It’s not just your liver you have to watch out for when you overdose on sugar – your kidneys are at risk too. Here are 7 signs of kidney disease to look out for, plus we take a dive into sugar's role in all of this.
237, 800 Aussies are living with kidney disease, but many only catch onto their condition after it’s already progressed to a life-threatening stage. This is because the symptoms may be subtle or attributed to another condition, leading to a shocking 10% of those with chronic kidney disease knowing they have it. This disease can lead to kidney failure, which is where the kidneys are unable to remove waste from the blood and ensure proper fluid maintenance in the body. At this stage, a kidney transplant or dialysis will be vital for a patient’s survival. For now, let’s get into some of those symptoms so many people are overlooking:
- Poor appetite: A build-up of toxins in the blood – which occurs when your kidney function is impaired – can cause your hunger levels to drop.
- Low energy and fatigue: Without proper kidney function, toxins may build up and cause feelings of weakness, sleepiness and exhaustion.
- Sleeping difficulties: Again, the lack of filtration when our kidneys aren’t working the way they should can leave your blood with excess toxins, which can reach as far as your sleeping patterns.
- Dry, itchy skin: Kidney disease can cause inflammation in the skin, resulting from a build-up in fluids that should have been filtered out.
- Frequent urination, blood in urine or foamy urine: Changes to your urination habits or appearance can indicate kidney disease, this is because of the damaged filtration system – in the case of blood in the urine, this occurs when blood cells leak into your urine.
- Puffy eyes and swollen ankles: Again, the inflammation and stagnant toxins and fluids can cause swelling around the body.
- Increased muscle cramps: electrolyte imbalances resulting from impaired kidney function are often to blame for these cramps.
These are common symptoms which belong to a range of conditions, from mental health illnesses to autoimmune diseases and even cancer, so it’s no wonder so many don’t realise they have kidney disease. But luckily there are a few preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk for developing the condition in the first place – starting with the foods you put on your plate. Let’s unpack the role sugar plays in the development of kidney damage and disease.
Sugar’s role in kidney disease
Excess consumption of added sugars – which you’ll find in abundance in common household staples like bread, cereal and muesli bars – contributes to the development of high blood sugars, and ultimately, type 2 diabetes. Here’s why this matters – diabetes is a metabolic condition that affects 8.5% of adults around the world, causing millions of deaths every year. Between 2000 and 2016 alone there was a 5% rise in premature death rates caused by diabetes. This is partly due to our excessive consumption of sugar and their effect on our blood sugar levels – in the short term, these foods can cause blood sugar spikes which are characterised by headaches, increased thirst, tingling hands, mood swings and anxiety – you might know these as the dreaded afternoon slump. This common phenomenon comes down to imbalanced blood sugars – usually from a heavily-processed lunch or brekkie. But, more concerningly, in the long-term people may develop diabetes. Processed-foods high in added sugars are especially culpable in the rise of diabetes, and this is because of their lack of fibre. It’s the fibre in fruits and veggies that slow our absorption of the fructose – making them ideal dietary choices. But commercial baked goods, cured meats, flavoured yoghurts, junk food and even so-called “health foods” like granola can be loaded with added sugars and stripped of their fibre content, resulting in unstable hormones and blood sugars.
So, how does this affect your kidneys? Well, it comes down to the internal structure of your kidneys – they’re made up of nephrons, these are small filters which help remove waste in the blood, and high blood sugar in diabetics results in damaged nephrons and blood vessels. This means the nephrons can’t do their job properly, thereby impeding the filtration process and leading to kidney damage and potentially kidney disease. Now, considering that we’re consuming around 15 teaspoons of added sugar each day, the risks are very real – for both diabetes and kidney disease. Here are a few foods to eat instead of those sugary, processed products that bombard us in every supermarket aisle.
What to eat instead:
- High-fibre foods:These help regulate our blood sugars and fight sugar cravings. Go for foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole fruits and veggies
- High-potassium foods: Without adequate potassium levels, our bodies make less insulin levels, leaving us vulnerable to high blood sugar levels. Go for bananas, dark chocolate and avocados. Keep in mind, those on dialysis may be restricting high-potassium foods, so these are more preventative measures.
- Healthy fats: These fats keep us feeling fuller for longer, balance our blood sugars and help balance blood pressure.
- Dark leafy greens: These are loaded with antioxidants, which fight toxins and free radical, taking a load off our kidneys. Go for spinach and kale.
- Water: Yes this is a drink, we know, but it still belongs on your list of kidney-boosters. This is because our cells make use of water to move toxins into the bloodstream, whereby our kidneys filter these out into our urine – where they make a prompt exit! Proper kidney function relies on adequate aqua intake, so don’t forget to drink throughout the day.
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