Your kidneys are two small, bean-shaped organs that sit below the ribs on either side of the spine. Roughly the size of a fist, kidneys are in charge of filtering the blood and removing toxic substances from the food we eat, expelling these toxins out in the form of waste products. Kidneys also help maintain the delicate balance of fluids in the body.
If our kidneys are not working properly, our body cannot function. The breakdown of kidneys can lead to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), an umbrella term that covers various conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their performance ability.
CKD can lead to complications like high blood pressure, low blood count, weak bones, poor nutrition and nerve damage, and can increase the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. The damage caused by CKD occurs over a long period of time, and if left untreated, may lead to eventual kidney failure, which is treated by renal dialysis and kidney transplant.
The two main causes of CKD are high blood pressure and diabetes, and the various symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, muscle cramping, swollen feet and ankles, lack of appetite, trouble concentrating, puffy eyes, itchy skin and the frequent need to urinate.
Anyone can be at risk of potential kidney disease, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can dramatically decrease your risk. It’s important to know what can cause kidney damage, and here are the 20 that might surprise you.
1. Red MeatRed meat is a great source of protein, but did you know that including too much meat in your diet can put you at a higher risk of kidney disease? A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology that investigated the long-term effects of red meat consumption discovered a correlation between red meat intake and an increase in the risk of kidney failure. The study, conducted by Dr. Woon-Puay Koh, followed 63,257 adults in Singapore for an average of 15.5 years and found that people consuming the highest amounts of red meat had a 40% increased risk of developing the end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
Red meat, when eaten in excess, can produce waste products that damage kidney filtration and have a negative impact on our health. The protein found in red meat produces by-products that can put added stress on kidney function, and when this protein is broken down it releases a compound called urea. Too much urea can build up and contribute to kidney damage, especially if your kidneys are already weakened.
Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb also contain more saturated fats and cholesterol than other types of meat, which can raise cholesterol levels, worsen heart disease, and increase the risk of renal artery disease.To avoid any risk, Dr. Koh suggests limiting the amount of red meat consumed on a weekly basis, by substituting meat with fish/shellfish and poultry or switching to plant-based protein alternatives like soy and legumes. Alternatively, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week.
2. AlcoholAlcohol can be considered the most socially acceptable drug. Technically a depressant, which means it slows down your brain and affects the way it sends and receives messages, alcohol can also badly damage your kidneys by changing the way they function.
Drinking alcohol frequently can increase the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, which can be a precursor to kidney disease and can lead to eventual kidney failure. Moderate alcohol consumption isn’t considered a risk to healthy kidneys, but for those who have onset kidney problems, the damage can be extensive.
Alcohol has many other harmful effects. A study published in the Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation Journal discusses the effects of alcohol and the potential for chronic kidney disease. Aside from damage to your kidneys, excessive alcohol consumption also puts you at a higher risk of hypertension and stroke.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than four alcoholic drinks a day can have a negative effect on your health and worsen kidney disease. Though further research is needed to properly understand the relationship between high alcohol consumption and kidney disease, it’s still better to err on the side of caution and limit the amount of alcohol you ingest.
3. Table SaltSalt is essential for our health. It helps regulate our blood pressure, control fluid balance, and helps our muscles and nerves function correctly. It can also be used as a remedy for heat stroke, soothe sore throats and treat tooth and gum issues. Buteven though it’s an important part of our diet, too much can cause a lot of damage. Table salt is a very common staple in many households all over the world but is considered to be the least healthy type of salt.
Table salt is a manufactured form of salt. Comprised mostly of sodium chloride, it’s similar to natural sea salt but is created by taking natural salt and cooking it at 1200℉, which strips it of all the important minerals. There are many different additives found in table salts, such as synthetic chemicals like iodide, sodium bicarbonate, fluoride, and anti-caking agents, as well as toxic amounts of potassium iodide and aluminum.
Diets high in table salt increase the chances of developing renal stones and can worsen health issues like diabetes and obesity. Continuing to ingest high volumes can potentially cause kidney and liver problems, as well as hypertension, heart disease, water retention, stroke and heart failure.
The general recommendation of daily salt intake is no more than 6 grams or one teaspoon. With today’s processed foods and soda beverages, it’s extremely easy to go over that recommended amount. Vigilance is required to ensure you eat as organically as possible, because the less processed a product is, the less table salt it will have.
4. CaffeineCaffeine is a natural stimulant, found in many different foods and drinks like coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider caffeine to be both a drug and food additive, and it is likely to be the world’s mostpopular stimulant. According to the 2013 online survey conducted by the National Coffee Association, over 587 million cups of coffee are drunk per year in the US alone. But even though caffeine is a popular pick-me-up, there can be detrimental side effects.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, it speeds up the central nervous system, making the brain send and receive messages at a faster rate than usual. Excessive amounts can cause an increase in body temperature, high blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, heart palpitations, jitters, restlessness, and insomnia.
Caffeine can be found in many things, from soda beverages to prescription medication, and when ingested, it can cause the kidneys to become dehydrated, in turn making them work harder to pump out more fluids. Caffeine also stimulates blood flow, which places additional stress on the kidneys, and this can also increase blood pressure.
Though caffeine has many health benefits as well, such as weight loss, added alertness, higher brain function and better cognitive thinking, experts say around 200-300 milligrams of caffeine each day is enough. And when tracking your caffeine intake, keep in mind that it applies to all foods and drinks that include caffeine – not just coffee.
These sweeteners are generally considered to be non-nutritive. This means they have no calories and are completely void of any nutrition. Commonly added to many processed foods and drinks, they’re also hiding in a lot of other products like toothpaste and mouthwash, chewable vitamins and gum, cough syrup, salad dressing, frozen yogurt, candy, breakfast cereals, and processed snacks.
Artificial sweeteners are highly addictive. Too much can cause headaches, migraines, weight gain, and increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. A diet high in sugars and sweeteners also puts you at risk of dental problems like cavities and tooth decay.
Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology found that two or more servings per day of artificially sweetened soda was associated with increased chances of a decline in kidney function in women. To avoid this risk, it’s important to avoid soda beverages and processed, highly-refined foods as much as possible. And instead of using artificial sweeteners, make use of nature’s sugars like maple syrup, raw honey, stevia and coconut sugar.
6. Dairy ProductsDairy products can be a good source of many natural essentials like protein, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium., though there have been many research advances that are finding dairy products are doing us more harm than good. Minerals like calciumand phosphorus help build strong bones and muscles, but if you’re already at risk of kidney disease, a build-up of these minerals can cause high levels in the blood, which can increase the risk of bone and heart disease.
A common case against the popular inclusion of dairy in the food pyramid is explained by Walter Willett, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and head of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, who says “One of the main arguments for USDA recommendations is that drinking milkor equivalent dairy products will reduce the risk of fractures. But in fact, there’s very little evidence that milk consumption is associated with reduced fractures.” Many other dairy products like cheese, ice cream and butter can also contribute to high cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research published by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc. has linked the use of dairy products – specifically cow’s milk – with the occurrence of insulin-dependent diabetes. Milk contains animal proteins, which is highly acidic and increases calcium secretion into theurine. When this occurs, the body must take calcium from our bones in order to neutralize the acid in our system. Not only does this cause our bones to weaken, it also puts an enormous amount of pressure on our kidneys.
With the advance of modern research, studies have further shown that most people are, in fact, lactose intolerant, meaning dairy products are naturally more difficult for our bodies to process. So, for the good of your kidneys and overall health,instead of dairy products, aim to gain equal or more nutrition from other dairy-free sources. Swap cow’s milk for an alternative like rice, coconut or almond milk, and find calcium in green leafy vegetables, seeds, and whole grains.
7. Carbonated BeveragesCarbonated beverages are drinks that have been infused with carbon dioxide gas. It’s this pressurization of carbon dioxide that creates the bubbles and fizzing that makes these drinks so refreshing, but drinking too many may increase blood pressure, reduce kidney function and heighten risk of developing kidney stones.
Research has found there to be linked between the high sugar content of fizzy drinks and cancer, with one study suggesting that drinking two of these soda drinks a week increases the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas, which can double the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Insulinis a hormone created by the pancreas that helps move sugar from food and drink into the bloodstream, where it’s then used by cells and turned into energy. High levels of insulin in the blood can lead to a number of serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Frequent consumption of carbonated beverages can also raise the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s, and cause liver damage, premature aging and obesity. These drinks can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in each individual can, as well as artificial sweeteners and caffeine.
Luckily, you can kick the soda habit by substituting them with other types of beverages like fruit-infused water, coconut water, green tea, lemon/lime water or vegetable juice. And if none of those are appealing, try a glass of red wine – it’s still a healthier alternative.
8. SmokingAccording to data published by the National Kidney Foundation, smoking cigarettes causes 1 in 5 deaths in the US every year and is thought to be the most preventable risk factor for many harmful diseases and illnesses. One cigarette alone contains over 4800 chemicals, and 69 of those are known carcinogens.
Not only are smokers at a much higher risk of many various types of cancer like lung, bladder and mouth cancers, smoking also increases the risk of lung and heart disease, as well as pregnancy complications, stroke, and kidney problems.
Smoking harms the kidneys by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, creating added stress on kidney function. It also reduces blood flow, narrows blood vessels, and damages the arterioles – delicate branches of the arteries. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the risk of diabetes was higher in smokers than non-smokers.
Smoking slows blood flow to all major organs, and it can also negatively affect medicines used to treat high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease. And it’s not just the smokers who are at risk. Second-hand smoke exposure kills almost 50,000 people each year in the US. To benefit yourself and those around you, it’s best to take steps towards quitting for good.
9. Genetically Modified FoodsGMOs (Genetically modified organisms/food) are products of modern biotechnological constructs and organisms whose DNA has been modified in a way that would not occur naturally. Though this might sound similar to Frankenstein’s monster, it’s generally to allow the best parts of various foods to be crossed over from one organism to another, or between non-related species.
The benefits of GMOs include better food taste and quality and a longer shelf life, but because GMOs are still relatively new, there are some uncertainties in terms of what harm it could do to animals and humans. GMOs go through rigorous standards to ensure they’re safe for human consumption, and according to the FDA’s website, they are as safe to consume as non-genetically engineered foods.
However, more research is coming out that is shedding light on potential hazards of GMOs. A study conducted by Egyptian researchers found that rats given genetically-modified soy were found to have deadly amounts of toxicity in their kidneys, liver, blood and even DNA.
To avoid the potential risks with GMOs, aim to buy food labeled 100% organic. When buying meat, try to purchase 100% organic grass-fed, and organic eggs. Avoid processed food as much as possible, always read the labels, and ensure you know what you’re buying. It can be hard to avoid GMOs in this day and age, but with a little extra attention, you will be able to accomplish it.