World Kidney Day 2024: Kidney Health for All

Mar
14

World Kidney Day 2024: Kidney Health for All

World Kidney Day is celebrated on the second Thursday of March each year, which falls on March 14, 2024. It is a global initiative that “aims to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys to our overall health and to reduce the frequency and impact of kidney disease and its associated health problems worldwide”. 

Kidney Function

Kidneys are often overlooked as a key player in maintaining our overall health. Each human body has two kidneys, each about the size of a fist. Despite their small size, these organs play an important role in:

  • Filtering blood to remove waste products, toxins, and excess fluids (creating urine)
  • Controlling blood pressure by balancing the volume of fluids and salt in the body
  • Producing the necessary hormone (erythropoietin) to stimulate the body to produce red blood cells
  • Maintaining the body’s pH level within a healthy range

Global Impact of Kidney Diseases

This year’s World Kidney Day is spotlighting health equity and access for all, including that for disadvantaged populations. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 14 percent of US adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease. This equals to about 35.5 million people. Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans are at much higher risk of developing kidney disease within the US. 

Globally, the findings of risk factors contributing to kidney disease are not the same as within the US, where diabetes and high blood pressure are the top contributing factors. Examples of findings across the world include:

  • Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN) found mostly among young men working in sugarcane fields within the Pacific Ocean coastal lowlands (including southern California, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica).
  • Exposure to heavy metals, genetic susceptibility, and repeated dehydration are the suspected causes of kidney disease development in low-income male farm workers in Sri Lanka.
  • High consumption of aristolochic acid, a compound commonly found in Chinese herbs and herbal medicines, causes renal failure. Here is a list of herbal products containing aristolochic acid provided by the FDA.

Do you identify as Asian American and/or Pacific Islander? You can find detailed information on the effects of kidney disease plus other chronic diseases in this post on the Biggest Nutritional Challenges for AAPI to find out more about how this population is affected specifically. 

Diabetes & High Blood Pressure

The two leading causes of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) include diabetes and high blood pressure.

With either type I or type II diabetes, the body struggles to regulate blood sugar levels. When uncontrolled, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to small blood vessels in the kidneys. These are called glomeruli, which are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood. This damage over time eventually leads to CKD. Similarly, high blood pressure also inflicts damage to the glomeruli by putting constant pressure on the vessels.  

The good news is that just because you have diabetes or high blood pressure, does not mean that CKD is inevitable. Read more on Managing Chronic Disease: 5 tips from a Registered Dietitian to get some ideas on where to start.

Systematic Screening

Screening for kidney disease is more than just a medical practice- it’s a proactive safeguard for your health!

Kidney disease is often coined as “the silent killer” because by the time symptoms are noticeable to the average person, such as fatigue, swelling, or changes in urine color, significant kidney damage has likely already occurred. Regular screenings act as an early warning system that can allow time for intervention without the use of prescription drugs or dialysis. 

Screenings typically include an assessment of risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension/high blood pressure, and any family history. Lab tests often include creatinine, estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and measuring protein levels in the urine. These are simple, routine labs that can be done with just a request from your doctor.

Preventative Behaviors

While there are certain factors that we cannot control, such as environment and genetics, we can still do our best to make the most of our behaviors to prevent kidney disease. 

Here are some key strategies for kidney disease prevention:

  • Stay hydrated

Water helps flush out toxins and waste from the body. Aim for a least 8 glasses of water per day, adding more as needed to account for hot weather and exercise

  • Maintain a healthy diet

Focus on incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your meals. Limit foods with excess salt, added sugars, and fats. Ask for a referral to a Registered Dietitian from your doctor if you need extra guidance. Many health insurance plans cover dietitian services!

  • Control blood pressure

Regularly monitor your blood pressure to catch it the moment it falls into an at-risk range.

  • Manage blood sugar levels

For individuals with diabetes, be sure to take prescribed medications as directed and eat a varied diet that promotes stable blood sugar levels.

  • Quit smoking

Smoking is not just a risk factor for lung cancer. It can worsen kidney health by reducing blood flow to the kidneys and increasing blood pressure which, in turn, damages the kidneys.

Summary

World Kidney Day 2024 emphasizes the global importance of kidney health, aiming to raise awareness and reduce the impact of kidney disease worldwide. Kidneys play a vital role in filtering blood, controlling blood pressure, producing necessary hormones for red blood cell production, and maintaining a safe pH level in the body. 

The two most common risk factors of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure. Systematic screening is encouraged for all to serve as a prevention tool where lifestyle changes can still be used as the primary intervention if risk factors or minimal damage are found. Prevention strategies include drinking enough water, eating a healthy diet, controlling blood pressure and sugar levels, and quitting smoking. These behaviors combined can help prevent from development of not only CKD but a long list of other chronic health diseases.

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