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Lifestyle Factors that Affect Chronic Kidney Disease

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
3
November 16, 2021

Whether you’ve been newly diagnosed with kidney disease, or you’ve had it for a while, chances are you are reading this because you want to keep them healthy. There are a few major factors that influence our kidneys, most of these are lifestyle-related, like diet and exercise, but many other factors influencing kidney function are related to either supplements, or even other diseases. Below we will review a variety of lifestyle factors that influence the health of your kidneys.

Nutrition is Crucial

Several different diet types have potential to help protect the kidneys from decline. Among these are the DASH diet, mediterranean-style diets, and vegetarian/vegan, or plant-based diets. There’s no conclusive evidence that one diet is better than another, but all diet patterns seem to emphasize the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-processed foods, and low-sodium foods. Better for you to follow at the earlier stages, these diets are still high in phosphorous and potassium, which may not be good for people at stage 4 or 5 kidney disease.

Though the list of foods to limit may seem long, following a renal diet that restricts these may be excessive.  If the kidneys lose their ability to clear extra potassium and phosphorous, these can build up in the blood, leading to muscle weakness, hypertension, bone disorders, and problems with processing of other minerals. The need to restrict potassium and phosphorous depends on your blood test results and a proper diagnosis of a deficiency. Always consult with a dietitian and your doctor before restricting foods, since over-restricting may mean that you lose out on plenty of beneficial foods whose benefits outweigh their risks.

Gut Health

The health of your gut is quite strongly linked to kidney disease. With the progression of CKD, products of protein digestion start to build up in the blood. This can cause alterations in the gut microbiome which may stimulate the production of toxins in the gut, which may gradually damage the kidneys. Based on the particular symptoms that you’re experiencing, talk with your doctor about temporarily supplementing with prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.

Another great way to keep your gut healthy is to supplement with fiber. People with CKD often tend to get inadequate fiber, due to restricting certain vegetables and fruits. However, fiber is food for bacteria, and helps strengthen healthy bacteria in your gut Along with helping the digestion, fiber has been shown to help with reduction of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease risks. So go ahead and grab a carrot!

Supplements

In addition to supplementing with pre and probiotics for gut health, many patients are at risk of inadequate minerals when having CKD. As the disease progresses, we often find that there is a link between thyroid functional change and CKD. To help with risks of thyroid issues, supplementing with Vitamin D and also potentially Selenium are thought to have protective effects.

In the later stages of kidney disease, oftentimes patients will develop iron-deficiency anemia. Supplementing with iron is a necessity for many, but is only necessary if determined by a blood test.

Exercise

It is well-known that exercise is good for us and helps reduce health risks. But for our kidneys, specifically, it also shares some beneficial effects.

In one study, just 6 minutes of walking per day, showed that patients tended to walk faster after 12 months and also had significantly lower risk of hospitalization due to complications. Notably, other research identifies that strength training, lifting weights or resistance training, alone, do not help with kidney function - but a combination of the two may be helpful in reducing inflammation, weight, and diabetes risk - eventually leading to improved kidney function.

Takeaways

Regardless of your stage of kidney disease, following some simple rules could help you reduce the risk of complications of the disease.

  1. Eat healthy, natural foods, and primarily from plant-based sources.
  2. Get your blood tested and your doctors visits done regularly to keep an eye on kidney function
  3. Supplement the diet with adequate fiber, vitamins and minerals, when directed by your doctor and Dietitian
  4. Do whatever exercise that you can - starting with just 6 minute walk each day will help.

Any time you have questions about your health, feel free to chat with us online. If you’d like a more detailed diet consult, you should schedule a medical nutrition therapy (MNT) visit with one of our specialists.