How to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 26, 2022
3 min read

Your kidneys work hard for you, day in and day out. To take good care of them, you’ll want to focus on these things that make a big difference.

Watch your blood pressure. If it’s too high, that can put stress on your kidneys. If you’re not sure what your blood pressure is, your doctor can check it. You could have high blood pressure and not know it, since it doesn’t have any symptoms. High blood pressure is one of the top causes of kidney problems.

Got diabetes? If you do, work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar levels in check. If they’re not under control, that can cause problems for your kidneys over time. Along with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes is one of the biggest concerns for kidney health.

Use your meds correctly. Take them as your doctor recommends, or follow the instructions on the package. Be wary of medicines that can cause kidney damage when you take them for a long time, including over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and prescriptions such as lithium and HIV medications. (Street drugs like cocaine can cause kidney disease, too.)

Yes to food and fitness. You already know that exercise and eating right help your heart and weight. They also help your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels. And that’s good for your kidneys.

Shake the salt habit. Keep sodium low: no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. Check food labels to see how much is in a serving. It might be more than you think!

Be wise about water. It’s good for your kidneys to stay hydrated. Drinking too much water, though, can backfire (although most people don’t overdo it). How much to drink? One way to check is by noticing the color of your pee. If it’s pale yellow or clear, it’s fine. If it’s dark yellow, you might need more water.

Do you drink alcohol? If so, have no more than one drink a day for women or two a day for men. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits such as gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey. It is not clear that higher alcohol intake necessarily causes chronic kidney disease, although binge drinking may lcause acute kidney injury.

No smoking. There are two ways that smoking is bad news for your kidneys. First, it’s bad for the blood flow to your organs, including your kidneys. And if you take medicine to manage high blood pressure, smoking can affect those medications. Make it your top health priority to quit, even if it takes a couple of tries. Going smoke-free will help your whole body!

Keep up with your doctor visits. Some of the tests that your doctor does at a checkup can show you clues about how well your kidneys are working.

There’s a blood test that checks how well your kidneys filter. Your doctor may call this a “GFR” test (short for glomerular filtration rate). Generally speaking, a score of more than 90 is the goal for adults. It's higher for children and keeps going down as you get older.

Your doctor can also do a urine test to see if a blood protein called albumin is in your pee. It’s not supposed to be there. If it is, you may get more tests to see if there’s a problem with your kidneys. There could be other reasons. But if you do have a kidney problem, it’s best to find out early.