Medical Compass: Tips to help protect your kidneys

Medical Compass: Tips to help protect your kidneys

Walking routinely can reduce your risk of dialysis.Stock photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

In my recent article about chronic kidney disease (CKD), I wrote that about 90 percent  of the estimated 35.5 million U.S. adults who have CKD are not even aware they have it (1).

How is this possible?

CKD is typically asymptomatic in its early stages. Once it reaches moderate stages, vague symptoms like fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite can surface. It’s when it reaches advanced stages that symptoms become more evident. Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease.

What is the effect of CKD?

Your kidneys are essentially little blood filters. They remove waste, toxins, and excess fluid from your body. They also play roles in controlling your blood pressure, producing red blood cells, maintaining bone health, and regulating natural chemicals in your blood. When your kidneys aren’t operating at full capacity, it can cause heart disease, stroke, anemia, infection, and depression — among others.

How often should you be screened for CKD?

If you have diabetes, you should have your kidney function checked every year (2). If you have other risk factors, like high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, talk to your physician about a regular screening schedule. A 2023 Stanford School of Medicine study recommends screening all U.S. residents over age 35. The authors conclude that the cost of screening and early treatment would be lower than the long-term cost of treatment for those undiagnosed until they are in advanced stages (3). In addition, they project it will improve life expectancy.

Does basic exercise help?

One study shows that walking reduces the risk of death by 33 percent and the need for dialysis by 21 percent (4). Those who walked more often saw greater results: participants who walked one-to-two times a week had a 17 percent reduction in death and a 19 percent reduction in kidney replacement therapy, while those who walked at least seven times per week experienced a more impressive 59 percent reduction in death and a 44 percent reduction in the risk of dialysis. The study included 6,363 participants with an average age of 70 who were followed for an average of 1.3 years.

How does protein consumption affect CKD?

With CKD, more protein is not necessarily better. It may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis of 17 studies of non-diabetic CKD patients who were not on dialysis, results showed that the risk of progression to end-stage kidney disease, including the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant, was reduced 36 percent in those who consumed a very low-protein diet, rather than a low-protein or a normal protein diet (5).

How much should I reduce my sodium consumption?

In a study, results showed that a modest sodium reduction in our diet may be sufficient to help prevent proteinuria (protein in the urine) (6). Here, less than 2000 mg per day was shown to be beneficial, something all of us can achieve.

Are some high blood pressure medications better than others?

We routinely give certain medications, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, to patients who have diabetes to protect their kidneys. What about patients who do not have diabetes? ACEs and ARBs are two classes of high blood pressure medications that work on the kidney systems responsible for blood pressure and water balance (7). Results of a study show that these medications reduced the risk of death significantly in patients with moderate CKD. Most of the patients were considered hypertensive.

However, there was a high discontinuation rate among those taking the medications. If you include the discontinuations and regard them as failures, then all who participated showed a 19 percent reduction in risk of death, which was significant. However, if you exclude discontinuations, the results are much more robust with a 63 percent reduction. To get a more realistic picture, this result, including both participants and dropouts, is probably close to what will occur in clinical practice unless patients are highly motivated.

Should you take NSAIDs?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen and naproxen, have been associated with CKD progression and with kidney injury in those without CKD (1). NSAIDs can also interfere with the effectiveness of ACE inhibitors or ARBs. Talk to your doctor about your prescription NSAIDs and any other over-the-counter medications and supplements you are taking.

What should I remember?

It’s critical to protect your kidneys. Fortunately, basic lifestyle modifications can help; lowering sodium modestly, walking frequently, and lowering your protein consumption may all be viable options. Talk to your physician about your medications and supplements and about whether you need regular screening. High-risk patients with hypertension or diabetes should definitely be screened; however, those with vague symptoms of lethargy, aches and pains might benefit, as well.


(1) (2) (3) Annals of Int Med. 2023;176(6):online. (4) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014;9(7):1183-9. (5) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;(10):CD001892. (6) Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2014;23(6):533-540. (7) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(7):650-658.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit or consult your personal physician.


Leave a Reply