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protecting your kidneys

Kidney health. METRO photo
Walking routinely can reduce your risk of dialysis

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Last week, I wrote that 37 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and that roughly 90 percent of them don’t know they have it (1).

This seems like a ridiculous number. How can this happen? It’s because CKD tends to be asymptomatic, initially. Only in the advanced stages do symptoms become evident, although there can be vague symptoms in moderate stages such as fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite. Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease. But those are only the ones at highest risk.

Why is CKD a concern?

Your kidneys function as efficient little blood filters. As I mentioned last week, they remove wastes, toxins and excess fluid from the body. In addition, they play roles in controlling blood pressure, producing red blood cells, maintaining bone health, and regulating natural chemicals in the blood.  

When they’re not operating at full capacity, the consequences can be heart disease, stroke, anemia, infection and depression, among others.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Physicians, those who are at highest risk should be screened regularly, including patients with diabetes or hypertension (2)(3). 

Fortunately, there are several options available, ranging from preventing CKD with specific exercise to slowing the progression with lifestyle changes and medications.

Does basic exercise help?

The results of a study show 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. So, the 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. There were 6,363 participants with an average age of 70, who were followed for an average of 1.3 years.

How does protein intake affect CKD?

With CKD, more protein is not necessarily better, and it may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis of 17 Cochrane database 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).

Should you limit sodium consumption?

Good news! 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 anti-hypertensives — 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 you are taking.

What should I remember here?

It’s critical to protect your kidneys, especially if you have hypertension, diabetes, or a family history of kidney disease. 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 — both prescription and over-the-counter — 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) cdc.gov. (2) uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org (3) aafp.org. (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 www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.