Four risk factors increase the possibility of an individual developing kidney disease. These are: diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and a family history of kidney disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. However, you can protect your kidneys by preventing or managing all these health conditions.
Prevention: Always choose healthy foods —fresh fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
Drink plenty of fluids (1.5 to two litres of water daily). But do remember that fluids in the form of colas, coffees and carbonated drinks are not a good substitute for water.
Some teas and juices may contain vitamins and minerals that are helpful for the kidneys. However, they may also contain high caffeine content or sugar, which can be harmful to the kidneys. Water is the best drink.
Cut back on your intake of sugar and sodium. This means avoiding all processed and junk foods.
Cook with a mix of spices instead of salt and try to consume foods with little or no added sugar. Consume fat-free (skimmed) or low-fat milk and milk products. Try to eat foods without gravy or added fats.
Eat foods made from whole grains — such as whole wheat, red rice and whole-grain corn —every day. Use whole-grain flour for chapattis and substitute red rice for white.
Barley is an excellent grain for cleansing the kidneys. This whole grain is not a cure, but it can be used with other methods to maintain optimum functioning of the kidneys.
Soak a handful of barley in about 200 ml water at night. Filter and drink the same water first thing in the morning. Include barley instead of refined flour in your diet. You can also boil a fistful of barley in about 250 ml of water till it is cooked well. Filter and drink the water, twice daily.
It is believed that fruits and vegetables that are rich in potassium aid in cleansing the kidneys. Fruits like grapes, sweet lime, oranges and bananas are all rich sources of potassium. Milk and yogurt are also good sources of potassium. Including these foods in your daily diet helps maintain the level of electrolytes in your blood, which keeps the kidneys functioning at their optimum.
But avoid excessive intake. Remember, one must have a balanced intake of potassium-rich food. A healthy person can have up to 4.7 gm of potassium per day.
Always make it a habit to read food labels. Choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
Slow down at snack time. Eating a pack of low-fat popcorn takes longer than eating a samosa or a slice of cake. Peel and eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice. Avoid/reduce intake of caffeine, chocolate, nuts and processed foods as far as possible.
Try baking or broiling meat, chicken, and fish instead of frying.
Keep a written record of what you eat for a week or opt for a mobile app. It can help you control yourself when you overeat or consume foods high in fat or calories.
Additional tips: Be physically active for 30 minutes or more, on most days.
Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Stop smoking, quit drinking and control your weight.
If your kidneys are not performing normally, you can develop symptoms like swelling in the legs, nausea, fatigue, weakness and insomnia. The following complaints may seem vague, but need to be investigated to rule out kidney disease:
Difficult, painful urination, foamy urine, dark urine, increased thirst, increased need to urinate (especially at night), puffy eyes, and swollen face, hands, abdomen, ankles or feet.
As most people with early kidney disease will have no symptoms, early testing becomes quite critical. So always get a regular annual health check-up done.
The incidence of drug-induced nephrotoxicity has been increasing with the rise in the number of drugs and the easy availability of over the counter (OTC) medication. If you take OTC painkillers, like ibuprofen daily for pain or joint swelling, do get your kidney function tests done at regular intervals. These drugs can cause damage to the kidneys if taken too often, over a long period.
Useful herbs: Punarnava can be used daily to keep kidneys healthy.
Gokshura is a wonderful herb for treating urinary tract infections and burning sensation during urination. It boosts kidney health and is beneficial for those who suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections as well as recurrent renal stones.
Manjishtha supports kidney cleansing.
Gokshura, punarnava and manjishtha are available as tablets (Himalaya). One tablet, twice daily, is useful as a health supplement for individuals with risk factors.
Coriander helps in reducing burning micturition. Boil one teaspoonful of dried and crushed coriander seeds in 150 ml of water for about 10 minutes. Filter and drink this infusion, twice daily.
Methi (fenugreek) seeds have been used by traditional herbalists for kidney problems. Consume half to one teaspoonful of powder, twice daily.
Dr Srikanth is a postgraduate in Ayurveda and has been a consulting physician for the past 19 years. He is currently National Manager, Scientific Services, at The Himalaya Drug Company