These days there’s no shortage of chatter about exercises for heart health, cancer-fighting foods, and recipes for keeping blood sugar in check. But there’s less talk about the kidneys, the twin organs that many doctors have deemed the unsung heroes of the human body. Not only do they help keep blood in tip-top shape, but the kidneys are also responsible for helping bones to activate vitamin D and working with vitamin C to protect us from osteoporosis.
“The kidneys are some of the most important organs in the human body,” says Michael Forman, DOM, a clinical nutritionist and acupuncturist in Miami. “They are truly the foundation of metabolic health in that they serve the vital functions of regulating the body’s blood volume and pressure, making red blood cells, keeping bones strong, regulating the body’s electrolytes, and filtering toxins and waste.”
Signs your kidneys aren’t happy include fatigue, swelling, trouble concentrating, shortness of breath, and skin rashes. Here are 4 ways you can keep your kidneys healthy and prevent issues down the road.
Get more sleep.
A recent study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that women who got 5 hours or less of sleep each night upped their chance of seeing a decrease in healthy kidney function by 65%, compared with women who made sure to snooze for 7 to 8 uninterrupted hours. Get quality sleep by keeping a consistent bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and limiting light exposure before bed, including light from phones and computer screens.
Drink more water.
Proper hydration is crucial to healthy kidney function. “Your adrenal glands, which are located on the top of each kidney, get a lot of attention for producing stress hormones, but they also produce a hormone that is responsible for regulating your blood pressure,” says Jolene Brighten, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Oakland, CA. “It’s called aldosterone, and it causes your kidneys to retain water and sodium to keep your blood volume at just the right level.” This cycle means that dehydration stresses your adrenal glands, making your kidneys unhappy, which then causes your blood pressure to spike. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces of water daily to keep your kidneys humming. Try to also limit consumption of caffeinated beverages to one or two cups a day in order to avoid dehydration.
Exercise helps to decrease blood pressure, which, as you already know, helps to prevent kidney disease and other related issues. But breaking a sweat also means that you can quite literally get your blood moving. “More than 120 quarts of blood pass through the kidneys every day,” said Forman. “In fact, they are so important that nature gave us two of them as a redundancy just in case one failed.” Keep your kidneys healthy by going for a brisk walk, slow jog, or bike ride, making sure to meet the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity––or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity––recommended per week for women.
Eat kidney-friendly foods.
A plant-based diet is essential to kidney health, says Prudence Hall, MD, founder and medical director at the Hall Center in Santa Monica, CA. Fresh fruits and vegetables that target kidney function include grapes, cranberries, blueberries, apples, red bell peppers, spinach, beets, garlic, and asparagus. Hall also says that choosing foods low in sugar, soy, and gluten will help decrease inflammation, thereby leading to better kidney function.
Experts agree that maintaining kidney health is crucial to a woman’s overall health and emphasize that women over 50 especially should consider bumping up their consumption of estrogen-boosting foods like chickpeas, fennel, dates, alfalfa, tomatoes, cherries, pomegranates, plums, and carrots. Estrogen protects the kidneys against fibrosis and damage, an issue that becomes more prevalent as women enter menopause and perimenopause, says Hall.