As a diabetic, you know the importance of blood sugar control, checking your feet daily for any cuts or scratches, and following a healthy lifestyle. Did you know that caring for your kidneys is a critically important but often overlooked aspect of this common disease?
An estimated 20 – 40% of people with diabetes go on to develop kidney disease, and this increases more should you suffer with diabetes and hypertension which is more common today than before. While the determining factor for this is largely down to the length of time you’ve had diabetes, and how well it has been managed, there are some actions you can take to delay the progression of kidney damage.
How does diabetes affect the kidneys?
The kidneys’ main role is to remove waste from your blood as well as helping to maintain your correct blood pressure by regulating the levels of salts and fluids in the blood.
Each kidney has about a million little nephrons, which are units that consist of a small filter (a glomerulus) attached to a tube. The blood passes through these filters, water and waste are filtered out, with the water going back into the blood and the waste matter being stored as urine and passed out and onward to the bladder.
Diabetes impacts the kidneys over a long period of time because the high levels of sugar in the blood damages these nephrons and filters, impacting the kidneys’ ability to remove waste matter. In turn, too much water and salts are kept back, leading to fluid retention (often seen in swollen puffy ankles, legs, hands, and eyes) and raised blood pressure.
When kidneys are damaged by diabetes, it’s called diabetic nephropathy. It’s still not clear exactly why or how high blood sugar levels damage the kidneys, but it’s thought to be due to years of uncontrolled, high blood glucose or high blood pressure which is a known cause of kidney damage. Diabetics are prone to high blood pressure (hypertension).
The bottom line, is kidney damage is irreversible, and while it does not always progress to full kidney failure where you would require either dialysis or a kidney transplant, a person with reduced kidney function will still require lifelong treatment to manage the symptoms and slow the illness progression.
How would you know if your diabetes is affecting your kidneys?
That’s the problem, this condition can go undetected for a long time because deteriorations in kidney function don’t show up until significant damage is done. That could be ten years. But by the time it’s detected, the damage is irreversible.
Kidney function can only be assessed by urine and blood tests, but some of the common signs and symptoms of deteriorating or reduced kidney function that will alert your doctor to the need to test your kidney function are:
- High blood pressure
- Fluid retention (puffy or swollen legs, ankles, face, or fingers)
- Frequent fatigue and feeling weak
- Frequent dark, smelly urine.
Does kidney failure or reduced function cause any other problems?
In a word, yes.
Aside from fluid retention in your arms and legs and high blood pressure, kidneys that are damaged can have other knock-on health impacts, such as:
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Damaged blood vessels in the retina of the eyes and vision loss
- Cardiovascular disease and increased risk of stroke
- Foot sores.
One illness (diabetes) can damage your kidneys which in turn can create other health problems and illnesses which will require more treatments. All medicines have side effects and many of them increase the workload on the kidneys, potentially impairing their function even more, which is why, as a diabetic, the importance of being aware of and supporting your kidney health cannot be understated.
What can you do to help your kidneys?
Go for a ‘protection’ strategy. As we said, it’s not entirely possible to avoid some degree of kidney failure from diabetes, but you can certainly reduce your risk and aim to delay the onset of kidney failure by:
- Ensuring your blood glucose levels are well-controlled at all times. Not just on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays or when you remember, but every day. Learn what you can eat, when and how much, and take your medications exactly as your doctor or pharmacist tells you too.
- Monitoring and maintaining your correct blood pressure and having regular blood pressure checks.
- If you’re overweight, aim to lose weight and get into a healthy weight range.
- Exercise regularly.
- If you experience urinary tract infections, treat them quickly because these can become kidney infections, again putting more pressure on these organs, and creating the potential for additional and unnecessary damage.
- Eat a low salt diet. Avoid processed foods, tinned foods, and ready-made meals and soups, which are often very high in salt (sodium). Reduce the amount of salt you add during cooking and to your plate, and if possible, switch to a lower salt seasoning (A.Vogel Herbamare is a popular option for diabetics or people with high blood pressure. It’s not salt-free but because it’s made with herbs, it’s more flavoursome and people find they use less of it than normal table salt and it tastes delicious, you can thank us later).
- Don’t overload the kidneys with excessively high protein diets which are known to worsen kidney function. Make sure you balance your diet with plenty fresh low GI vegetables and fruits.
- Drink at least 2 litres of filtered water a day. Staying hydrated helps your kidneys flush out wastes more efficiently and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Spoil your kidneys regularly with the foods they love: celery, asparagus, parsley, and cucumber! Cucumber is also regarded as beneficial to diabetics, helping to control blood glucose levels.
- Take the daily supportive kidney tonic A.Vogel Nephrosolid. This herbal medicine contains four herbs known in natural medicine to offer effective support for the function and maintenance of kidney and bladder health. It’s one of the only kidney tonics available, and you can take it with your other medications (Speak to your doctor if you are pregnant).
- Nephrosolid can also help address signs and symptoms of kidney and urinary tract infections (UTIs) and inflammation, so if you’re prone to urinary tract infections, Nephrosolid can also be used long term to assist in this regard. This is the most important product you can take for your kidneys. Use it daily and long term.
Living with diabetes can be challenging, but with a good understanding of what it is, what can happen, and being familiar with the disease, you can manage the condition well with modern treatments and live as long and healthily as the next person.