Your kidneys are filtration workhorses. Each of these bean-shaped organs contains around 1 million tiny filters that sift through about 30 gallons of blood every day.
It's up to your kidneys to filter out the waste and excess substances from your blood that you don't need while holding on to the nutrients and water that you do.
It's a full-time job, so it's little wonder that everyone's kidneys work a little less well with age, but for more than 20 million of us, the problem isn't age—it's chronic kidney disease (CKD), which can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and death.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of CKD. Just having a family history of these two conditions raises your risk for the disease.
Other risk factors include:
• Having cardiovascular disease.
• Being of African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.
• Being 60 or older.
• Being obese.
• Having lupus or other autoimmune disorders.
• Using painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen for a prolonged period of time.
• Having chronic urinary tract infections.
• Having kidney stones.
If you think you're at risk for CKD, talk to your doctor. He or she can order lab tests to check how well your kidneys are working.
To help keep your kidneys healthy:
• Control your blood pressure. Below 120/80 mm HG is best. And if your doctor prescribes medicine to control your blood pressure, be sure to take it as directed. Some blood pressure medicines may actually protect your kidneys.
• If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar.
• Keep your cholesterol levels in the range recommended by your doctor.
• Lower your salt intake. Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily.
• Exercise regularly.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• If you smoke, do your kidneys—and other organs in your body—a big favor and quit.
Sources: National Institutes of Health; National Kidney Foundation