What are your biggest goals as a person living with kidney disease or as a family member of someone with kidney disease? If you are not at the stage of kidney disease that requires dialysis, you and I probably have similar aims: (1) find a way to improve or maintain kidney function and (2) delay or avoid dialysis.
Now, imagine that there was a magical superfood, a cleansing detox tea or an all-natural supplement that could do this.
It is easy to be convinced that such a product exists. Many websites claim that specific foods or supplements can prevent people from needing dialysis by improving their creatinine levels and their eGFRs (estimated glomerular filtration rate). These are two of the most common measures of kidney function and they are usually (but not always) interpreted like this: lower creatinine levels and higher eGFRs mean better kidney function.
I have heard many stories of people, some of them patients that I care for in my office, spending money on pills and foods with the hope that they will cure their kidney disease or keep them off dialysis.
And if a supplement like this did exist, I'd be shouting about it from my office rooftop and encouraging all my patients to start taking it. Unfortunately, there is no such thing.
Because of the complicated way in which kidneys lose their ability to function, it is just not realistic to expect individual foods — such as cabbage, cauliflower or red pepper — or supplements (like nettle tea) to reverse the scarring caused by 20 to 30 years of conditions like diabetes and vascular disease (disease of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels or blood disorders). It just cannot happen.
On the other hand, while no specific food or supplement can single-handedly improve kidney function or creatinine levels, there are a few factors that can affect creatinine readings in blood tests. Here are the most common ones:
- Creatine supplements: Creatine supplements can increase creatinine levels.
- Medicines: Certain medicines can increase creatinine levels.
- Meat consumption: Eating a large amount of meat can briefly increase creatinine levels for 6-12 hours.
- Water intake: Drinking a lot of water just before a blood test can temporarily lower creatinine levels.
Even though these factors can change the blood test results, they do not have a lasting impact on kidney function. These effects only last a few hours, or a couple of days at most, and do not improve or worsen kidney function.
Improving or maintaining kidney health requires adopting a kidney-healthy food and fluid plan rather than relying on individual "superfoods" or supplements. I recommend:
- Reducing animal protein: Limiting the consumption of animal protein may lessen the burden on the kidneys and promote better overall kidney health.
- Lowering sodium (or salt): Minimizing salty foods helps maintain proper fluid balance and blood pressure.
- Limiting sugary beverages: High intake of sugary drinks can contribute to diabetes and obesity, which are risk factors for kidney disease.
- Controlling diabetes: Managing diabetes through a balanced food and fluid plan and medicines plays a crucial role in maintaining kidney function.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables: Eating more fruits and vegetables can help you decrease body weight and blood pressure, as well as maintain a healthy acid-base balance, benefiting kidney health.
- Practicing home cooking: Preparing meals at home allows better control over ingredients, reducing the amount of unhealthy additives and extra sodium.
When it comes to kidney health, there is no magical food or quick fix. Rather than wasting your money on an internet product that is unlikely to give you any benefit, focus on adopting a consistent kidney-healthy food and fluid plan that includes less animal protein, more fruits and vegetables, reduced sodium, controlled diabetes and home-cooked meals.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or dietitian to see what food and fluid plan would work best for you.
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