Kidney health

Lifestyle Changes


Some people we spoke to said that their diet was already healthy, so they hadn’t needed to make any changes. Others said that they had changed their diet, for example by reducing the amount of salt, fat or sugar they ate.
Justine says she improved her diet after learning that she had high blood pressure. Eric’s had improved since retiring because he no longer ate fry-ups in his workplace canteen. Laura eats a largely vegetarian, home-cooked, organic diet. She had declined an offer of medicines to lower the levels of cholesterols in her blood, preferring to do this by dietary means. By contrast James eats whatever he likes but takes medicine to control his cholesterol.
Changing one’s diet can be very hard, particularly for people with other health problems that limit what they can eat, such as diabetes, or gastrointestinal conditions such as diverticulitis, hiatus hernia, colitis or Crohn’s disease. Fortunately, almost all health conditions can be helped by eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in salt, fat and sugar and includes lots of fruit and vegetables. Some foods must be avoided when taking certain medicines. For instance Simon had to avoid grapefruit, cranberry and foods rich in vitamin K (such as green vegetables) because they reduce the effectiveness of warfarin. Grapefruit can also interact with some types of blood pressure lowering medicines, and with statins used to control cholesterol.
Lesley found that certain foods or drinks gave her symptoms that she attributed to her kidney condition but could also have been caused by other things; she had found it helpful to follow dietary advice aimed at people with more advanced kidney disease. Symptoms don’t usually occur until kidney performance reaches stage 4 or 5; Jim B had adopted a special kidney diet when his condition reached stage 5.

Some people had been advised or had read that they should keep their fluid intake up. While drinking a healthy amount of fluid will prevent dehydration, it is not known whether drinking a larger volume of fluid than normal can slow down the progression of kidney disease.
Other factors affecting how easy it was to change dietary habits included having to cook food for other people or if arthritic pain or poor mobility limited the amount of time they could stand up to cook meals. Elizabeth pointed out that living alone meant there was less incentive to cook proper meals. Simon was just getting over a cold and said he wanted to eat more healthily but that, ‘when you’re feeling like absolute rubbish you want to eat rubbish’.
Some said they would like more advice and information about how they could change their diet to help their kidneys. Others had seen a dietitian, usually for conditions such as diabetes, or had received dietary advice at cardiac rehabilitation classes.
Weight loss

Some of the people we spoke to wanted to lose weight but found it very difficult. Donald said he had failed to lose weight despite changing his diet because of his diabetes. Flo said she was too old to bother at age 70.
Many of those who had lost weight had done so by attending slimming classes such as Slimming World or Weight Watchers. After attending classes Justine found she lost weight not just by cutting out certain foods but also by eating more vegetables. Not everyone who had lost weight managed to keep it off. People who are taking diuretic medicines (water tablets) may find their weight changes according to how much fluid they are retaining at any particular time.
Physical activity

Some people we spoke to considered themselves reasonably fit or said they were on their feet all day so didn’t feel they needed to increase their levels of physical activity. Health or mobility problems limited other people’s ability to be active, but most tried to do some level of activity. Walking was popular although Ian said his Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease limited the distance he could walk on cold days. Other forms of activity included gym exercises, gardening, golf, cycling and swimming.

Among the people we spoke to were those who had never smoked, those who had smoked in the past and successfully quit or were trying to quit (either with professional help or going it alone), those who had cut down or were trying to do so, as well as current smokers.
Roy had declined professional help in his efforts to cut down. He found it difficult to cut down as his wife still smoked. John X had been advised to quit smoking and reduce his alcohol consumption. He found it too difficult to do both at the same time, but has succeeded in cutting down the number of cigarettes he smokes. Lesley enjoyed smoking and had not tried to quit because she was afraid to fail in her attempts.
Alcohol reduction

The people we spoke to drank different amounts. Liban drank no alcohol at all because of religious reasons, Margaret didn’t drink because she didn’t enjoy it, Peter and Bernard had given it up for health reasons. Others drank alcohol only occasionally, or regularly but within recommended limits (current guidance is no more than 14 units a week for both men and women - NHS Choices 2016). Some drank more than this and were worried about the effects on their health.

Eric said he had reduced his consumption since retiring from work; Simon cut down because too much alcohol can interfere with the warfarin he now takes for his heart condition. Laura believes she drinks too much but is surprised that her GP has not advised her to cut down because of her kidney condition.
For detailed healthy lifestyle advice see the NHS Choices website.

Last reviewed August 2017.
Last updated August 2017.


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