Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease

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March 8, 2018

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This post is available in: Spanish

Our kidneys function as our body’s filtration system. Much like a filter in a swimming pool or fish aquarium, when the kidneys stop functioning properly, our bodies struggle to eliminate fluid and waste. Over time, chronic kidney disease, or CKD, can lead to the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease

With such dramatic consequences, it may be surprising to know that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that an estimated 15 percent of American adults have CKD. Women, African-Americans and Hispanic populations are at increased risk for the disease. Yet, preventing CKD comes down to controlling blood pressure, blood sugar or diabetes, and maintaining a healthy weight – achieved, for the most part, through diet and exercise.

Risk Factors for CKD

“It’s fairly common knowledge now that high blood pressure, or hypertension, and elevated blood sugar or diabetes, damage the kidneys over time,” said Pascual De Santis, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group endocrinologist. “If we can control these factors, we can greatly decrease a person’s risk of developing chronic kidney disease.”

Moreover, Dr. De Santis says that emerging research points to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as key factors in the development of CKD.

“When your body can’t produce enough insulin to maintain a healthy blood sugar, and you also have high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides in the blood, or low levels of HDL – the ‘good’ cholesterol, your risk for CKD is higher,” he said. While no causal relationship between metabolic syndrome and chronic kidney disease has been proven, according to 2013 research cited by the National Institutes of Health, people with this cluster of risk factors are more than twice as likely to develop CKD than those without metabolic syndrome.

Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease

Often, controlling these factors means implementing healthy lifestyle habits, Dr. De Santis says. When he sees a patient with high blood pressure or elevated blood sugar, he recommends better control over diet and exercise. “I advise patients to decrease their salt intake and increase their activity level, restrict calories, especially from processed carbohydrates, quit smoking, and increase their movement and exercise,” he said.

For patients diagnosed with diabetes, Dr. De Santis says managing their disease through lifestyle changes and medication, including insulin therapy when warranted, is even more important to prevent kidney damage. “Diabetes leads to microvascular damage and the blood vessels in the kidneys play an important role in their function. Controlling excess sugar in the blood keeps that damage to a minimum,” he said.

Dr. De Santis says that the American lifestyle, marked by diets of processed and sugary foods, low activity levels and chronic sleep deprivation, is leading to an increased prevalence of high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. With projections that diabetes prevalence in the U.S. will nearly double by the year 2034, chronic kidney disease likely will increase as well. But, he says, there’s a way to stop this trend. “By modifying poor lifestyle habits, you can curb your risk for many factors that can lead to chronic kidney disease,” he said.

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