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Obesity in Young Adults and Its Impact on Kidney Disease

It’s well-established that obesity comes with numerous negative heath impacts. What many people may not be aware of is that these issues don’t necessarily wait until later in life to manifest.

Young adults who suffer from obesity may experience a variety of problems that worsen as time goes on. One such ailment that this segment of the population is potentially at high risk for is kidney disease.

Defining Obesity:

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, or NIH, being classified as obese generally means that someone’s body weight exceeds the maximum considered healthy for their height. The term overweight has similar connotations, although it’s not as severe as obesity.[1] Measures like body mass index, or BMI, are commonly employed to determine whether individuals are overweight or obese.
Obesity and Wellness

Having high levels of body fat, which is typically associated with high BMIs, can induce numerous health risks. These may include various cancers, coronary heart disease, diabetes complications, respiratory issues and high blood pressure, or hypertension.
What Is Kidney Disease?

Modern humans are plagued by various forms of kidney disease. The kidneys, which eliminate waste products and fluids from the body through the urine, are major centers of chemical action.

Why Are Kidneys So Important?

In addition to creating urine through numerous biological processes, people’s kidneys produce hormones that impact how other organs work. Data from the National Kidney Foundation suggests they help with everything from balancing bodily fluids and synthesizing essential vitamin D to managing blood pressure. [2]

One critical function performed by kidneys is filtering the liquid content of the bloodstream. In a single 24-hour period, these paired organs clean around 200 quarts of liquid that can then be sent back into the circulatory system.

What Is Kidney Disease?

Different kinds of abnormalities can result in unique forms of kidney disease, also known as renal disease. For instance, about one-third of sufferers experience inflammation, or glomerulonephritis, that prevents them from eliminating waste and urine properly. Glomerulonephritis sufferers may also experience a condition called proteinuria, where the proteins that their blood normally uses to clot are improperly released by the kidneys into the urine. Noninflammatory renal disease, or nephrosis, may be associated with degeneration of the structures inside the kidneys.

What Happens to Kidney Disease Sufferers?

People affected by renal chronic kidney disease, or CKD, may experience trouble controlling their urination, or exhibit swelling and muscle cramping.[3] Some feel drained of energy or become unable to focus like they normally would.

Ultimately, the kidneys might fail. Chronic renal failure, or CRF, is an irreversible condition that can potentially result in fatal outcomes or significantly-reduced quality of life. Major medical treatments, like kidney transplantation surgery and dialysis, may become necessary to a CRF sufferer’s survival.

The symptoms and ailments commonly associated with renal failure also have serious secondary impacts on people’s health. For instance, someone who develops high blood pressure after their kidneys cease functioning might be more likely to suffer subsequent heart attacks or strokes.

How Could Obesity Worsen Kidney Disease?

Obesity is a whole-body condition. As a result, it may contribute to renal failure through various mechanisms.
Type 2 Diabetes

According to the NIH, the majority of people who suffer from type 2 diabetes are overweight.[4] Type 2 diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney failure, as it plays a role in about 44 percent of new medical cases.[5] While this isn’t a direct causal relationship, the potential for obese and overweight individuals to develop CKD after contracting diabetes remains high.

Although the majority of type 2 diabetes patients don’t experience failure-causing CKD, such events may occur even when diabetes is treated. CKD related to diabetes has been known to worsen over the course of years or decades, so damage might have time to spread and cause other problems.

Obese patients who have received diabetes diagnoses commonly have to submit to extensive medical testing and treatment regimens. Experts recommend remedies like meal planning, diligent blood-pressure testing and A1C blood-glucose monitoring. Patients should also limit their protein consumption and take blood-pressure medications to lower their hypertension risks.
Hypertension

The American Heart Association names high blood pressure as the number-two cause of kidney failure.[6] By damaging the arteries that pass through the kidneys, hypertension can prevent circulatory structures and filtration bodies inside these essential organs from getting sufficient oxygen. This, in turn, reduces the kidneys’ ability to filter blood efficiently and regulate vital body chemicals, such as acids, salts and hormones.

Hypertension-induced kidney damage may be a vicious cycle of sorts. When the kidneys are functioning properly, they release hormones that help control blood pressure all over the body. When high blood pressure compromises their abilities to perform such functions, existing blood pressure problems may grow worse. Kidneys that become increasingly blocked because they can’t filter waste properly might not fail until years down the line.
Are the Links Between Obesity and CKD Proven?

Research from 2006 shed some insights on the health of young men and women who were overweight, or had BMI measurements greater than 24.9. Those who reached this state by age 20 or later were three times as likely to suffer from chronic renal failure.[7] This risk remained strong among patient groups who didn’t have diabetes or hypertension. Women who suffered from morbid obesity, or BMI measurements greater than 34.9, were shown to be in even greater danger at the same age.

Body fat percentage was also shown to be a CRF risk factor in overweight and obese individuals of all ages. The study’s authors stated that around 15 percent of CRF occurrences in males and 11 percent of CRF cases among females were caused by obesity. They also said their work supported strong correlations between hypertension, type 2 diabetes and CRF.

Deciphering Complex Data:

Some medical literature may appear to go against the majority scientific opinion by questioning whether being overweight directly impacts CKD likelihood. One study published in 2016 came to a novel conclusion after examining around 16,700 patients.[8] Around 18.1 percent had CKD. After adjusting for related factors, however, the University of Michigan researchers discovered that there wasn’t quite as strong of an association between kidney disease and obesity as they had initially assumed there would be.

Still, the scientists who conducted this cross-study noted that the matter requires additional investigation. At best, they suggested that controlling diabetes, hypertension and other factors related to obesity and CKD might be effective for improving one’s chances of maintaining healthy kidneys.

Notably, the research also showed that changing the way kidney function was measured could impact how obesity appeared to relate to CKD. This could potentially pose additional risks for obese patients who don’t receive the correct forms of testing, diagnosis and monitoring.
What Kinds of Remedies Might Be Available?

While regaining control over their blood pressure and diabetes can help kidney disease sufferers, those who have already let their conditions become serious may ultimately be fighting uphill battles. The obesity-related ailments that contribute to kidney deficiencies commonly take years to develop and run their courses. Engaging in proactive weight, diet and activity management may be the best plan for minimizing negative health consequences.

Managing one’s weight as a young adult can directly reduce exposure to risk factors that are known to cause CKD, CKF and related conditions. It may also be more likely that people will successfully lose weight and keep it off when they’re younger. With higher metabolisms and more proclivity to be socially active with their peers, they could find it easier to get into enjoyable exercise regimens.

It’s hard to deny the potential value of establishing good health habits early on. Waiting until one’s later years to try to correct illnesses and unlearn deeply-ingrained lifestyle traits may ultimately prove difficult.

Sources:
[1] What Are Overweight and Obesity? (2012, July 13). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe
[2] How Your Kidneys Work. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk
[3] About Chronic Kidney Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/aboutckd
[4] What Are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity? (2012, July 13). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/risks
[5] Kidney Disease of Diabetes. (2014, April). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/kidney-disease/kidney-disease-of-diabetes/Pages/facts.aspx
[6] Kidney Damage and High Blood Pressure. (2014, September 11). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Kidney-Damage-and-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301825_Article.jsp
[7] Obesity Triples The Risk Of Chronic Kidney Failure. (2006, May 13). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060513122553.htm
[8] Charnow, J. A. (2016, April 30). Study Challenges Obesity-Chronic Kidney Disease Link. Retrieved May 27, 2016, from http://www.renalandurologynews.com/nkf-2016-spring-clinical-meeting/study-challenges-obesity-chronic-kidney-disease-link/article/492976/

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