March is the month to focus on kidneys

Target lifestyle changes for prevention

Although 20 million people are at risk for chronic kidney disease, most aren’t even aware of the potential health threat, according to the National Kidney Foundation based in New York City.

Chronic kidney disease usually causes no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. That’s why the focus of National Kidney Month in March is to encourage people to be tested for kidney disease, especially if they are at risk, says Ellie Schlam, public relations director for the National Kidney Foundation.

Those at high risk include:

  • people with diabetes or those with a family history of diabetes. Type II diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney failure;
  • those with high blood pressure or family history of hypertension. High blood pressure is the second-leading cause of chronic kidney failure in the United States;
  • people with a family history of chronic kidney disease;
  • African-Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.

The National Kidney Foundation recommends that those at risk for kidney disease have their blood pressure checked, have a urinalysis to check for protein, and a blood test to determine the level of serum creatinine, which is a waste buildup that would indicate that the kidneys are not filtering the blood as well as they should.

When patients test positive for chronic kidney disease, they are referred to a kidney specialist to develop a treatment plan and discuss lifestyle changes. These might include weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation, a reduction of analgesics, and the implementation of a low protein or low salt diet, says Schlam.

Patients at risk whose test results are normal should be advised to reduce the risk of developing kidney disease. The most important steps would be those that have been shown to affect hypertension and diabetes, says Schlam. They include the following:

  1. Implement a low-salt diet of no more than 4,000 mg of sodium per day. In general, low-salt diets are associated with lower blood pressures and preservation of kidney function and prevention of heart failure and stroke.
  2. Implement a high-potassium diet of 4,000 mg or more of potassium per day (as long as kidneys are functioning normally). Societies that have high intakes of fresh fruit and vegetables have the lowest incidence of high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart disease, says Schlam.
  3. High-calcium diets, especially low-fat dairy products such as yogurt and skim milk, are associated with lower blood pressures, says Schlam. Calcium intake per day should be in excess of 1,500 mg.
  4. Eat a diet low in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates and high in complex carbohydrates. This type of diet is associated with better glycemic control and lower incidence of kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.

The goal of the National Kidney Foundation is to eradicate diseases of the kidney and urinary tract. Each year, more than 50,000 Americans die of kidney disease. More than 35,000 patients are waiting for kidney transplants.

For more information about National Kidney Month in March, contact:

  • Ellie Schlam, Public Relations Director, National Kidney Foundation, 30 E. 33rd St., Suite 1100, New York, NY 10016. Telephone: (800) 622-9010. Web site: