Drink up - why hydration is important for kidney health.
Drinking sufficient levels of fluid on a daily basis is an important part of kidney health. And it’s not just something we should be thinking about during the warmer summer months.
We are at the greatest risk of dehydration when we are too hot or too dry, have limited access to water or lose more water than usual. Warm or dry environments, such as centrally-heated homes, tend to increase our need for fluid. We can lose more fluid through sweating (due to exercise or hot climates), or through bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea.
The colour of our urine can be a clear indicator of whether we’re taking in enough fluids. We should aim to produce urine that’s straw coloured or paler but, if it’s any darker than this, it may suggest that we are dehydrated.
Dehydration, especially chronic dehydration, results in the production of urine which has a higher concentration of minerals and waste products. This can lead to the formation of crystals which can affect kidney function and contribute to certain kidney diseases, such as kidney stones.
Research suggests that drinking plain water, in particular, can have a potentially protective effect on kidney function.
How much should we drink?
The NHS recommends that women should drink eight 200ml glasses and men should drink ten 200ml glasses of fluid per day. This is supported by European recommendations.
Drinking plenty of fluids helps the kidneys to clear sodium, urea and waste products from the body, potentially lowering the risk of developing chronic kidney disease, according to researchers
in Australia and Canada.
Everyone is different and the right level of fluid intake depends on a range of factors. These can include the amount and type of exercise we do, weather conditions and health considerations such as being pregnant or breast feeding. In addition, some people with kidney disease, especially those whose kidneys have stopped working and are on treatments such as dialysis, must monitor their fluid intake very carefully.
If you have kidney disease, always speak to your health professionals before making any dietary changes.
Are you on dialysis?
If you’re on dialysis your daily fluid allowance is likely to be very restricted. Taking in too much fluid can cause problems ranging from weight gain and swelling to fluid in the lungs and heart problems.
It can help to stick to pure water and avoid caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks which require even more fluid to allow the body to properly process the toxins and chemicals they contain. Other tips can include chewing ice or enjoying frozen fruits (remembering to measure their likely fluid content) and limiting your salt intake.
Do ask your healthcare team if it’s possible to adjust your dialysis solutions if you feel dehydrated during dialysis itself.
Top tips to avoid dehydration
Fluid intake is important – whatever the weather. Here are seven top tips to help you ensure that you’re drinking enough each day:
- Whilst all fluid counts towards your fluid intake, water is one of the healthiest choices when it comes to maintaining kidney health.
- Sip water little and often.
- Women should aim to drink eight 200ml glasses of fluid a day.
- Men should aim to drink ten 200ml glasses of fluid a day.
- During warmer weather conditions or when exercising strenuously you may need to drink more water than normal, due to fluid losses through sweating.
- Track your urine colour – this should be straw coloured or paler. If it is any darker this, it is an indicator that you could be dehydrated.
- Keep a bottle of water handy when you are on the move or exercising.