The Looming Presence of an Epidemic

When I discussed my kidney health with my doctor the reality of the situation was nothing short of terrifying, and sadly I’m not alone in facing this reality. Millions of Americans are currently living with kidney damage, or worse--kidney disease--without having any clue whatsoever, due to its notoriously subtle or even nonexistent symptoms, and so they unknowingly make decisions that increase this damage while decreasing the prospect of a positive prognosis. One in three Americans is at risk for developing kidney disease; which is the terrible physiological status where one’s kidneys progressively increase in dysfunction until, in the worst case scenario, the point of kidney failure. Reports indicate that currently a staggering 33 million Americans are battling this disease, and unfortunately this figure is only set to rise with estimates suggesting an increase to 36 million over the next ten years.

This constitutes nothing short of an epidemic, and yet if you are like me, this will be the first you have heard of it. Why is that? Well, among other things, in this article we will look at why this pressing issue of kidney health has not been a popular health topic in trends or conversation. I will also give you an introductory rundown of how to monitor your kidney health and spot warning signs, so that you can avoid the stark reality that myself and tens of millions of other Americans have experienced. You may be surprised to see just how many commonplace trends of the modern day Entrepreneur spell doom for our kidneys.

What is Kidney Disease and What is the Threat, Really?

For the sake of informative value, we’ll consider kidney disease and organ damage generally, rather than limiting the scope to a specific type. But first, it is crucial to understand the role of the kidneys in the human body in order to understand what exactly is at stake here. As described by my personal nutritionist and diabetes educator, the kidneys act as a sort of siv--the thing miners used in the gold rush to filter sediment in creek beds while looking for kernels of gold. In the case of our bodies, the kidneys filter out toxins, impurities, excess protein and water in order to regulate electrolytes and hydration status.

This process sounds relatively simple, and this is perhaps what contributes to our false sense of security in our kidney health. Fact is that treating kidney disease represents a whopping 48 billion cost in our economy, draining 6.7% of the medicare budget to care for less than 1% of the covered population. And it’s not just America that is suffering; in England, according to a recent report published by NHS Kidney Care, kidney disease costs more than breast, lung, colon and skin cancer combined. So if it’s so widespread and only increasing, the symptoms and health outcomes must not be terrible, right?

Unfortunately this is not the case and kidney disease represents terrible suffering in those afflicted. Nausea, vomiting, and difficulty concentrating pervade daily life and can make it impossible to maintain daily routines that were second nature prior to these symptoms. So this begs the question: if kidney disease is an epidemic with enormous cost on the economy, and the health outcomes are nothing short of torture--then why are we not hearing more about this?

How to Monitor Your Kidney Health

From speaking with my doctors and my nutritionist, and from my personal research, the simple truth seems to be that kidney health is just not as sexy as other health trends. While there are many diets and nutritional strategies that target kidney health, there are no standouts to achieve immediate results. Because the kidneys essentially act as a filter, the only way to directly benefit them, is to further filter what you put in your body yourself thus alleviating strain on the kidneys. And because of this, both positive and negative results are very gradual, unlike with an organ like the liver which demonstrates regenerative capabilities. The benefits then will be as subtle as the warning signs, which is another component of why kidney health is a less discussed area in popular health trends: it’s simply harder to monitor, and thus harder to correct.

To protect yourself, your biggest ally will be tools for monitoring kidney health. Testing your kidney function will involve two component tests. First is the ACR (Albumin to Creatinine Ratio), which is a urine test that looks for the presence of albumin, a type of protein. Because a primary function of the kidney is to filter out protein, an excess of albumin is an early warning sign of kidney dysfunction and a precursor of chronic kidney disease (CKD). If you’re testing yourself, a test result positive for albumin should be confirmed over a period of several months. Three positive results over three months is definitive evidence of a deeper problem in your kidneys.

The second test is glomerular filtration rate or GFR, which is a blood test designed to determine the state of kidney disease of which there are 5. This test requires a doctor’s assistance as it measures the blood’s creatinine levels against specific genetic and demographic factors to demonstrate how well your kidneys are performing.

While the area of kidney health has been largely ignored by mainstream health coverage, that does appear to be changing. Companies like EthosBiosciences are developing new ways to test kidney function in research settings, which can lead to new treatment options for individuals with kidney dysfunction.. With the staggering statistic of one in three Americans being at risk for kidney disease, whether you believe you are at risk or not it’s important to maintain awareness of the issue.

Preventing the Issue

Some of the best ways to prevent kidney problems are also health strategies that benefit your entire body. In other words, the name of the game in kidney health is consistency. Maintaining proper hydration levels, avoiding toxicity spikes from medication or alcohol intake will set you along the correct path, however, there is still much to learn. lists these as the 5 most surprising habits that negatively impact our kidney health and increase the likelihood of facing kidney disease.

1.) Long-term use of NSAIDs: Over the counter painkiller anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen have been linked to as much as a 5% increase in kidney disease nationwide.

2.) Cigarette smoking: Smokers have more protein in their urine, and are more likely to require dialysis or a full-blown kidney transplant at some point in their lives.

3.) Exposure to contrast dye: Prolonged or continuous exposure to the contrast dyes used in X-ray procedures can lead to serious kidney problems known as Contrast Induced Nephropathy (NIP).

4.) Excessive salt intake: An excess of sodium in one’s diet is already hard on the kidneys, however the increased blood pressure associated with a high sodium diet is the leading cause of kidney disease in America.

5.) Drinking Soda: Studies have shown that drinking one or more cola-based beverages, diet or regular, is linked to elevated risk of kidney disease.

With new technology on the horizon and long overdue attention to the topic, kidney disease is becoming a challenge with more solutions as time moves on, however, it is important to stay mindful and informed of the reality at hand. While I have gone over what I believe to be a good introduction to this issue, I urge you to conduct some independent research to explore what risk factors might be present in your personal life. Many of the day to day habits of entrepreneurs exacerbate these issues even further, such as the overconsumption of caffeine or regular doses of potent supplements or nootropics. With prevalence of kidney problems reaching levels of an epidemic, it is important to recognize that we probably still do not know everything that is contributing to the explosive growth of these issues. And as is the case with any threat like this, when in doubt exercise awareness and caution.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Matthews is a dear colleague of mine, who is the owner of several CBD businesses in the Midwest US. He is also in the process of completing his book, which explores the rising tide of chronic kidney disease in America, especially among entrepreneurs.