast foods," Dr. Koshy Abraham, MD, board-certified nephrologist at Fort Worth Renal Group, tells Parade.
Fast food and salty foods are bad for your kidney health in several ways: Salty foods specifically can make your body retain water, which can strain your kidneys over time. Water retention can also make it harder for your heart to pump blood, which will increase your blood pressure. If you have or are at risk for diabetes, the risk is even higher, as diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your kidneys—which will also raise your blood pressure. A healthy diet can help alleviate and potentially prevent all of these issues.
"You should see your primary care physician on a regular basis and make sure you control your diabetes and high blood pressure," Dr. Abraham advises. "Two-thirds of cases of chronic kidney disease are due to high blood pressure and diabetes. Ignoring these two main factors can cause irreversible damage to your kidneys."
Other Ways You May Be Harming Your Kidneys
There are other things you may be doing that seem harmless, but can actually hinder your kidneys in the long run.
"Usually, it’s not one thing it’s a combination," Dr. Jennifer Linehan, MD, board-certified urologist and associate professor of urology and urologic oncology at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says. While dehydration is an obvious and serious problem for kidney health, Dr. Linehan shares that another issue is more insidious and less frequently discussed.
"I see several patients per year that have done significant injury to the kidneys with too much ibuprofen," she explains. "This medication limits blood flow to the kidney and over time can have long-term effects."
Signs of Kidney Damage
According to Dr. Linehan and Dr. Abraham, symptoms of poor kidney health may include:
Increased urination, especially at night
Loss of appetite
Swelling of your lower extremities
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, check with your doctor.
The Best Ways To Keep Kidneys Healthy
According to Dr. Abraham, you have to approach kidney health in a multi-faceted way—and those methods will contribute to your overall health as well.
Dr. Linehan and Dr. Abraham recommend the following to keep your kidneys functioning at their best:
Avoiding processed foods
Avoiding NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) over the long term
Avoiding proton pump inhibitor medications (often used for acid reflux and ulcers) over the long term
Controlling your blood pressure
Drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated
Keeping your diabetes in check (if you have it)
Eating a healthy diet low in salt (like the Mediterranean diet)
Maintaining a healthy weight
Dr. Linehan also recommends taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement if you're especially concerned about your kidney health.
Dr. Abraham's most important tip is easy to remember: "Kidney and heart health go hand in hand." If something is good for your cardiovascular health, chances are it will benefit your kidneys as well.