Our kidneys are vital organs responsible for regulating blood pressure and filtering out toxins. Damage to the kidneys can sometimes be irreversible and you may be damaging your kidneys without even realizing it. There are many ways to protect your kidneys, but the first step is knowing what habits may be causing the damage in the first place.

Causes of Kidney Damage

Painkillers used over a long term, especially in high doses, can reduce blood flow to the kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation warns that taking over-the-counter painkillers for more than 10 days may cause damage to the kidneys. If you are taking painkillers, avoid drinking alcohol and increase the amount of fluids you drink each day. Speak with your doctor about what type of painkillers you are prescribed, especially if you already have kidney disease.

Smoking can interfere with medications and lead to poorly controlled blood pressure leading to kidney damage. It also slows the blood flow to the kidneys, which can worsen existing kidney disease.

Sugar-sweetened beverages may have more sugar in them than you realize. A 12-ounce cola has 39 grams of sugar — that’s nine teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Don't make the common mistake of only counting sugar in food, not drinks. Take into consideration how much sugar you are consuming in both, and check the labels on beverages. Research suggests that sugar may cause kidney disease, and that even diet sodas may have significant impact on kidney health.

Carbonated beverages often contain high levels of phosphoric acid, which has been linked with kidney stones and other kidney problems — giving us another reason to pass on the soda. Phosphoric acid, when consumed regularly, forces your kidneys to work harder to remove waste from the body.

High-sodium foods increase blood pressure and over time can lead to kidney failure. Sodium is found in more than the salt shaker on your kitchen table. Limit the amount of processed high-sodium foods you consume, including cured meats, sauces and seasonings with added salt. Before reaching for the salt shaker, taste your food and determine if it really needs salt or if you can instead add herbs and spices for more flavor.

What Diet Research Reveals

Poor diet and lifestyle habits may lead to obesity, diabetes and an increased risk of kidney disease. New research from Johns Hopkins University found that people on a diet high in processed foods, red meats, sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages, and low in fruit, whole grains and nuts were more likely to develop kidney disease.

Study participants with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 were twice as likely to develop kidney disease. Results from the study showed that poor diet and smoking influenced one's risk of developing kidney disease. "Unlike family history of kidney disease, diet, smoking, and obesity are modifiable lifestyle factors that we can all control. By eating well, quitting smoking and maintaining a normal weight, people can protect their kidneys and prevent future damage," said Dr. Alex Chang, a researcher from the study.

To learn more on this topic:
8 Foods That Protect Your Kidneys
Caring for Kidneys: How to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes Complications
Kidney-Friendly Foods