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Last updated October 16, 2017, originally published December 22, 2016

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist



Did you know that you have two powerful chemical factories
in your body, performing vital functions on a minute-by-
minute basis to help keep you alive? The kidneys may be easy
to overlook but without effective kidney function your
condition is critical.

The kidneys are two organs the shape of beans and the size
of fists, located just underneath the rib cage on either side of
the spine. Every day the kidneys filter around 120 to 150
quarts of blood and generate 1 to 2 quarts of urine – when
they are functioning well.

If you have poor kidney function, the kidneys must work
harder to achieve this aim, and your whole body will suffer.
What can you do if you have poor kidney function? Are there
any strategies that can improve the health of your kidneys,
and your overall health and wellbeing?

What Do the Kidneys Do?

Your kidneys play a vital role as they keep the composition of
blood stable, which allows the body to function. Kidneys stop
wastes and fluids building up in the body by removing them in
urine. They keep your electrolyte levels stable, and they make
hormones that help to regulate your blood pressure, create
red blood cells, and keep your bones strong.

Kidneys are actually made up of around one million tiny filters,
which are called nephrons and which filter a tiny amount of
blood each. Your kidneys are obviously vital, which means
poor kidney function can have a big impact on all areas of
your body.

How Do You Know If Your Kidneys Are Functioning Well?

There are some simple tests you can have which determine
the extent of kidney disease before it turns into kidney failure.
Tests for protein in the urine – an excess amount of protein
means your kidneys may have been damaged – and tests for
blood creatinine are taken. Results are used to determine your
"glomerular filtration rate" or "GFR", which shows how much
kidney function you have.

The normal value for glomerular filtration rate is 90-120
ml/min. A rate below 60 ml/min implies that some kidney
damage has occurred. The lower the value, the worse the
kidney function.

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Kidney Function

If you do have low kidney function, as determined by your
filtration rate, don't despair. There ways to lift that number.
Simple lifestyle changes, when your kidney function is still
relatively good, can help safeguard kidneys’ health.

For example, you can lose weight, eat a diet full of whole
grains, fruit and vegetables, keep your
blood pressure at a
healthy level, and keep well hydrated.  The blood pressure is
especially important. At one time, kidney function was thought
to be a number which could only go down over time, so if you
had a bad number, you could only expect things to get worse
but never better.

But now, scientists have learned that, even with people who
are in the full-throes of chronic kidney disease, those who
manage to lower their blood pressure lower, experience an
increase in kidney function.

The landmark 2013 study which made this discovery, called
"Kidney Function Can Improve at Any Stage of Chronic Kidney
Disease" was led by Dr. Lise Weis of Department of
Nephrology, AP-HP, Hôpital Tenon, Paris, France and Dr. Marie
Metzger of Univ Paris-Sud, Villejuif, France.


In addition to lowering your blood pressure to the low end of
normal, here are some key ways to improve your kidney
function and some habits to avoid when you want to keep
your kidneys in tip-top condition.
































1.
Avoid Constipation to Improve Your Kidney Function

Constipation may be uncomfortable but it is not generally
regarded as dangerous. However, new research suggests a
link between constipation and poor kidney health.

A 2016 study from the University of Tennessee Health Science
Center and Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center looked at
the health of 3.5 million American veterans.

The study showed that people with constipation were 13
percent more likely to develop chronic kidney disease, and
were 9 percent more likely to experience kidney failure. In
addition, the more severe the constipation, the higher the
likelihood of poor kidney function.

Researchers say “Our findings highlight the plausible link
between the gut and the kidneys and provide additional
insights into the pathogenesis of kidney disease progression.
Our results suggest the need for careful observation of kidney
function trajectory in patients with constipation, particularly
among those with more severe constipation.”

Further research is needed to see if constipation directly
causes kidney disease, but it is helpful to make changes to
your diet to avoid constipation
.  Your constipation prevention
program should include
drinking more water, making sure you
get enough good oil in your diet such as olive oil,
eating
plenty of fiber
and walking at least half an hour a day.

2.
Eat Less Protein and Avoid Red Meat and Boost Kidney
Function

Eating red meat is linked to kidney failure, according to a 2016
study from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center
and Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Eating less protein has long been suggested as a way of
slowing the progression of kidney decline, but it wasn’t clear
what types of protein were particularly problematic.

This research shows that red meat intake is associated with an
increased risk of kidney disease and poor kidney function. The
study looked at data from more than 63,000 people in the
Singapore Chinese Health Study.

Those who ate the most red meat had a 40 percent higher risk
of kidney disease than those that ate the least. Other sources
of protein showed no such association. The researchers say
that if you want to improve your kidney function you should
replace one serving of red meat a week with a different
protein source.

3.
Improve Your Kidney Function with a Low-Fat, Healthy Diet

As well as limiting red meat, you should also avoid junk food
and a diet high in fat, according to a 2016 study from Anglia
Ruskin University in the United Kingdom.

A diet that high in junk food and high in fat can damage your
kidneys as much as diabetes, experts say.

Eating a junk food diet may increase blood sugar levels to an
amount comparable with Type 2 diabetes.

4.
Got Reflux? Avoid Antacids for Better Kidney Health

Research shows that some stomach acid drugs are linked to
chronic kidney disease.

A 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore
demonstrates that taking proton pump inhibitors  - PPIs,
prescription drugs to reduce stomach acid, is associated with
an increase in your risk for chronic kidney disease.

The study looked at data on 10,482 people in the
Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. However,
it is still not clear whether these drugs actually cause kidney
disease to develop, and further research is needed to find out.

5.
Can Cocoa Help Kidney Function?

Can you consume cocoa to improve your kidney function? And
can
it help even if you have kidney failure?

A 2015 study by Tufts University in Medford shows that
patients with kidney failure could improve their blood vessel
function and their overall kidney function by eating a cocoa
product.

Cocoa flavanols have been demonstrated to have positive
effects on blood vessel function in people with normal kidney
function, and the new study shows that these special flavanols
bring benefits to the circulatory system and keep the arteries
flexible.

The benefits are found with 2.5g of high-flavanol cocoa
powder or 10g of high-flavanol dark chocolate. Cocoa
improved circulation in kidney patients.


[Update:
The evidence good or bad as to whether drinking coffee has
any effect on your kidneys is best described as "conflicting",
according to a 2017 study from the University of Messina in
Italy. However, taking all existing studies into account, it
appears that drinking coffee does not increase your risk for
chronic kidney disease, a 2017 meta-analysis published in The
International Journal for Clinical Practice.]


6.
Drink More Fluid for Optimal Kidney Function

It is very important to stay hydrated, especially in hot
weather, to keep your kidneys functioning well.

Your urine should be the color of straw and if it is any darker
it could be the sign of dehydration.

Drinking more water also cuts the risk of kidney stones
developing, thus improving kidney function, according to a
2014 report from the American College of Physicians. People
who have had a kidney stone are advised to drink enough
water to get to 2 liters of urine a day, in order to avoid getting
another stone.

7.
The Mediterranean Diet Helps Healthy Kidneys

Eating a Mediterranean-style diet is connected with a lower
risk of chronic kidney disease, says a 2014 study from the
Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Scientists
found that the people whose diet most closely resembled the
Mediterranean diet had a 50 percent lower risk of chronic
kidney disease. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by
high consumption of plant-based foods like fruit and
vegetables, plenty of whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats like
olive oil.  For the study, scientists analyzed the diets of more
than 900 people over a period of seven years.











































































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Cocoa helps improve kidney
function, scientists have learned.
But easy does it with the sugar
and whipped cream.