Improving Kidney Health With Blueberries

  • Catrin Emily Jones  Bachelor of Science - BS, Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse/Nursing, Swansea University

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Introduction

A brief overview of the importance of kidney health

Our kidneys are organs that are part of our urinary system. Typically humans are born with two kidneys that are bean-shaped and located below the ribcage. It is important to protect the health of our kidneys because they play many vital roles in supporting our body.1

Blueberries as a potential aid in improving kidney health

One easy method of maintaining the kidney’s function is keeping a nutritious diet that comprises fruit and vegetables.2 One particular fruit that is a rich source of dietary fibre is the blueberry. Its properties provide significant contributions to the kidney’s health.

Understanding kidney health

Functions of the kidneys

When blood passes through our kidneys, they filter waste products, excess water and other impurities from our blood via our urine.3 The kidneys help regulate our blood pressure and produce red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to the tissues in our body.4, 5 Our kidneys assist in keeping our bones healthy. Additionally, kidneys add and maintain a balanced amount of water, salts, and minerals in our blood, such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium Our kidneys’ function of maintaining the balance of these electrolytes is vital for various bodily processes such as proper nerve and muscle function, maintaining acid-base balance, and ensuring our bodies are hydrated.

Common causes of kidney problems

Perhaps the most known type of kidney problem is chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD presents as gradual damage to the kidneys and diminished function of the kidneys that persists beyond three months.6 This means the kidneys can no longer filter blood as they usually do. The cause of chronic kidney disease is not always known, however, known risk factors are diabetes and hypertension.6 The main symptom is a concentration of albuminuria, which refers to the presence of protein in the urine, and diabetic glomerulosclerosis, which is the scarring or hardening of blood vessels in our kidneys.6 CKD is a serious issue across the globe with a universal prevalence of 13.4% and a mortality rate of approximately 1.2 million per year.6 If it is left untreated, CKD can ultimately progress to end-stage renal disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.6 

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a common health problem in hospitalised patients, and especially in older adults. AKI occurs when there is a sudden loss of excretory kidney function, which can subsequently lead to CKD.7 AKI is part of a range of conditions termed “acute kidney diseases and disorders”. AKI is associated with sepsis, drugs and invasive procedures because it mostly occurs in elderly individuals who are in hospital.7

Importance of preventive measures

Kidney disease cannot always be prevented, however, it is possible to take precautionary steps to reduce the progression to a chronic condition. These steps include maintaining a healthy balanced diet, quitting smoking, reducing or abstaining from consumption of alcohol, and exercising regularly.

Benefits of blueberries for kidney health

Overview of blueberries’ nutritional profile

The Food and Agriculture Organisation verified that blueberries are one of the five healthiest fruits for human consumption.8 This is true because blueberries have a rich content of vitamins, as well as phenolic compounds that bear high antioxidant activity. Blueberries are known to specifically contain a high quantity of anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are a subclass of flavonoids which contribute to the blueberry’s colour and they possess strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds are associated with reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and improving blood vessel function, contributing to overall kidney protection.9

Blueberries contain quercetin, which is a flavonoid that also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin’s anti-inflammatory effects may help alleviate inflammation in the kidneys, potentially reducing the risk of kidney damage.9

There is a high concentration of vitamin C in blueberries. Vitamin C is another antioxidant, that particularly plays an important role in immune function and collagen synthesis. Vitamin C in blueberries contributes to neutralising free radicals, decreasing oxidative stress and supporting the kidneys’ overall health. 10

The fibre in blueberries may not be an antioxidant however, it succeeds in contributing to overall kidney health. A sufficient intake of fibre aids heart health and manages blood sugar levels, which is linked to a lower risk of chronic kidney disease.11

Additionally, resveratrol and ellagic acid are two polyphenols that have antioxidant properties. Studies11 suggest that both of them protect against kidney damage by mitigating oxidative stress. More than this, resveratrol also has anti-inflammatory effects, which helps reduce inflammation.11

Blueberries are an ideal dietary choice when keeping kidney health in mind. This is because blueberries are low in sodium and phosphorus.1

One of the kidneys’ important roles is to filter out waste from our body via urine, and sodium assists with this by maintaining the right amount of fluids inside our body. That said, if our body’s sodium content is too high then this interferes with how our kidneys eliminate water, possibly leading to high blood pressure and kidney disease.12

Our body utilises phosphorus to build strong bones.12 Kidneys that are functioning well can remove extra phosphorus from our blood.

More than this, blueberries also contain potassium, which plays a role in the function of our kidneys. However, too much or too little potassium can result in complications that impact our kidneys. The most common cause of potassium is kidney disease, which disables our kidneys from removing the extra potassium from our blood.12 That said, blueberries are a great dietary choice to ensure you receive a healthy balance of potassium, as ½ cup serving of blueberries contains fewer than 150 milligrams of potassium, making them a low-potassium fruit choice.8,10

Exploring other lifestyle factors influencing kidney health, low fluid intake and a low urine volume have shown to be significant risk factors for the development of kidney stones in first time as well as recurrent stone formers. The effects of dehydration also extend to the increased risk of chronic kidney disease.1,13 One study explored the effects of water supplementation and found that they are associated with lowering of blood pressure, diluting blood waste materials, and the protection of kidney function. Therefore, increasing your daily water intake could yield a number of health benefits.14

Keeping active and regularly exercising also produce positive effects on kidney function. Regular physical activity helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels, which supports the overall functioning of our kidneys as high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for kidney disease.15 Exercise contributes to better cardiovascular health by strengthening our heart and improving our blood circulation; our kidneys rely on a sufficient supply of blood to function.16 

Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising reduces the risk of developing diabetes and obesity, both of which are linked to an increased risk of kidney disease. Similarly, physical activity helps regulate blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes. Chronic inflammation is associated with kidney damage; regular physical activity has anti-inflammatory effects, which could help protect kidney tissue.17 

It is very important to note that while regular physical activity proves to provide some benefits to kidney health, people with existing kidney conditions should consult their healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise regime. 18 Seek individualised advice; the type or severity of your condition may require modifications to be made to the intensity of the physical activity.

In protecting the health of our kidneys as well as our overall well-being, it is wise to be mindful of our dietary patterns. Adverse health effects can arise from the excess consumption of salt and processed foods. 19 Too much salt can cause kidney stones by increasing the amount of calcium that we excrete through our urine.20 Excessive calcium in our urine creates harder work for our kidneys during filtration, worsening kidney disease.20

There are a number of different ways you could use blueberries in your daily meals, thereby incorporating them into your diet. Certain examples are:

  • blending blueberries into a smoothie for a convenient and portable snack/meal
  • blueberries to your salads for a subtle sweet taste
  • adding blueberries to your yoghurt to enrich its flavour
  • blueberries to your cereal or oatmeal to include a serving of fruit as well as boost your fibre intake 

Summary

It is important to look after our kidneys as they play a number of roles in supporting our body, including regulating our blood pressure, ensuring our hydration, our bone health, and the excretion of toxins and impurities from our blood. Kidney problems can occur as a result of conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, as found in Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Blueberries can benefit kidney health due to their nutritious range of health properties such as vitamins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. You can add blueberries more often into your diet by adding them to your breakfast cereals, yoghurts, salads and consuming them in other meal forms like smoothies.

References

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  • van Westing AC, Küpers LK, Geleijnse JM. Diet and kidney function: a literature review. Curr Hypertens Rep [Internet]. 2020 Feb 3 [cited 2023 Dec 22];22(2):14. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11906-020-1020-1
  • Khalaf EM, Taherian M, Almalki SG, Asban P, Kareem AK, Alhachami FR, et al. Relationship between exposure to heavy metals on the increased health risk and carcinogenicity of urinary tract (Kidney and bladder). Reviews on Environmental Health [Internet]. 2023 Apr 19 [cited 2023 Dec 17]; Available from: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/reveh-2022-0245/html
  • Tanaka M. Improving obesity and blood pressure. Hypertens Res [Internet]. 2020 Feb [cited 2023 Dec 17];43(2):79–89. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41440-019-0348-x
  • Tsiftsoglou AS. Erythropoietin (Epo) as a key regulator of erythropoiesis, bone remodeling and endothelial transdifferentiation of multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (Mscs): implications in regenerative medicine. Cells [Internet]. 2021 Aug [cited 2023 Dec 17];10(8):2140. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/10/8/2140
  • Kakitapalli Y, Ampolu J, Madasu SD, Sai Kumar MLS. Detailed review of chronic kidney disease. Kidney Diseases [Internet]. 2019 Dec 18 [cited 2023 Dec 17];6(2):85–91. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1159/000504622
  • Kellum JA, Romagnani P, Ashuntantang G, Ronco C, Zarbock A, Anders HJ. Acute kidney injury. Nat Rev Dis Primers [Internet]. 2021 Jul 15 [cited 2023 Dec 17];7(1):1–17. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41572-021-00284-z
  • Duan Y, Tarafdar A, Chaurasia D, Singh A, Bhargava PC, Yang J, et al. Blueberry fruit valorization and valuable constituents: A review. International Journal of Food Microbiology [Internet]. 2022 Nov 16 [cited 2023 Dec 23];381:109890. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168160522003622
  • Tobar‐Bolaños G, Casas‐Forero N, Orellana‐Palma P, Petzold G. Blueberry juice: Bioactive compounds, health impact, and concentration technologies—A review. Journal of Food Science [Internet]. 2021 Dec [cited 2023 Dec 17];86(12):5062–77. Available from: https://ift.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.15944
  • Varo MA, Serratosa MP, Martín-Gómez J, Moyano L, Mérida J. Influence of fermentation time on the phenolic compounds, vitamin C, colour and antioxidant activity in the winemaking process of blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) wine obtained by maceration. Molecules [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2023 Dec 17];27(22):7744. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/22/7744
  • Khalid W, Arshad MS, Jabeen A, Muhammad Anjum F, Qaisrani TB, Suleria HAR. Fiber‐enriched botanicals: A therapeutic tool against certain metabolic ailments. Food Science & Nutrition [Internet]. 2022 Oct [cited 2023 Dec 17];10(10):3203–18. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fsn3.2920
  • Ciosek Ż, Kot K, Kosik-Bogacka D, Łanocha-Arendarczyk N, Rotter I. The effects of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, fluoride, and lead on bone tissue. Biomolecules [Internet]. 2021 Apr [cited 2023 Dec 19];11(4):506. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2218-273X/11/4/506
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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Catrin Emily Jones

Bachelor of Science - BS, Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse/Nursing, Swansea University

Cat is a qualified mental health nurse who has worked across multiple sectors, such as hospital wards and in the community. Cat has several years of experience in geriatric nursing, specifically dementia care. She is bilingual and is fluent in both the English and Welsh languages.

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