The American Kidney Fund Blog

AKF logoI was honored that The American Kidney Fund (www.kidneyfund.org) asked me to write a blog for them. This is that blog. Once it was published last Thursday, I started thinking. If you share the blog and ask those you shared with to share it, too, and they asked their friends to share it, too… image how many people would become aware of Chronic Kidney Disease. Will you do that?

Slowing Down CKD—It Can Be Done

When a new family doctor told me nine years ago that I had a problem with my kidneys—maybe chronic kidney disease (CKD)–my first reaction was to demand, “What is it and how did I get it?”

No doctor had ever mentioned CKD before.

I was diagnosed at stage 3; there are only 5 stages. I had to start working to slow it down immediately. I wanted to know how medication, diet,stages of CKD exercise and other lifestyle changes could help. I didn’t want to be told what to do without an explanation as to why… and when I couldn’t get an explanation that was acceptable to me, I started researching.

I read just about every book I could find concerning this problem. Surprisingly, very few books dealt with the early or moderate stages of the disease.  Yet these are the stages when we are most shocked, confused, and maybe even depressed—and the stages at which we have a workable chance of doing something to slow down the progression in the decline of our kidney function.

I’ve learned that 31 million people—14 percent of the population—have CKD, but most don’t know they have it. Many, like me, never experienced any noticeable symptoms. Many, like me, may have had high blood pressure (hypertension) for years before it was diagnosed. Yet, high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of CKD.

I saw a renal dietician who explained to me how hard protein is on the kidneys… as is phosphorous… and potassium… and, of course, sodium. Out bananawent my daily banana—too high in potassium. Out went restaurant burgers—larger than my daily allowance of protein. Chinese food? Pizza? Too high in sodium. I embraced an entirely new way of eating because it was one of the keys to keeping my kidneys functioning in stage 3.

Another critical piece of slowing down CKD is medication. I was already taking meds to lower my blood pressure when I was first diagnosed with CKD. Two more prescriptions have been added to this in the last nine years: a diuretic that lowers my body’s absorption of salt to help prevent fluid from building up in my body (edema), and a drug that widens the blood vessels by relaxing them.

For a very short time, I was also taking a drug to control my pre-diabetes, but my doctor and I achieved the same effects by changing my diet even more. (Bye-bye, sugars and most carbs.) The funny thing is now my favorite food is salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I never thought that would happen: I was a chocoholic!

Exercise, something I loved until my arthritis got in the way, was also important. I used to dance vigorously several nights a week; now it’s once a week with weights, walking, and a stationary bike on the other days. I think I took sleep for granted before CKD, too, and I now make it a point to blues dancersget a good night’s sleep each day. A sleep apnea device improved my sleep—and my kidney function rose another two points.

I realized I needed to rest, too. Instead of giving a lecture, running to an audition, and coming home to meet a deadline, I slowly started easing off until I didn’t feel like I was running on empty all the time. I ended up happily retiring from both acting and teaching at a local college, giving me more time to work on my CKD awareness advocacy.

I was sure others could benefit from all the research I had done and all I had learned, so I wrote my first book, What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, in 2011. I began a blog after a nephrologist in India told me he wanted his newly diagnosed patients to read my book, but most of them couldn’t afford the bus fare to the clinic, much less a book. I published each chapter as a blog post. The nephrologist translated my posts, printed them and distributed them to his patients—who took the printed copies back to their villages. I now have readers in 106 different countries who ask me questions I hadn’t even thought of. I research for them and respond with a blog post, reminding them to speak with their nephrologists and/or renal nutritionists before taking any action… and that I’m not a doctor.

What is itEach time I research, I’m newly amazed at how much there is to learn about CKD…and how many tools can help slow it down. Diet is the obvious one. But if you smoke or drink, stop, or at least cut down. If you don’t exercise, start. Adequate, good quality sleep is another tool. Don’t underestimate rest either; you’re not being lazy when you rest, you’re preserving whatever kidney function you have left. I am not particularly a pill person, but if there’s a medication prescribed that will slow down the gradual decline of my kidney function, I’m all for it.

My experience proves that you can slow down CKD. I was diagnosed at stage 3 and I am still there, nine years later. It takes knowledge, commitment and discipline—but it can be done, and it’s worth the effort. I’m sneaking up on 70 now and know this is where I want to spend my energy for the rest of my life: chronic kidney disease awareness advocacy. I think it’s just that important.

IMG_1398SlowItDownCKD 2015 Book Cover (76x113)

 

SlowItDownCKD is the umbrella under which Gail Rae-Garwood writes her CKD books and blog, offers talks, participates in book signings, is interviewed on podcasts and radio shows, and writes guest blogs. Her website is www.gail-raegarwood.com.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m so grateful for all you do to increase awareness of CKD. Do you know of any efforts or legislation in the works to require manufacturers to inlude the phosphorous and potassium counts on their food labeling? With the increase in the numbers of people being diagnosed with CKD in the US it would certainly be helpful to have these minerals listed. I don’t even bother to look up potassium amounts on many foods because I already know there won’t e any information. I am in stage 4 with high potassium. Any help or advice would be most appreciated. Thanks, Andrea

    • Thanks, Andrea. You can help spread awareness of CKD too by sharing this blog post and asking those you share it with to share it, too. Potassium help is on the way. This is from the FDA and will be in effect as of 7/28/18: “Manufacturers must declare the actual amount, in addition to percent Daily Value of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. They can voluntarily declare the gram amount for other vitamins and minerals.” I’m hoping phosphorus is one of those ‘other vitamins and minerals,’ because I haven’t found any legislation on declaring the amounts of that on food labels yet. By the way, smaller manufacturers are exempt from this ruling. So much for shopping local.

      Meanwhile, do you have lists of high potassium and phosphorus foods? There are some in each of my books. This is not an easy task, but the lists will be helpful. Much luck.

  2. God bless you Gail! I am also nearing 70 with stage 4 CKD and Multiple Myeloma that is smoldering. I take your blogs seriously because they are ‘eye-openers’. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to let me know, Shane. It can get lonely on this side of the computer. Readers like you make it less so. I hope you’re doing well at staying on top of your health. Please share this blog and ask those you share it with to share it, too. That’s one way you can help spread CKD awareness.


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