Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
We tend to focus our energy on commonly discussed health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity. But the fact is that kidney health problems are fairly common and it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of issues.
The kidneys are important detox organs that filter waste from the blood. When kidney problems arise, the entire body can be impacted.
Learning the best foods and supplements that can increase kidney health can support overall wellness. The best way to protect kidney health is to prevent problems before they start.
This post will guide you through the best ways to support kidney wellness as well as show you how to recognize the signs of problems with kidneys and what to do about them.
What Are The Kidneys & What Do They Do?
You have two kidneys. They are located around the bottom of the rib cage, and are closer to the back than the abdomen. They are approximately the size of a balled-up fist.
The kidneys have several important functions in the body. First and foremost, they filter waste from the blood. They also remove excess water to help keep fluid levels stable in the body. After waste is removed by the kidneys, it is stored in the bladder as urine and then removed via the urethra.
As part of the their task in regulating water levels in the body, they also help to keep pH levels stable, and they help to keep salt, potassium, and other electrolyte levels consistent. The entire goal of the body is homeostasis, or balance, and avoiding big swings in fluid levels is an essential part of this process.
The kidneys are are also vital in other ways. They:
- Help to control blood pressure
- Are essential for healthy red blood cell production
- Are important for bone health because they work with vitamin D to promote proper absorption of calcium
- Assist in regulating how muscles function, including the heart
Without healthy kidneys we cannot be healthy ourselves.
Types of Kidney Problems
Unfortunately, there are a number of kidney problems that can arise. As many as 10 percent of adult Americans have signs of kidney disease. (1)
Kidney disease decreases their ability to filter the blood, resulting in waste build-up in the body. When this becomes extreme, it can be deadly.
People with kidney disease end up being treated with dialysis, which is a medical way of filtering the blood and extending a person’s life when their kidneys are no longer able to properly get the job done of ridding waste.
Sometimes people receive kidney transplants to replace one or both kidneys if they no longer are able to properly filter the blood.
What causes kidney disorders, disease, or problems?
Several factors can play a role, including:
- High blood pressure
- Poor hydration (long-term)
- Regular and frequent use of antibiotics
Kidney stones are a common kidney problem that can be extremely painful. Waste crystals that are typically expelled via urine can accumulate and clump together, forming a crystallized “stone” that is extremely painful to pass.
Another type of issue that can affect the kidneys are urinary tract infections, or UTIs. These are caused by bacteria, usually E. coli, that start in the bladder.
When left untreated, the infection can reach the kidneys and lead to serious consequences, even kidney failure.
13 Symptoms of Kidney Problems
Kidney problems can have different symptoms.
Kidney disease can present with common symptoms that might be easy to overlook. If you have any of the following symptoms it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor:
- Changes in urination, such as more or less, or having foamy or bubbly urine
- Fluid retention
- Swelling in ankles, feet, hands, or face
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the middle back
- Extreme itching, especially in the legs
- Lack of appetite or desire to eat
- Low blood sugar
If you have any of these symptoms and a family history of kidney disease, see your doctor right away. It’s also critical to be seen soon if you also have diabetes, heart disease, or any other diagnosed medical condition.
Symptoms of kidney stones can include extreme pain in the back or side that some have compared to labor contractions or severe intestinal pain. Any severe pain should always be examined right away.
Urinary tract infections can cause symptoms that are unpleasant, such as burning during urination or increased need to urinate. It can also lead to feelings of needing to go but inability to empty the bladder.
If there are changes to normal urination, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor.
Foods That Support Kidney Health
The diet that you eat can play a big role in kidney health whether you have a kidney disorder or not.
People with diagnosed kidney disease must follow certain dietary restrictions, known as a “renal diet.” It supports optimal kidney function without adding extra burden to the organs. A renal diet eliminates or restricts the following foods and nutrients:
- Amino acids
In some cases, people with kidney disease may not be told to limit these, but doctors will often give individualized guidelines to people depending on their circumstances.
There are many foods that support kidney health, whether someone has kidney problems or not. The following are some of the best foods for kidney health.
Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries all contain antioxidants that fight cell damage in the body. These are healthy and supportive of the kidneys because they help the organs reduce cell damage and protect them against dysfunction.
Berries are also a rich source of nutrients that fight inflammation in disease.
Long used as a food to support kidney health, cranberries also support a healthy urinary tract and can help to prevent UTIs.
Different than other types of berries, cranberries contain a special type of nutrient known as proanthocyanidins, which is what helps prevent bacteria from sticking around and leading to infections. (2)
Vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli are known as cruciferous. They’re packed with nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B, and vitamin K, all of which support healthy blood. They also help the liver and kidneys more efficiently remove waste from the body.
Bonus: they’re also rich in fiber, which is another way they benefit the waste removal process and cut down on the work the kidneys have to do.
Certain types of seafood contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and promote kidney health.
Sea bass, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are all excellent sources of this nutrient. Some seafood does contain higher levels of phosphorus, so it’s important to check with your doctor to see which types and what portion size is okay if you have kidney disease.
If you don’t have it, however, seafood is excellent for promoting healthy kidneys and overall wellness.
Certain types of foods are higher in sulfur and can help promote healthy detox. They can also add flavor to foods without containing sodium, which can make them very kidney-friendly for people with kidney disease.
Garlic and onions are two sulfuric foods that are anti-inflammatory, fight infections, are antibacterial and antimicrobial, and also contain plenty of healthy vitamins like vitamin C, B vitamins, and minerals like manganese.
They also contain prebiotics, a certain kind of fiber that nourishes the good bacteria in the gut and leads to overall immune health.
Cabbage is another vegetable that has sulfuric properties and provides healthy fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, and many other nutrients.
Root vegetables are rich in nutrients and low in carbohydrates, making them a good choice for people with kidney disease, diabetes, and other chronic health disorders.
Good root vegetables for kidney health include radishes, turnips, and sweet potatoes. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and other healthy nutrients.
Pineapple is a great food choice for anyone with kidney issues. While a lot of fruits contain too much potassium to be friendly for kidney disease, pineapple is low in potassium and rich in fiber.
It also contains plenty of vitamin C. Pineapple is also a rich source of the enzyme bromelain, which is used to increase digestion and fight inflammation.
6 Lifestyle Tips for Healthy Kidneys
It’s important to focus on living a healthy lifestyle whether you already have kidney problems or if you just want to promote good health. These are the top six areas, other than diet, that promote good kidney health and overall wellness.
Exercise and Activity
Whether you formally exercise or not, having an active lifestyle is important for kidney health and being a healthy person in general. Regular physical activity promotes a healthy weight, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and helps manage chronic conditions when you have them.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s not necessary to have the perfect figure or to obsess over your weight, but focusing on maintaining a healthy body weight or working to lose some if you’re overweight can help to improve overall wellness and reduce the risk of chronic health problems or complications.
It’s important not to restrict calories extremely or to follow a fad diet, both of which can be harmful to kidney health. To lose weight in a healthy way, cut junk and processed foods, increase your activity level, and focus on eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Focus on Healthy Blood Pressure
Some people can’t control their blood pressure levels with diet or lifestyle since genetics can play a role in how the body responds.
However, in many cases, you can influence your blood pressure levels by making some dietary changes or exercising more. If you struggle with having elevated blood pressure, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep it in a healthy range.
This will protect the kidneys, heart, and all other organs and reduce the risk of disease.
Dehydration is not good for the body for many reasons, but it’s especially hard on the kidneys. By the time that you notice you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, too, so relying on thirst as an indicator is a poor way to manage hydration.
Drink water throughout the day, and try to aim for half of your body weight in ounces. For example, a 150 pound woman should aim to drink 75 ounces of water each day as a baseline.
While this is not the only way to gauge how much water you need, it’s a good starting point. If you have a history of kidney stones, you will want to aim to keep your urine pale yellow or close to clear, to avoid urine from being too concentrated and leading to crystal deposits that cause kidney stones.
Don’t Smoke or Drink
While a few alcoholic beverages here and there can be okay, regularly drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration, changes to the gut microbiome, damage to the liver, reduced immunity, and more.
Smoking at all, or even being exposed to secondhand smoke, can lead to kidney damage, lung damage, and many other risks for chronic disorders.
Don’t Overdo It on Over-The-Counter Pain Relief
NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen are over-the-counter pain relievers that can be taken without a prescription. However, regularly taking these, even without exceeding recommended doses, can lead to stomach, liver, and kidney problems.
If you rely on one or more of these for any reason, typically for longer than 10 days, you need to speak with your doctor to find a plan that will relieve pain and not put your organs at risk.
5 Supplements for Kidney Health
Some supplements can support kidney health. These do not treat kidney disease, however, and do not replace medical care from a doctor. Additionally, it is always a good idea to run supplements by your doctor before starting them to check for interactions or potential allergens.
The active ingredient in cranberries that helps to prevent UTIs, d-mannose is a supplement that supports kidney and bladder health. It can be taken during active urinary tract infections or regularly to maintain a healthy bladder and prevent infections from developing.
This nutrient is part of what makes red grapes and other red and purple foods so healthy. Resveratrol is a nutrient that promotes heart and kidney health and can protect both from damage. (3)
The good bacteria that live in the gut and promote healthy immunity, probiotics are also essential for other aspects of health, like kidneys. They can reduce inflammation, fight bad bacteria, and protect against disease. They can also improve how well the kidneys work. (4)
4. N-Acetyl-Cysteine, or NAC
N-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC, is an antioxidant that protects cells in the body from being damaged. It can keep kidney cells healthy and functioning better, even when kidney disease is present. (5)
5. Alpha Lipoic Acid, or ALA
An antioxidant supplement, alpha lipoic acid helps to boost cellular function and protect cells from oxidative damage. It can protect kidney cells from inflammatory damage, too, and has even been shown to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. (6)
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Kidney Disease Surveillance System website.
- National Institutes of Health. Health Information: Chronic Kidney Disease website
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.