Kidneys are not well understood. While the heart and the liver get a lot media, not many people know much about this very important organ. In fact, they know even less about the right diet to keep them healthy.
The only time most of us wake up to their importance is when we face the excruciating pain of kidney stones. It’s time to rectify that because this is a very important organ.
Firstly it is important to understand what the kidneys do in our body?
The kidneys (two in number) are located at the upper and back side of the abdomen, on either side of the spine. Their major function is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body.
By doing this, they purify the blood, control the body's fluid balance, and maintain the right levels of electrolytes.
What Can Go Wrong?
Our kidneys produce multiple hormones (renin, angiotensin, aldosterone, prostaglandin etc) which help regulate water and salt in the body, and thus help keep the blood pressure in check.
Besides this, they also convert vitamin D into its active form which is needed for the proper absorption of calcium from the food we eat.
But there are many things that can go wrong with our kidneys.
Kidney stones are big trouble. Even young people with no genetic history are facing them. The problem skyrockets in the summer months as they tend to be dehydrating (lack of fluids in the body concentrates the urine and leads to increased residual salt in the kidneys, which over time hardens and forms crystal-like stones).
These stones cause excruciating pain in the bladder and may even require surgery.
The kidneys can also malfunction and lead to the body losing its ability to remove excess water, which may cause swelling.
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Take Care of Them Consciously
But there are ways you can take care of your kidneys.
Drink 8-10 glasses of water every day to help flush the toxins, residual salt, and waste clogged in the kidneys. Including seasonal summer fruits that are water logged (like melons) also helps.
Avoid dehydrating foods and drinks like alcohol, coffee, tea, soy sauce, fried food, and aerated drinks. Dehydration may lead to highly concentrated urine (darker in colour) which may lead to the precipitation of calcium salts and increase the possibility of formation of crystals that form stones. High levels of caffeine in most energy drinks might also increase urinary calcium excretion causing trouble.
Consciously drink citrus (lemon, lime, and orange) juices as they inhibit the formation of stones in your kidneys.
Limit the intake of salt and sugar. Excess salt intake leads to higher calcium excretion (an increased amount of sodium passing into the urine can also pull calcium along with it), which increases the probability of stone formation. Similarly, sugar gets broken down into glucose and affects the kidneys adversely.
Limit the consumption of oxalate, as it can bind with calcium and form stones in the kidneys. Peanuts, legumes, sweet potatoes, spinach, and beetroots are high in oxalate. Similarly, aerated drinks might also lead to higher levels of oxalates in urine.
Processed foods are a problem as these tend to be high in salt (sodium) and low in fibre, which creates havoc with the excretion of calcium oxalate and uric acid in urine.
Limit animal protein – red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood – as its' excess can lead to a reduction of citrate levels in the body. They might also increase uric acid levels in the body, leading to kidney stones.
Eat kidney-protective foods every day such as cranberries (contain quinine which converts into hippuric acid and helps clear excess uric acid from the kidneys), ginger (helps cleanse the kidney), curcumin in turmeric (cuts inflammation in the kidney cells), fennel seeds (promote renal function), and cherries (good blood cleansers which help the kidney function better).
Try to get enough vitamin B-6 (found in bananas, mangos, soybeans, and avocados).
Take The Right Supplements
Do not self-medicate or have supplements arbitrarily. Especially, people with higher levels of calcium should monitor the intake of calcium supplements under the direction of a physician.
Avoid heavy dosing of vitamin C (limit to less than 2gm per day) too.
Excessive use of over-the-counter medicines like some laxatives, antacids containing magnesium trisilcate, and cough suppressants containing Guaifenesin and Ephedrine can increase the risk of stone formation. Also, some other medicines like sulfa drugs, frusemide, indinavir, topiramate may lead to an increased risk when used over a very long time.
But besides these, keep your weight in check. Excess weight tends to be a problem as it leads to the excretion of more acidic urine, which can increase the risk of stone formation.