When patients come in to address particular organ health, they most often mention their heart, their liver, their lungs, or the various organs of their digestive system and reproductive system, but rarely does someone ask me about their kidneys. Your kidneys do a lot of work for you, but I doubt you think much about them, unless you have kidney health issues. This month is National Kidney Month, so I ask you to think about this hard working duo, and consider how you can keep them healthy.
What do your kidneys do?
Your kidneys filter about 200 litres of blood daily. You know that the kidneys help eliminate waste products and excess fluid from your body, but did you also know that your kidneys are needed to:
- Regulate your blood pressure
- Produce an active form of vitamin D
- Control the production of red blood cells
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we look to the TCM Kidney system when issues arise for bone and joint health, low back pain, issues with fear and anxiety, fatigue, edema, reproductive health, menopausal symptoms, and more. If you’ve experienced trauma, ongoing chronic stress, or have been told you have adrenal issues, we consider the Kidneys for that too, as the adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys.
How do kidneys malfunction?
There are many reasons why your kidneys could find themselves in trouble. Things that can increase your risk include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections that travel to the kidneys, a family history of kidney disease, and aging. Some are just born with congenital issues affecting the kidneys, and those of Aboriginal, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Island, African/Caribbean, and Hispanic descent are at higher risk.
Though most aren’t aware of it, estimates are that up to two million Canadians have chronic kidney disease (CKD) or are at risk for it.
How do you know if your kidneys are struggling? One simple blood test you can get is called estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Check out this risk assessment online tool for National Kidney Month to see if you should ask your doctor for this blood test.
How do I keep my kidneys healthy?
- Hydrate. You don’t have to go overboard, but I find many of my patients are chronically dehydrated. Unless you are taking B vitamins (including in a multi)–in which case your urine is likely to be bright yellow–your urine can help you determine if you are sufficiently hydrated. It should be a very pale yellow. If it’s a dark yellow, you may be dehydrated. Keep in mind that diuretics, like some blood pressure medications and caffeinated beverages, can make you have to pee much more often, as can overactive bladder and prostate problems.
- Keep healthy eating and exercise habits. Both will help manage your blood pressure, diabetes, stress, and weight. Watch your salt intake. Yes, salt is important for our health, but many take in too much salt, as it’s found in so many processed foods. You can also overdo the “good salt” like sea salt and Himalayan salt, especially if you have high blood pressure.
- Stop smoking. So many reasons to quit. Smoking damages your blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and increases your risk for kidney cancer. Acupuncture can help you quit smoking.
- Don’t overdo pain medications like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause kidney damage if taken too often. Acupuncture is best known for its ability to help treat and manage pain. Check out TCM for pain management options.
- Treat your diabetes, high blood pressure (click me), and urinary tract infections. Because these all increase your risk of kidney disease, it’s vital that you treat these health issues appropriately. Did you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you not just treat the symptoms of these problems, but also work on getting to the source?
- Manage your stress. Stress can be a catalyst for disease. When the body is in chronic stress, it has a hard time healing. It doesn’t do a good job of simultaneously defending and repairing the body–often picking defending as its preferential course of action. There are many ways to cope with stress and support your adrenal glands. For more on adrenal fatigue click here.
- Come in for a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consultation. While I won’t be able to detect your GFR levels without lab results, your body may be giving clues that your kidneys need to be addressed. Plus, it’s better to work preventively than in response to organ failure.
National Kidney Month
I have a friend who has a kidney transplant. He knows the challenges that come with dialysis, organ transplant, and ongoing health issues. I urge you to remember to pay attention to the health of your kidneys this National Kidney Month and beyond, and to register for organ donation. It’s easy to do. Simply start with clicking here.