Blog Post

Common Habits that Can Harm Kidneys

March 25, 2022

Dr. Leslie Hamlett, Freeman Nephrologist
There are many things individuals can do to protect their kidneys. Being aware of how many bad habits increase risk of kidney disease is essential. The following habits are detrimental to kidney function:

Over-the-Counter Medications (including NSAIDS for pain and PPIs for GERD)
Over-the-counter medications can be very harmful to those with kidney disease and risk factors for kidney disease. One of the number one contributors to kidney disease is the overuse of NSAIDS (over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain killers). Common NSAIDs that people use unknowingly that hurt the kidneys are naproxen and ibuprofen, which are found in medications like Motrin®, Aleve®, Naprosyn® and Advil®. Avoidance of these medications is best if a patient has risk factors for kidney disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Other over-the-counter medications can also hurt the kidneys, including high doses of aspirin and medications for the stomach, called proton pump inhibitors. Common ones, include Prilosec® (omeprazole), Protonix® (pantaprazole) and Nexium® (esomeprazole). For heartburn, Pepcid® (famotidine) is much safer medicine for the kidneys. 

Eating Too Much Salt
High blood pressure is another risk factor for kidney failure, and a major contributor to high blood pressure is salt intake. Excess salt leads to fluid retention and hypertension, which is detrimental to good kidney health.

Not Consuming Enough Water
Drinking plenty of water is important because recurring dehydration leads to chronic damage. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight (pounds) in ounces. So, a 180-pound person should drink about 90 ounces a day. Daily water intake should not exceed a gallon. Water is the best option, but it is also ok to drink other beverages, such as tea and coffee. I tell my patients that up to 24 ounces of their daily fluid intake can be something other than water. Of course, this is not true for every patient. Those with heart failure, advanced kidney disease, chronic edema and those on dialysis cannot drink this amount of fluid. Studies show that those with stage 3 chronic kidney disease (CKD) can slow down progression of kidney disease by staying adequately hydrated with water. Artificial sweeteners in sodas and other beverages can be harmful to the kidneys and should be limited. 

Poor Dietary Choices
Processed food is very harmful and contains phosphorus and multiple chemicals that the kidneys cannot easily filter. It is best to choose fresh fruits and vegetables rather than those in a can. 
Your body needs protein but a diet very high in animal protein is also harmful. Animal protein generates high amounts of acid. It is best to choose plant-based protein. Normally we recommend approximately 0.8 g/kg a day of protein.
While an all-protein diet can be harmful, a high sugar diet is not good either. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure in the US. Controlling diabetes and avoiding excessive carbs can delay progression of kidney disease. A balanced diet full of healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant protein with an abundance of water consumption is the best diet. 

Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
Obesity is also a risk factor for developing kidney disease, so maintaining a healthy weight is paramount to avoiding kidney disease. Studies have shown that routine exercise 20 minutes a day can delay kidney disease progression, so it is best to keep moving. 

Not Sleeping Enough
It is important to ensure adequate sleep at night. Kidney function is regulated by the sleep-wake cycle.

Hardening of the arteries contributes to chronic kidney damage. Smoking causes an accelerated rate of vascular disease, which causes high blood pressure and damage to kidney blood vessels. Smoking also causes kidney cancer. 

Drinking Too Much Alcohol
In moderation, alcohol is not toxic to kidneys. However, long-term use of more than four drinks a day doubles the risk of kidney disease, not to mention liver failure. 

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