By Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, FNKF
As the New Year approaches, I find myself reflecting on the past year while looking ahead to new beginnings. Holiday gatherings tend to bring out our nostalgic side: a blend of generations together in the same room, reminiscing about memories we’ve made over the years, with disbelief that another year has come and gone. While we continue to search for the elusive fountain of youth, we also continue to age. To boost our health and the health of our loved ones at each stage of our lives, there are many concrete steps that we can take. To start, here’s a giftwrap-free guide to protecting the kidneys throughout the lifecycle.
We may be born with a clean slate, but our path towards good health begins in the womb. Our gene pool plays a role, but much of our health is within our control. During pregnancy, moms-to-be should receive regular pre-natal medical care, avoid smoking, alcohol and street drugs. Expectant mothers who follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy are more likely to deliver full-term, healthy babies with fully developed kidneys. Full-term babies are less likely to develop health complications later in life, including high blood pressure and kidney disease.
Kidney health may begin at birth, but there are ways to change course and improve it. Obesity is a sizeable problem that continues to grow in younger and younger children. Childhood obesity is associated with high blood pressure, glucose intolerance (pre-diabetes) and “metabolic syndrome” which is characterized by abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, elevated blood fats, and higher blood pressure – risk factors for developing chronic kidney disease.
We can shape the future of our younger generation, literally. At home we must build the foundation for long-term health by setting an example when kids are young and encouraging healthy diets, high in fruits and vegetables and limited in calories, sodium and other processed additives. Strive to limit children’s sodium intake to less than 1500 milligrams per day. We don’t often think about it, but salt, like many other seasonings and foods, is an acquired taste which begins in childhood. A lower salt intake in kids helps to decrease salt intake in adults. Lead by example to encourage active play. From building snowmen to hopscotch, think about seasonal, fun and inexpensive activities that the whole family can enjoy. Teaching youth about healthy living and physical activity through physical education (P.E.) programs and recess in school doesn’t need to be at the detriment of traditional subjects. Simple changes can make a big difference in protecting their kidneys. Let’s not settle for less when it comes to our kids’ health.
Adolescence and Early Adulthood
Children and teens are more susceptible to peer pressure than we would like to believe. Talk to your kids about the risks of using drugs and alcohol. Caught up in the short-term buzz, teens often neglect to realize that drugs and alcohol can have horrible long-term effects. Beyond alcoholism and addiction, other health risks include shortened life spans, high blood pressure, and kidney disease later in life. Kidney stones can be very common in early adulthood and the DASH diet has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing them, in addition to decreasing blood pressure. In conjunction with increased sexuality, many young women start showing more frequent episodes of urinary tract infections (UTIs) during this stage in life. Drinking cranberry juice regularly can help reduce the frequency of urinary tract infections.
If current trends continue, it is estimated that in the next decade, 60% of adults will be obese or overweight in the United States. It will ultimately weigh on all of us and the epidemic needs to be addressed from both the top down and the bottom up (no pun intended). Let’s start with what we put in our mouths. We need to fill our bodies with fuel – nutrients and water instead of empty calories and sugar that don’t provide us with energy or a feeling of “fullness.” Empty calories make us feel just that, empty: causing us to eat more and creating a vicious cycle.
On a community level, we need to increase the outdoor space in our neighborhoods. Even in cities that resemble a concrete jungle there are ways to ramp up our trails and bike paths and to create parks and open spaces. Taking advantage of outdoor spaces can greatly improve our collective public health, at all ages. If as a society and community we prioritize exercise and healthy eating habits, we can make healthy living the norm, rather than the exception.
Many employers offer employee wellness plans and some even offer on-site fitness centers. Let’s take advantage of them. In adulthood, the chronic diseases that impact kidney health are more prevalent. Many of them are also preventable. Diabetes and high blood pressure, the two leading causes of kidney disease, are common in adulthood.
Kidney function naturally declines with age so the elderly are most likely to suffer from chronic kidney disease. In addition to high blood pressure and diabetes, the elderly commonly suffer from kidney blockages that stem from prostatic diseases and cancer. The elderly can also suffer kidney and bladder infections. Prompt treatment of bladder infections and blockages can decrease the likelihood of developing more serious infections. Early diagnosis of these conditions can help prevent kidney complications.