Can Sugar Damage Your Kidneys?

On the backside of your abdomen are two kidneys, each about the size of a fist. They remove impurities, control fluid balance, and regulate electrolytes. Each kidney uses millions of tiny filters to purify your blood, all of which passes through the kidneys several times a day. These filters wear out as you age, but you can lose a great many filters without ill effects.

Unfortunately, kidneys can be down to 20% of capacity before symptoms appear, making recovery difficult. Kidney damage is usually permanent but if caught early enough may respond to treatment. Kidney failure means dialysis (a regular cleansing of the blood) or a kidney transplant.

5 Surprising Ways You Can Damage Your Kidneys

  • Using painkillers for a long duration of time. Long-term use of certain pain medications, especially at high doses, has a harmful effect on kidney tissue and structures. Both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can damage and reduce blood flow to the kidneys.
  • Smoking cigarettes. The ramifications of smoking on the lungs and heart are well-publicized, but studies also show that people who smoke are more likely to have protein in the urine, which is a sign of kidney damage.
  • Eating and drinking lots of sugar. “It’s probably pretty obvious that your morning doughnut and the candy bowl on your desk are overloaded with sugar, but sugar can be hiding in some surprising places such as your sandwich bread and your salad dressing. Too much sugar can lead to health problems such as diabetes and obesity. Uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes can damage the kidneys.
  • Exposure to contrast dyes commonly used in imaging. It’s important to make sure your physicians check your kidney function before you undergo any radiology procedures, such as CT scans, certain X-rays and angiograms.
  • Consuming high-sodium foods. Large quantities of sodium can increase blood pressure levels. High blood pressure damages the kidneys over time and is a leading cause of kidney failure.

Work with your doctor to rein in these ailments. Report frequent or painful urination, blood in the urine, or swelling of the extremities to your physician. Lose weight, exercise, and drink plenty of water.

Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP National Kidney Foundation spokesperson; Medical director, Dialysis Center of Lincoln, Neb.

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