March is National Kidney Month


Maintaining kidney health is important. The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins and extra fluid from the blood, for disposing them from the body, and for so much more. High blood pressure and diabetes injures the kidneys. This is called chronic kidney disease (CKD), wherein kidney function is gradually lost over a period of time.

Chronic kidney disease is more common in Native Hawaiians than in any other major ethnic group in Hawaiʻi.

It is estimated that 90% of people who have kidney disease are not even aware they have it, as early stages of kidney disease have no symptoms. By the time symptoms are experienced, a person may already be in the advanced stages of CKD. Symptoms of CKD include decreased energy, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, dry and itchy skin, frequent urination, blood in urine, puffy eyes, swollen ankles and feet, poor appetite, and muscle cramps. Many people who experience these symptoms often disregard them, or think they are related to other causes. Regular appointments with your doctor is important.

CKD can be prevented or slowed by making some important dietary changes. For example, manage blood pressure better by eating more green leafy vegetables daily. This includes spinach, Chinese cabbages, kalamungay, lūʻau leaves, cilantro, and leafy lettuce. These contain nutrients needed to improve artery health and decrease inflammation, all of which lower blood pressure.

At the same time, reduce your consumption of saturated fats such as those found in coconut oil, red meats, egg yolks, cheese and other dairy products, and animal fats and skin. These fats can increase the stickiness or thickness of the blood, causing blood pressure to increase.

Limit foods high in sodium, such as packaged and canned foods and seasonings. Common local examples of high sodium foods include ramen packets, canned meats, snack foods, and soy sauce and other Asian seasonings. Too much sodium increases fluid in the blood, causing blood pressure to rise.

Consider drinking two cups of māmaki or red hibiscus tea per day. Hibiscus teas contain antioxidants and plant chemicals that help protect the kidney from damage, improve kidney function, and manage blood pressure. They have also been shown to have anti-diabetic, anti-cholesterol, and immune-boosting effects.

Including these dietary changes – and eating more plant foods in general – can also help manage blood glucose levels better. And don’t hesitate to also add more fruits and starchy vegetables to your diet – they are nutritious and most are safe for people with diabetes.

There is one exception: if you have CKD, avoid star fruit. Star fruit contains a natural chemical that can be toxic to the brain, causing confusion, seizures, and even brain damage. Healthy kidneys will remove this toxin from the bloodstream. Injured or damaged kidneys are unable to do this effectively, causing the toxin to build up in the body.

It is not enough to just eat nutritious food. Be sure to exercise daily, get enough sleep, and stop smoking. You and your kidneys deserve it.