How Does Diabetes Affect Kidney Health?

The kidneys play a very important role in maintaining our overall health. While these bean-shaped organs perform multiple functions, a primary role is filtration, critical to clearing waste such as urea and to keeping the body's fluids and electrolytes in balance. Good kidney health is essential for everyone, yet today, more than 30 million adults in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease (CKD), and there has been little new innovation to treat kidney disease in over a decade.

So how does diabetes, an all-too-common cardiovascular and metabolic (CVM) condition, impact our kidneys? The most common causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure. For those with diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or use normal amounts of insulin properly. Because of the high levels of sugar in the blood, the millions of tiny filtering units within the kidney are overused and damaged, leading to chronic loss of kidney function and, eventually, diabetic kidney disease. Diabetic kidney disease can lead to end-stage renal disease, which requires dialysis or kidney transplantation, further increasing the already elevated risk in diabetes for cardiovascular-related death. Even with an estimated 1 in 3 people with type 1 diabetes and half with type 2 diabetes eventually developing CKD, there have been no recent breakthrough treatments for this disease.

March is National Kidney Month, and it stands as a reminder of how important it is to not only take care of our kidneys and live a healthy lifestyle, but also to continue to research new ways in preventing, treating, and ultimately curing such life-threatening and widespread disease.

CKD often goes undetected until it is at an advanced stage. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the following steps can be taken to help protect the kidneys and improve overall health:

  • Get tested: Ask your doctor for an albumin-to-creatinine ratio urine test, or a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) blood test annually if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, are over age 60, or have a family history of kidney failure.
  • Monitor and limit NSAIDs use: Pain medicines, such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), may alleviate your aches and pains, but they can harm the kidneys.
  • Cut processed foods: Processed foods can be an unhealthy source of sodium, nitrates and phosphates, and have been linked to kidney disease, among other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly: Being active for at least 30 minutes a day can also help control lower blood sugar, which is vital to kidney health.
  • Control blood pressure and diabetes: Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels can slow the progression of kidney disease.Kidney damage caused by diabetes can occur slowly and can go undetected over many years. However, you can take these easy steps to protect your kidneys, so act now.
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