Preventing Kidney Disease is in Our Blood

Early symptoms and hints about kidney health often get overlooked, even though more than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease. Kidney damage typically occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure and advancing age. Secondary risks include obesity, autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, and systemic infections. Like with most health issues and chronic diseases, awareness and early intervention are critical.

Our kidneys filter extra water and wastes out of our blood, and make urine. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, make red blood cells, help bone health, and create hormones that bodies need to stay healthy. Kidney disease means that the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body and also cause other problems that can harm our health.

When it occurs slowly, damage to the kidneys is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function — because of illness, or injury, or because they have taken certain medications that may have harmed them — this is called acute kidney injury. It can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease
  • A family history of kidney problems

Early detection is very important, especially since you may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine. Both are simple tests your doctor can conduct or coordinate.

The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease, since people with kidney disease are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

Kidney disease usually does not go away. Instead, it may get worse over time and can lead to kidney failure. If the kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary.

Here are 10 ways to help keep your kidneys healthy.

  • Exercise regularly or remain physically active as much as possible
  • Don’t overuse over-the-counter painkillers (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Cut back on salt;  read labels carefully and aim for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day
  • Get an annual physical
  • Control your weight by following a healthful diet, and choose foods that are heart healthy, including fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
  • Know your family’s medical history
  • Monitor blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels
  • Learn about kidney disease
  • Don’t smoke tobacco products or abuse alcohol — both can make kidney damage worse
  • Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you’re at risk for kidney disease

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Adding Some Culture to Our Diets

Coming out of the winter months we’ve been ducking bacteria left and right, washing our hands as often as possible, properly preparing our food, and taking antibiotics for bacterial infections. However, there’s a flip side to the bacteria story that doesn’t get as much attention. There are “good” bacteria, as well as “bad” bacteria, and one of those “good” types of bacteria aids digestion and promotes a healthier digestive system.

Probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning “for life”) are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in our intestines. Normally, the human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote healthy digestion. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. 

Only certain types of bacteria or yeast (called strains) have been shown to work in the digestive tract. Probiotics mimic our natural digestive system, and have been used for hundreds of years in fermented foods and cultured milk products. Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, including yogurt. Additionally, probiotic-laced beverages are popular in Japan. While their positive health benefits have been established, researchers continue studying the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.

Many people use probiotics to prevent or limit diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness, and a decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ailments, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.

They’re also recommended to help prevent infections in the digestive tract, and to help control immune responses or inflammations, such as irritable bowel disease or syndrome. Probiotics also are being studied for benefits relating to colon cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and skin infections.

In addition to natural substances, probiotics also are available as dietary supplements. However, as with any dietary supplement, you should discuss its benefits with your physician or a licensed nutritionist, as supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs, and may not be suitable for people with specific illnesses, conditions or medical histories. The same precaution is extended to women who are pregnant or considering getting pregnant. Make sure contents and the strain of probiotic in the supplement are clearly marked — not all are beneficial for different conditions.

So, get in the habit of eating yogurt that includes live and active cultures, particularly those brands and labels that are not loaded with sugar. Remember, yogurt comes from milk, so in addition to the active cultures, yogurt eaters benefit from several other nutrients found in dairy foods, like calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium, and magnesium.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Keep Eating Veggies and Fruit, whether Fresh, Frozen or Canned

If you live in New England, your thirst for fresh fruit and vegetables during the winter months must be satiated with imports from California, from hot houses or hydroponic food producers, or from other countries, mainly those in South America. However, that doesn’t mean you should cut back on vegetables and fruit until your garden’s ready to be harvested or local farm stands open again. Your supermarket offers a wide variety of fresh, frozen, and canned veggies and fruit, and surprisingly, many offer the same nutritional value found in fresh produce …in some cases, they’re even better than fresh!

Most of the produce we buy in a grocery store was picked at least several days ago, likely not at its peak ripeness — if picked too early, it can spoil en route to the store. Fresh produce also degrades and loses some of its nutritional value after picking and during transport. Once fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested, they undergo higher rates of respiration– a physiologic process in which plant starches and sugars are converted into carbon dioxide, water, and other by-products — leading to moisture loss, reduced quality, and susceptibility to micro-organism spoilage. 

Refrigeration during transport helps to slow the deterioration, but by the time we eat a fresh vegetable that traveled across continents to reach us, a substantial amount of its nutritional value may be lost. We can help maximize the nutritional value of our fresh produce by choosing locally-grown produce when in season, refrigerating fruits and veggies to help slow down nutrient losses, and steaming rather than boiling them when cooking to minimize loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Produce destined for freezing is picked at its maximal ripeness, quickly frozen to a temperature that retains its maximum nutritional value and flavor, and kept frozen until it gets to the freezer in your local store. While there is some initial nutrient loss with the first steps in the freezing process — washing, peeling, and heat-based blanching (done for vegetables, but usually not fruits) — the low temperature of freezing keeps the produce good for up to a year on average. Once thawed, it has maintained the majority of its original nutritional value. And depending on how you cook or prepare the food, it may taste quite similar to its fresh counterpart.

The process differs for canned produce and fruit, and though still healthy, there may be some loss of nutritional value.  Similar to frozen, the product is picked at its maximal ripeness, blanched (this time for longer duration and with somewhat increased nutrient loss for heat-sensitive compounds compared to frozen), and then canned.  Oftentimes, sugary syrup or juice is added to canned fruit. Salt also is added to many vegetables to help retain flavor and avoid spoilage. These additions can take a very healthy fruit or vegetable and make it much less nutritionally desirable than its fresh or frozen counterpart. 

But without these additions, in general the nutritional value of canned fruits and vegetables is similar to fresh and frozen.  For fruits, look for canned fruit that is “in its own juice.”  For vegetables, check the sodium content on the nutritional label and aim for vegetables with “no added salt” and without added butter, cheese, or cream sauces.  Because the canned produce is maintained in an oxygen-free environment, canned foods can last for years, but be weary of dented or bulging cans.   

So the bottom line is that by the time they are consumed, most fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables seem to be nutritionally similar.  Each has the same fat, carbohydrate, and protein content as the pre-harvest fruit. Ultimately you might find that choosing a mix of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables will help you and your family to more easily, inexpensively, and creatively enjoy many daily servings of fruits and vegetables without sacrificing nutritional value. 

As a final note, mineral, fiber, carbohydrate, protein, and fat levels are similar in fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables, but vitamin values will vary. Here’s a brief guide for maximizing nutritional value of your fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables, based on primary nutritional research:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen.  If fresh produce is stored at the appropriate temperature and consumed in a relatively short period of time, then it is the best source of vitamin C.  However, during prolonged storage, vitamin C degrades rapidly.  It is also lost with blanching (though some fruits with ascorbic acid that undergo freezing may retain more vitamin C than fresh). A large percentage of vitamin C is lost with the initial canning process.

B vitamins:  Most B vitamins are sensitive to heat and light, which leads to significant loss with blanching used in freezing and canning. Thus, fresh tends to be the best source.

Polyphenolic compounds: Water-soluble polyphenolic compounds, found primarily in the skins of peaches, pears and apples, are lower in products that are frozen or canned without the skin compared to fresh.  But, if you keep the skin or if the juice is included, levels are as high or higher in canned versus fresh products.

Fat-soluble vitamin A and carotenoids and vitamin E:  Little fat-soluble vitamins are lost in blanching, so overall, frozen and canned are just as good as fresh.  Nutrient losses depend on the specific fruit or vegetable.  For example, fresh green beans have more beta-carotene than frozen or canned.  However, frozen peas have more beta-carotene than either fresh or canned.  Canned tomatoes have the highest levels of beta-carotene and lycopene, most likely due to heat-induced release of the nutrient with blanching.

Whatever you choose, however, remember that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you fill half your plate at every meal with fruit and vegetables!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Spring Forward into New Health and Wellness Resolutions

Remember those calendars that tick down toward the holidays as we near the end of the year? Well, we can probably use one right now that tells us how many days into the new year we’ve already gone, since January has long disappeared over a distant horizon, as have many of those great resolutions we probably made.

Millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions regarding health, wellness and other goals such as savings, travel, charity work. Maybe we wanted to lose weight, exercise more, or quit smoking. Those all are laudable goals, but like the vast majority of Americans who made such resolutions, we probably won’t complete our mission. Surveys have found that by springtime, 68% of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution have broken it. After one year, only 15% claim success.

Still, at least half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, which is why health clubs, diet programs, and smoking-cessation clinics spend so much on advertising at the end of the year; they know millions of people on Dec. 31 are going to resolve to lose weight and get fit.

But don’t despair. The secret to self-improvement is persistence, not perfection. Spring is a great opportunity to renew resolutions, or to make new ones. The chaos of the holidays are past, the weather is starting to improve, days are getting longer, and we know that, before too long, coats will be off and bodies won’t be hidden under bulky clothes anymore! And if you’re an employer, you aren’t too far into 2013 to stop, take stock, and determine how those good intentions regarding health and wellness programs in the workplace are going to evolve into action plans.

The first step, of course, is to ensure you have a plan — without a roadmap, you’re going to struggle. The Cheshire Cat prophesized, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But contrary to that dim view, if you want to get somewhere specific, you need to know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, implement action steps — and measure as you go so you know when you arrive.

If you’re an employer, you don’t have to do the planning yourself — you have staff that would probably welcome being asked to do something where they could have a voice in the planning, execution and benefits of their energy. Our job, as leaders, is to engage people and get them to share our vision – or for us to solicit and buy into their vision, or find a compromise — and then to ensure that achievable goals and action steps are created.

That requires commitment, communication, time, measurement, and rewards. Establish a realistic timeframe, encourage people to participate, let them drive, and create incentives for rewarding them when goals are achieved. Change doesn’t have to be dramatic; it just has to be visible, ongoing and realistic. The trick is to constantly renew and loudly communicate our desire to fulfill our goals, and to keep at it, modifying strategy until we achieve them. More than half the fun, as people say, is in the effort — so lead the charge, support and recognize every step, and enthusiasm and support is bound to bubble up as surely as the days get longer every week!

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections.