20 Bad Habits That Are Seriously Harming Your Kidneys

Just below your rib cage and on either side of your torso are two human organs that each resemble a bean. We’re talking, of course, about your kidneys, which play a vital role in maintaining your physical well-being. Yet even when these miracles of natural engineering work well, the litany of things we put them through can leave them vulnerable and at risk of affecting their function. In fact, any one of these 20 common habits may lead to kidney damage – so here’s what to avoid if at all possible.

20. Not keeping tabs on your blood pressure

Blood pressure measures the vital fluid’s exertion on the walls of blood vessels. And any subsequent reading is itself influenced by various factors – mainly the performance of the heart and the condition of the blood vessels themselves. All in all, then, some may find themselves with hypertension, or when the pressure level in the arteries exceeds that of medical authorities’ recommended guidelines.

But why does high blood pressure affect our kidneys? In simple terms, the organs use a high number of blood vessels in order to filter extra fluids and waste, meaning damaged vessels affect their ability to carry out that task. And kidney failure may then follow – especially over a prolonged period of living with high blood pressure.

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19. Not taking your prescribed medication

In 1985 former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D. famously said, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” And Koop’s point is particularly salient if you suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure. If you have existing health issues, not managing the problems can exacerbate them. And in the cases of diabetes and hypertension, this could mean secondary conditions – such as loss of kidney function.

Of course, there are a plethora of reasons why someone may discontinue taking their medicine. But it is important that this is done under medical supervision and with the extended risks made clear. In some cases, though, people simply forget or feel themselves that the drugs are not working. And this may prove dangerous in particular with diabetes or hypertension, as the treatments given are designed to manage your blood sugar or blood pressure levels over time. If you have recently stopped taking medication for either of these health issues, then, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

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18. Consuming too much salt

We are constantly told that salt – also known as sodium chloride – is bad for us, but why? And why should we regulate the amount we consume in our diets? Well, salt is actually harmful to our health in several ways, as it can affect many of the body’s organs. And much of this boils down to the fact that the substance is a contributor to increased blood pressure, which in turn may result in cardiovascular episodes such as heart attacks and strokes.

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So, how are the kidneys at risk? Well, basically, the organs rely upon a delicate balance of two chemicals: sodium and potassium. And increasing the presence of sodium – through a high-salt diet, for example – diminishes the kidneys’ effectiveness in extracting waste substances and water from the bloodstream. The consequence, then, may be high blood pressure as well as kidney disease in some cases.

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17. Abusing artificial sweeteners

We’ll examine the effects of sugar on the body – and the kidneys in particular – a little later. However, attempting to alleviate the issue by simply using artificial sweeteners could be a serious mistake to make. You see, consuming the likes of saccharin and aspartame may have unintended consequences.

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Yes, putting an extra spoon of Splenda in every cup of coffee may actually make you want to eat more. As the National Kidney Foundation explains, “Although artificial sweeteners do not cause the spike in blood sugar that real sugar does, it may actually be hijacking our taste buds, stimulating our appetites and causing us to overeat.” And overeating may in turn cause obesity, which boosts the likelihood of future kidney disease.

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16. Not taking it light on the caffeine

Believe it or not, but caffeine is the most regularly used drug of them all. Indeed, even those people who don’t drink alcohol may not think twice about consuming a cup of coffee or tea. In recent years, however, more has come to light about the negative impact that the highly addictive substance can have on our bodies.

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And there are three principal drawbacks of caffeine over-consumption when it comes to our kidneys. Firstly, as caffeine can raise calcium levels in urine, coffee fiends may well run the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones. In addition, caffeine impacts the organ’s ability to absorb water. Finally, the drug may exacerbate renal failure, as established from research conducted on rats. It is important to stress, however, that consuming caffeine in moderate quantities is perfectly safe.

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15. Not looking after your weight

As we all know, being seriously overweight can have dangerous repercussion for health. And according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, carrying more than a few extra pounds puts an individual at increased risk of Type II diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer as well as – yes – kidney issues.

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Furthermore, both Type II diabetes and high blood pressure may contribute towards the onset of kidney disease. Yet independently of these conditions, evidence now suggests that excess weight is by itself enough to cause kidney problems as a primary consequence. And if you already suffer from chronic kidney disease, being overweight makes the matter worse.

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14. Not dealing with infections

Having a kidney infection – or pyelonephritis – can be uncomfortable, to say the least. Typically, pyelonephritis begins in your bladder or urethra before swiftly making its way to one or both of your kidneys. And such an infection often brings on a number of symptoms such as fever, pain when urinating, general discomfort in the abdominal region and a feeling of nausea.

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What’s more, failing to swiftly deal with pyelonephritis can lead to further and even more serious health issues. The first is kidney scarring, which may result in long-term kidney disease, hypertension and even kidney failure. An infection of this type can also end in septicemia, or blood poisoning, and may harm your baby during pregnancy. So, if you suspect you may have a kidney infection, seek treatment immediately.

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13. Not going easy on the sugar

It’s commonly known that eating sugar in great quantities is detrimental to our health. And the teeth aren’t the only part of the body that may suffer as a result of the sweet stuff, either. You see, too much sugar too frequently may cause a number of health issues that are themselves interlinked.

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For one, consuming excess sugar without burning it off may lead to weight gain and obesity, which in turn may bring on type II diabetes. And the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can then damage blood vessels and filters in and around the kidneys – impacting on the organs’ ability to do their job.

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12. Drinking alcohol

Here’s a quick question: what’s the primary function of our kidneys? Well, the answer is to filter out any substances that our body deems detrimental to its normal activities. For example, every time we consume alcohol, our kidneys work to weed out the harmful substances. If we consume alcohol regularly and exceed the recommended daily amounts, however, this can lead to our kidneys becoming overworked – which of course is a situation to be avoided.

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Another consequence of drinking alcohol is that it can lead to dehydration, and this can impact the performance of the body’s organs, including the kidneys. And if excessive consumption of booze then begins to affect the liver, a reduction in blood flow to our kidneys may result, too.

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11. Going heavy on processed food

As we know, our diet plays an essential role in our health, and we can make changes to what we eat in order to lessen the risk of future complications. It turns out, too, that our kidneys are deeply impacted upon by what we eat and drink. But how does this tie in to processed foods?

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Well, microwave meals, junk food and the like are laden with ingredients that can have negative consequences for health – one of which is salt. And as previously mentioned, the result of too much salt in the diet can be high blood pressure, which can cause long-term damage to the kidneys. In addition, the prevalence of sugar in processed foods may raise blood sugar levels – also bad for the kidneys over an extended period.

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10. Consuming too much of certain food and drink

So, looking after your health means taking care of what you eat and drink. But aside from processed meals, there are a number of other foods that, if consumed in abundance, can have a detrimental impact upon the body. And, again, it’s often to do with the amounts of salt and sugar that they contain – although high levels of fat aren’t great, either.

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Soda, for instance, is typically jammed full of sugar and contains very little nutritional value. Frozen meals often contain high quantities of sugar, salt and fat, too. And butter and mayonnaise intakes should also be regulated owing to the abundance of saturated fats and salt that these foodstuffs usually possess, although olive oil and low-fat Greek yogurt are healthier substitutes.

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9. Eating too much protein

As anyone who has tried to build up some bulk will know, protein is seen as all-important in gaining muscle. Indeed, it’s not strange to see bodybuilders gulping down protein shakes, nor is it unusual for athletes’ diets to be full of the macronutrient as a way of aiding muscle recovery. However, despite the health benefits of protein, we must also be careful with its consumption.

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According to World Kidney Day, you see, one particular study performed on rats ascertained that a diet consisting of large quantities of protein had an adverse effect on blood flow within the kidneys, with the eventual result being long-term renal damage. And though we don’t know whether this same risk exists for humans, medical experts do warn against a high-protein diet if you are already suffering from a kidney-related illness.

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8. Taking too many painkillers

We hear a lot about the dangers of prescription drugs, but did you know that over-the-counter medication can also seriously impact upon our health? Yes, even mild painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can pose dangers if used too often. And if taken in high dosages that exceed recommended amounts, these analgesics may have a detrimental effect upon your kidneys.

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In fact, most analgesics contain chemicals that can actually lead to a kidney disease called chronic interstitial nephritis. As a consequence, then, common guidelines on these medicines typically do not recommend their consumption for any longer than a ten-day period. And if you already suffer from decreased kidney function in some capacity, then higher dosages of these drugs are not recommended, either.

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7. Vitamin and mineral deficiency

We’ve spoken a lot about the ingredients and chemicals to be avoided in large quantities, but there are some vital nutrients that a lot of us should have more of. And lacking certain vitamins and minerals – perhaps as a result of poor diet – can itself have real ramifications for kidney health. So, what exactly should we eat to ensure that these very important organs remain in tip-top condition?

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Well, to start with, potassium is not only vital for balancing your body’s fluids, but it can also lower your blood pressure – all good news for your kidneys. You can try bananas and potatoes for a potassium-rich diet. Vitamin C is also great for your kidney cells, so get plenty of broccoli and melon into you. And vitamin B helps your kidneys generate red blood cells, with cereals and beans a great way of getting more of the nutrient. Finally, it’s important to maintain good levels of magnesium in order to help absorb calcium, which could otherwise lead to kidney stones. Again, beans are rich in this mineral, as are nuts.

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6. Not going when you need to go

Do you remember when you were a child and you were having so much fun that you didn’t go to the bathroom until the last possible moment? And do you remember your mom telling you that it wasn’t good for you to hold it in? Well, whether she knew it or not, your mother was on the right track, as avoiding the need to pee can turn out to be bad for your kidneys.

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You see, the body’s renal system is dependent on regular trips to the bathroom, and so holding your urine in for an unnatural amount of time puts unnecessary pressure on this vital part of the body. In fact, failing to answer nature’s call may lead to the body retaining toxins for longer than necessary or even sometimes absorbing them. And incontinence and kidney stones – neither of which are particularly pleasant to experience – may follow as a result.

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5. Not getting enough exercise

As most of us know, maintaining a decent level of physical fitness is essential to the body’s health. But in what way can a lack of exercise affect our kidneys? In essence, it’s more to do with the potential ramifications of not being active, as these can cause a number of illnesses which may subsequently lead to chronic kidney disease.

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For example, we know that physical exercise can impact positively on blood pressure. And with high blood pressure’s detrimental impact on the kidneys established, the link between increased physical activity and the health of our kidneys should be apparent.

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4. Binging

Eating unhealthily and consuming too much alcohol have both already been included on this list, so why is binging here too? Well, the threat caused by binging is an extreme manifestation of the negative effects of alcohol and high-salt or high-sugar foods on our body. And binge drinking and binge eating, even in the short term, may have dramatic consequences for health.

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Since the primary function of the kidneys is to remove harmful substances, a torrent of alcohol arriving into the body all at once could lead to acute kidney injury. With binge eating, meanwhile, the more food you consume, the larger the amount of excess toxins and proteins the kidneys have to process – and this could very well put strain on the organs.

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3. Smoking

As all smokers know, lighting up on a regular basis is terrible for the body. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the main cause of death for nearly half a million Americans every year – or one in five of those who pass away in any given year in the U.S. What fewer people realize, however, is that this bad habit can also have a disastrous impact on your kidneys.

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So how exactly does smoking impact upon your kidneys? Well, the main way is through its role in restricting the flow of blood through the organs. And as the primary function of the kidneys is to filter the blood, anything that negatively impacts upon their ability to perform this task is detrimental to your health. As a secondary threat, smoking may negate the effects of drugs that are used to regulate high blood pressure.

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2. Not sleeping enough

Sleep is good for you – not least because it helps your body regenerates itself. Consequently, then, a lack of rest can create a number of health issues that are both physical and psychological in nature. And, of course, everyday tasks are just that little harder to complete after a less than ideal night of dozing.

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Yet it appears that good sleep is also important for our kidneys. As Dr. Ciaran McMullan from Brigham and Women’s Hospital told the National Kidney Foundation, “Kidney function is actually regulated by the sleep-wake cycle. It helps coordinate the kidneys’ workload over 24 hours. We also know that nocturnal patterns can affect chronic kidney disease and that people who sleep less usually have faster kidney function decline.”

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1. Not getting enough water

It’s widely known that it’s important to drink adequate quantities of H2O in order for your body to operate correctly. Yes, the hydrating quality of water is essential for a number of critical internal functions, such as the removal of waste products from the blood through your urine. And that brings us once again to one of the primary tasks of the kidneys.

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Apparently, water helps flush out all the harmful toxins that can build up inside your body – in a similar way to the operations of a pipe system. It’s no wonder, then, that the National Kidney Foundation emphasizes the benefits of drinking the stuff to help maintain the health of the organs.

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