DEAR DOCTORS: A recent blood test showed my creatinine levels are a bit high. My doctor said it's something we need to watch because that can be a symptom of chronic kidney disease. Is high creatinine really that big of a deal? What can you do to take care of your kidneys and get lower numbers?
DEAR READER: When it comes to general health, kidney function isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and cardiovascular health all get top billing. But those two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, play an integral role in keeping us alive.
Located just above the hips, one on each side of the spine, our kidneys have multiple roles in keeping us healthy. Among the most important is to remove waste from the blood. More than 26 litres of blood pass through the kidneys' intricate filtration system every hour. They also remove excess water from the tissues of the body, manufacture and excrete urine, release hormones that help regular blood pressure, play a role in bone health and the production of red blood cells, and maintain electrolyte balances that allow nerves, muscles and other tissues to function properly.
Creatinine, which is a waste product produced by the muscles, gets filtered out by the kidneys. Your blood test result got flagged because a buildup of creatinine in the blood can be a sign of impaired kidney function. This can lead to chronic kidney disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 15% of people in the United States are living with chronic kidney disease. And because this can be a silent disease with no symptoms until the condition becomes severe, up to 90% are not aware of it. As you can tell from these numbers, your question about how to improve and maintain kidney health is an important one.
The good news is that some easy lifestyle choices can help you maintain kidney health. The top two causes of chronic kidney disease are high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. That makes managing blood pressure and blood glucose levels a top priority. Someone diagnosed with these conditions should be vigilant about any medications they have been prescribed to manage them.
As with so many areas of good health, food also plays an important role. To keep your kidneys in top form, you should make it a priority to eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, lean proteins, beans, nuts, legumes, oily fish and healthful fats, and low in processed foods and added sugars. Regular exercise is important, as is staying adequately hydrated.
Some over-the-counter pain meds and anti-inflammatories can adversely affect kidney health. So can certain nutritional supplements and herbal remedies. Discuss the use of any of these with your doctor. It's also important to stop smoking and limit the use of alcohol. While a single high creatinine reading doesn't automatically equal kidney problems, it's important to listen to your doctor and keep this on your radar. Universal Features Syndicate
Dr Eve Glazier is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Dr Elizabeth Ko is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health.