What’s the Deal with Electrolytes and Kidney Disease?
Managing Electrolytes When You Have Kidney Disease
Kidney disease is a condition that affects over 15% of adults in the US alone – that’s over 37 million people. And, while there is no cure for kidney disease, the condition can be managed. Most people with kidney disease can continue to enjoy a rich, long and fulfilling life. That includes things like travel, exercise, and enjoying their favorite food and beverages – with a few caveats, of course.
If you have kidney disease, one of the first things you may need to change is your diet. Mostly, limiting the 3 main electrolytes found in many foods and beverages: potassium, phosphorus and sodium.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes such as phosphorus, sodium and potassium help your body function well. They help regulate your heartbeat, maintain your body’s pH level, and of course, keep you hydrated. Without electrolytes, your cells can’t produce the electrical impulses needed to communicate with each other.
Most people associate these electrolytes with sports drinks and sodas but, they can also be found in many of the foods you eat, too.
You probably don’t think about your electrolyte balance on a regular basis but, for those who have kidney disease, an imbalance in sodium, potassium and phosphorus can pose a challenge. And, the risks of consuming too much can certainly outweigh the benefits.
How Do Kidneys Filter Waste?
Your kidneys are two of the most important organs in your body – they help filter out wastes and regulate the balance of electrolytes in your bloodstream. But, when your kidneys aren’t functioning as well as they should, it can throw things off balance.
Renal failure, also known as end-stage renal disease, is a condition where your kidneys stop working or may function at a very low level. This means that your kidneys no longer filter electrolytes from your bloodstream as efficiently, resulting in a buildup in your body.
Electrolytes and Kidney Disease: A Delicate Balance
An imbalance of sodium, potassium and phosphate can cause complications for people with renal failure. So, let’s look at how you can manage your electrolyte balance through food and drink if you have kidney disease.
Phosphorus is a very important electrolyte because it forms the building blocks of your cells – including your DNA. It can help your muscles recover after a workout and, in combination with calcium, it also supports strong bones and teeth.
Although phosphorus is necessary and beneficial – too much can lead to hyperphosphatemia in renal patients who are not watching dietary phosphorus intakes. For those with kidney disease or who have been diagnosed with end stage renal disease, this can lead to additional disorders like hypocalcemia.
What is Hyperphosphatemia?
Hyperphosphatemia is a condition caused by too much phosphate. Most people don’t have symptoms but, people with kidney disease and renal damage are at risk for developing a related condition called hypocalcemia.
Hypocalcemia happens when excess phosphate combines with calcium – lowering the calcium levels in your bloodstream. This results in calcium-phosphate crystals which can adhere to and harden your blood vessels, causing poor circulation, stroke and even heart attacks.
How to Maintain Your Phosphate Balance with Kidney Disease
Plenty of food and drinks contain phosphorus such as eggs, milk, chocolate and of course, soft drinks – in the form of phosphoric acid. For people with kidney disease, the recommended daily intake of phosphorus for adults is 700 to 1,250 mg. For perspective, the average soda or soft drink contains about 500 mg of phosphorus.
Because phosphorus occurs naturally in many foods, the key to keeping levels in check is to reduce consumption from unnecessary sources – like soft drinks that contain phosphoric acid. Fortunately, Zevia beverages has a line of phosphate-free beverages for anyone, including sodas, tea, energy, and mixers. With Zevia, it’s possible for people with kidney disease to enjoy their favorite flavor and keep phosphate levels low.
Sodium plays an important role in helping your nerves and muscles function properly. It also helps your body maintain the right fluid balance. Fully functioning kidneys expel excess sodium from your bloodstream through urine and sweat – helping to maintain a consistent level in your body.
However, damaged kidneys don’t filter sodium as efficiently which can lead to a buildup called hypernatremia.
What is Hypernatremia?
Hypernatremia is a condition caused by too much sodium. And, while sodium is an important mineral for maintaining hydration, a buildup of sodium can lead to feelings of thirst. Severe hypernatremia can also cause other symptoms such as confusion, muscle twitches, seizures – even coma or death.
How to Maintain Your Sodium Balance with Kidney Disease
Many foods contain sodium and sodas and sports drinks can be a source of hidden sodium, as well. If you have kidney disease or are on dialysis, it’s important to read labels and choose foods and drinks with a low sodium content. Many carbonated beverages contain sodium additives, like sodium benzoate. Zevia beverages, however, contain no sodium additives and are a great way to enjoy a tasty beverage without the unnecessary sodium.
If you’ve spent any time lifting weights at the gym or enjoy running, you probably know that eating a banana after your workout is a great way to prevent muscle cramps. That’s because bananas are high in potassium – an electrolyte that helps your cells, nerves and muscles function.
Potassium is found in high amounts in some foods like bananas and spinach but, it’s also hidden in drinks like vitamin waters and sports drinks. Healthy kidneys filter potassium from the bloodstream into the urine. But, people with kidney damage should pay special attention to their potassium intake, as high levels can lead to hyperkalemia.
What is Hyperkalemia?
Hyperkalemia is a condition caused by too much potassium. Most people don’t notice that they have hyperkalemia until the condition has become severe. That’s because mild cases have very few to no symptoms. Severe hyperkalemia can lead to heart palpitations and for those with renal failure, dialysis is needed to remove the excess potassium.
How to Maintain Your Potassium Balance with Kidney Disease
Choose foods that are low in potassium – berries, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, and fish such as salmon are a few examples of low potassium foods to add to your diet. Exercise is also an important part of staying healthy with kidney disease and a potassium-free energy drink can be a great way to hydrate before or after your workout.
If you have kidney disease and your doctor has approved you for caffeine consumption, Zevia Energy is an excellent alternative to conventional energy drinks.
The Wrap Up
Electrolytes are important building blocks to help keep your body healthy and performing at its best – even if you have kidney disease. From regulating your heartbeat to maintaining your muscles, their job is never done. Staying healthy with kidney disease doesn’t mean eliminating electrolytes completely but, maintaining a kidney-healthy diet that can help you feel your best between dialysis sessions.
The renal diet can be overwhelming, and intricate. Work closely with a healthcare practitioner, like a Registered Dietitian, for specific recommendations. Second, start small! Simply making one change, such as swapping your beverages with sodium, potassium, and phosphorus, for Zevia beverages, can make a huge difference.
Jenny Hart is a health and wellness writer with a background in healthcare services administration. She has a passion for travel, cycling, and books. her focus is topics related to the effects of aging on health, and she is interested in research that can help people age better. When she isn't writing or traveling, she's traversing NYC with her two dogs Poochie and Ramone.