You probably don't often think about your kidneys -- your body's filtration system -- but you need to protect them when you have diabetes. Why?
"Three things can contribute to kidney disease. The first is high blood sugar," says Jason C. Baker, MD, endocrinologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. "If it remains high, it can lead to damage of the kidneys -- both to the blood vessels that feed the kidneys and to a part of the kidneys that filters the blood."
High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two other things that can damage the blood vessels, "essentially putting pressure on the kidneys," causing them to work harder and "to leak important things like proteins," Baker says.
How can you avoid kidney disease? Keep your blood sugar controlled. Do that intensively and you can halve your risk of getting kidney disease, or halt it from getting worse if you already have it, studies show.
One way to get your blood sugar under tight control is to test and monitor it often at home. "Knowing what your blood sugar is before you eat and drink and knowing what it is 1 to 2 hours after is extremely important in understanding if you've eaten the appropriate food or beverage," Baker says.
In addition to eating foods that help you stay in control of your blood sugar, follow a lower-sodium diet such as the DASH diet, Baker suggests. Research shows that this plan, which emphasizes vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, and nuts -- and limits salt, meat, and sweets -- helps lower blood pressure. Also, talk to your doctor about BP-lowering medications, such as ACE inhibitors, to see if they're right for you.
Next up? "Exercise, which is essential for the health of blood vessels and can protect the kidneys," Baker says. Start gradually, and build up to the recommended 30 minutes most days. "Take even 10 minutes to exercise. This might mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator," he says.
As for lowering cholesterol, it's key to eat healthy. But you also need to know your family history, since cholesterol levels are influenced by your genes. Ask your doctor what your cholesterol goals should be, Baker says.
Ask Your Doctor
What are my blood sugar goals?
What are my blood pressure goals?
What are my cholesterol goals?
What should I eat to control blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol?
How can I exercise safely?
Am I on any medications that can affect my kidney function?
How frequently should I get tested for kidney function?
How can I lower my blood sugar?
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