How to Keep the Kidneys and Adrenals in Top Form
"The kidneys and the adrenal glands help the tissues in the body function normally, but they also have a number of other functions."
Today’s live episode with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, covers what we all need to know about the kidneys and the adrenal glands as we age. Dr. Nancy will talk about what they do, the common issues that plague them, and her top 6 tips to help keep them healthy. Plus, she’ll explain the controversial condition known as adrenal fatigue.
- 02:04: The Kidneys
- 04:14: The Adrenal Glands
- 06:04: Common Issues That Can Affect Kidneys
- 12:14: Common Issues That Can Affect The Adrenal Glands
- 18:40: 6 Tips for Keeping Kidneys and Adrenal Glands Healthy
- 36:27: Wrap-Up
Did you know the kidneys filter approximately a half a cup of blood every minute? As a matter of fact, that is one of the kidneys’ primary functions — to filter waste from the blood. The kidneys also filter extra water and make urine. Each kidney is shaped like a bean and is roughly the size of your fist. They are located on either side of the spine, near the bottom of your rib cage.
The kidneys make up one third of the urinary tract, which also consists of the bladder and the ureters, two thin tubes of muscle through which urine travels from the kidneys to the bladder.
They also work to eliminate acid produced by the body and seek to maintain balance between water, salt, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and sodium. You may have heard this referred to as reaching an alkaline state, or the body’s pH is in balance. This balance allows the tissues in the body to function at a normal level.
Additionally, the kidneys help:
- Make red blood cells
- Keep your bones strong
- Regulate blood pressure
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are about 1.5 to 3 inches in size, and sit on top of the kidneys. Each adrenal gland is made up of two layers: the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex is the larger, outer part of the adrenal gland and is responsible for producing the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones are referred to as “essential to life” because they serve extremely important functions necessary to stay healthy.
- Aldosterone helps regulate blood pressure.
- Cortisol helps your body adequately respond to stress. It also helps regulate your metabolism and blood sugar, improve memory, and helps the immune system function properly.
The adrenal medulla is the inner layer of the adrenal gland and it is responsible for producing what are called “non-essential” hormones, like adrenaline and epinephrine.
Both the kidneys and the adrenal glands are susceptible to bacteria and disease.
Common Issues That Can Affect Kidneys
This is perhaps the most common issue associated with the kidneys. Kidney stones occur when minerals build up in the kidneys and form deposits in the shape of stones. These can be extremely painful, especially when passing them through the urinary tract. If you’re lucky, all it takes is some short-term pain medication and lots of water to help a kidney stone pass naturally. Other times, however, kidney stones can become so large that you’re unable to pass them through the urinary tract, and surgery or shock wave treatments are necessary to break the stone into smaller, more passable pieces.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Sometimes, cysts can form on the kidneys. They are fluid-filled sacs that range from being the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball. These are often harmless, but polycystic kidney disease (PKD), is a genetic disorder that can harm the kidneys. PKD can cause the kidneys to become enlarged and can even lead to kidney failure. Additionally, PKD can lead to cysts forming in the liver and can affect the blood vessels in the heart and in the brain. It can also cause high blood pressure.
A kidney infection usually originates from somewhere else in the body, like the urinary tract. Bacteria spreads from the infected area into the kidneys and causes back pain, fever, and even vomiting. Women are more prone to kidney infections than men because the length of their urethra is shorter and it’s in closer proximity to the anus and vagina, where a lot of bacteria lives. That means it’s easier for the bacteria to reach the urethra, the bladder, and then the kidney’s, potentially.
Kidney disease happens when the kidneys cannot filter blood properly. People with diabetes and high blood pressure are at greater risk of kidney disease, which, if the kidneys go into complete failure, could require dialysis or a transplant.
Common Issues That Can Affect The Adrenal Glands
When the body experiences prolonged exposure to extreme levels of a chemical called adrenal glucocorticoids, Cushing’s disease can result. One adrenal glucocorticoid you might be familiar with is cortisol; when the body proposes too much cortisol, symptoms associated with Cushing’s might start to present themselves. People who take steroid medication for pre-existing conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma, are also at risk for developing Cushing’s.
Symptoms of Cushing’s include:
- Bruise easily
- Wounds won’t heal easily
- Round face or obesity in the upper part of the body
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Mood swings
- Thirst and need to urinate increases
Addison’s disease affects four in every 100,000 people, and it occurs when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol. The disease is an adrenal insufficiency that most often happens when the body’s immune system attacks itself, targeting and destroying the adrenals.
If left untreated, Addison’s can prove fatal.
Adrenal cancer, while rare, is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the adrenal cortex. Typically, the warning signs of adrenal cancer are:
- Increased hair growth
- Sudden weight loss
- Pain in the abdomen
- Irregular periods in women
Surgery is the best form of treatment in order to remove the cancer, but, as with all cancers, early detection is vital to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
Maybe you’ve heard of adrenal fatigue before. It’s commonly thought that feeling tired for no reason, craving coffee, soda, and junk food just to keep going, feeling stressed, struggling with depression, and low libido may all be symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
However, adrenal fatigue is not a recognized medical condition. It was invented by a chiropractor and naturopath named James Wilson who, in the absence of scientific evidence, coined the term (and the name of a book) “adrenal fatigue”. Adrenal fatigue involves the idea that our adrenal glands get overworked by stress and stop producing the hormones we need, including cortisol. The only problem is that it's a medical myth.
Now with those symptoms you may have a legitimate health issue, but according to endocrinologists, it’s not adrenal fatigue.
6 Tips for Keeping Kidneys and Adrenal Glands Healthy
Now let’s talk about things you can do to keep your kidneys and your adrenal glands healthy!
We can never advocate the importance of regular exercise enough. This is also true to maintain the health of your kidneys and adrenals. Participating in moderate exercise 3 to 5 times a week for 30 minutes or more not only lowers stress levels but lowers your risk of kidney disease as well. Exercise also prevents other forms of kidney damage by lowering blood pressure and improving heart health.
Drink your daily dose of fluids
One primary function of the kidneys is to process and eliminate waste from the body. One way to help this along is to make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Plus, drinking enough water can help regulate blood sugar and reduce your risk of diabetes, two issues that can greatly impact the health of your kidneys.
We recommend you drink half your body weight in ounces every day. On days when you’re super active or when you get a good workout, it’s a good idea to drink a little bit more than you otherwise would.
Monitor OTC intake
Over-the-counter medications include things like Claritin, Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, and even Rolaids. These can all impact the kidneys in a negative way, as excessive use of such drugs can cause permanent kidney damage. Look for more holistic ways to treat symptoms associated with headaches and allergies, which are two primary issues those OTCs are typically used to address. Peppermint, for instance, is an excellent natural remedy for headaches. Drink peppermint tea or place a few drops of peppermint essential oil on one palm, rub your hands together and inhale the scent. You can also create a peppermint steam by placing a few drops of peppermint essential oil or several peppermint tea bags in a bowl of steaming hot water. Place your face over the bowl and cover your head with a towel to let the steam work its magic.
To naturally find relief from allergies, use a neti pot to flush out allergens and mucous accumulating in the sinuses. You can find a neti pot at your local drug store, or at most health food stores. They also usually come with pre-measured saline rinse packets to get you started. There are a variety of rinses that you can buy, or you can make your own, using 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ a teaspoon of baking soda. Here’s how you use a neti pot:
- The water should be warm — use distilled or filtered water. If using filtered water from the fridge, warm it in a mug in the microwave for about 30 to 40 seconds. Make sure you test it with your finger first; you don’t want to burn your nasal passages!
- Place the saline rinse mixture in the neti pot and then add the warm water. Stir it with a spoon or swirl the neti pot around a little to make sure the mixture dissolves.
- Place the neti pot in your right nostril and lean your head to the left. You also want to lean your head forward slightly.
- Tip the neti pot into the nostril a bit more until the water starts to run through your sinuses and come out the other side. If you feel the water going down your throat, lean your head forward a bit more.
- Gently – we can’t stress this enough – gently blow your nose by keeping both nostrils unplugged. If you blow your nose too hard, you can hurt your ears.
- Refill the neti pot with the saline mixture and more water and repeat on the other side, placing the spout of the neti pot in the left nostril.
Note: if you have a deviated septum, you may not be able to use a neti pot, since the deviation could prevent the fluid from running through your sinuses.
To help find relief from allergies, you can also drink lots of fluids, especially warm ones like broth and tea, or give acupuncture a try. Steam can also help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Control your blood sugar
Kidney damage can arise in people with diabetes, because when there is too much sugar in your blood, the kidneys have to work overtime to filter it. The kidneys essentially burnout, which can have life-threatening consequences.
One way to control your blood sugar is to eat more fiber. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which leads to a slower rise in blood sugar. Foods high in fiber include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Chia seeds
These can help regulate diabetes and help keep the kidneys healthy as a result.
Load Up On Anti-inflammatory Foods
This one kind of goes hand in hand with controlling blood sugar, because a lot of the foods in Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet overlap with the ones that also help control blood sugar. Eating foods that ward off chronic inflammation can help keep the adrenal glands healthy.
The best anti-inflammatory foods that promote adrenal health include:
- Fatty, omega-3 rich fish like salmon or mackerel
- Sweet potatoes
As well as all the foods we already mentioned, make sure to include plenty of leafy green vegetables and lean proteins like eggs, chicken, and turkey.
Another great way to reduce inflammation in the body is to take a daily supplement like Smarter Curcumin. Curcumin is the concentrated active ingredient inside turmeric. It’s only about 2-3% of the turmeric root, but it’s a whopping 250 times more potent an inflammation-fighter than turmeric itself. A large part of the inflammation-fighting effect of curcumin comes from is its ability to inhibit key enzymes in the body known to promote inflammation. So, when coupled with eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods, taking Smarter Curcumin will up your chances of improving your adrenal health.
One primary function of the adrenals is to regulate the body’s inflammatory response and to regulate stress levels. A great way to ensure the adrenal glands are doing their job is to keep your stress levels at a minimum.
We know for some of you that might be difficult. But even with the most high-stress jobs and lifestyles, there are tools you can use to minimize your stress response within the body.
A few things you can do are:
- Practice deep-breathing techniques
- Build your social network
- Go for a walk
- Get creative — take up painting, writing, or learn to play a musical instrument
- Take up yoga or tai-chi
These are all wonderful ways to suppress the stress that can build up and tax our adrenal function.
The kidneys and the adrenal glands help the tissues in the body function normally, but they also have a number of other functions, including:
- Regulating blood pressure
- Maintaining immune function
- Regulating metabolism and the body’s inflammatory response
The kidneys are located at the base of the rib cage, on either side of the spine. The adrenals are organs that measure up to 3 inches in size, and sit one on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that help you respond and react to stress.
Both the kidneys and the adrenals are susceptible to a variety of issues from cysts to insufficiency to cancer and even failure.
Ways to prevent these types of diseases and ailments include:
- Eating anti-inflammatory foods
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Eliminating excess stress from your life and finding techniques that help you destress like yoga, deep breathing, or taking up a creative hobby
- Exercise regularly, even if it’s just going outside and taking a walk
So now you know how to keep your kidneys and adrenals at the top of their game!