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You might think of vitamin D as being essential for strong bones, but not necessarily connected to kidney health. However, some research shows a connection between vitamin D and kidney health. Here’s why low vitamin D might be a warning sign of kidney disease — and how vitamin D might protect your kidneys.

Your Kidneys’ Functions

Your kidneys are your body’s filtration system. Each day, they filter about 200 quarts of fluid and remove wastes, toxins, and extra fluid from your blood. About two quarts end up as urine, while the rest gets recycled and returned to your bloodstream.

Your kidneys play other vital roles too. They help:

  • Release hormones that regulate your blood pressure.
  • Make red blood cells.
  • Convert vitamin D into an active form your body and bones can use.

This is why it’s essential to take care of your kidneys. Poor kidney function impacts so many aspects of your health.

Not only will toxins and too much fluid build up in your body, but you might develop high blood pressure. Kidney disease may also cause anemia because your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.

When your kidneys aren’t working as they should, your bones can become brittle. That’s because your body needs the active form of vitamin D to work with calcium to keep them strong.

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Vitamin D and Your Kidneys

Vitamin D has a special relationship with your kidneys. You need healthy kidneys to convert the vitamin D you take in into its active form.

Still, it’s not clear if low vitamin D levels are a cause or an effect of chronic kidney disease.

Aim for Healthy Vitamin D Levels

It’s essential to keep an eye on your vitamin D level — especially if you have kidney disease or are at risk. Make sure you have it checked at your annual wellness exam. And aim to get a healthy dose of vitamin D each day.

If you spend some time outside several days a week, you’ll get vitamin D from the sun. About 5 to 30 minutes of sunlight on your skin (without sunscreen) should cover you, depending on the time of year. In the summer, you need less sun exposure because the sun is stronger.

You can also get vitamin D from your diet. It’s highest in these foods:

  • Salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, and light tuna.
  • Egg yolks.
  • Fortified plant or cow’s milk.
  • Mushrooms, if they’re grown in UV light.

Healthy adults under the age of 70 need 600 IU (15 mcg) each day. If you’re over 70, aim for 800 IU (20 mcg). If you have chronic kidney disease, you might need more or a different form of vitamin D, so ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.

Protect Your Kidneys

It is important is to take steps to avoid high blood pressure and diabetes. They’re responsible for more than two-thirds of the cases of chronic kidney disease.

Fortunately, everyone can do a few easy things to reduce their hypertension and diabetes risk. Many of these can help boost your vitamin D levels at the same time:

  • Eat more oily fish. It’s a good source of vitamin D, and its healthy fat reduces your blood pressure.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk or participate in physical activity outside each day. It helps lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight, and the sunshine boosts your vitamin D.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Plant foods protect your kidneys, promote a healthier weight, and keep blood pressure and blood sugar down.
  • Cut back on salty processed foods and sugary beverages. Both increase your risk of developing kidney disease.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Vitamin D Deficiency in Chronic Kidney Disease: Recent Evidence and Controversies. LINK

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D. LINK

National Kidney Foundation. Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Early Signs of Kidney Disease. LINK

National Kidney Foundation. How Your Kidneys Work. LINK

National Kidney Foundation. The Right Food Can Help Fight Kidney Disease. LINK

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