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Everybody loves soft drinks, including children. But they are not really good for your health. In fact, those who have a penchant for drinking the sugary sodas are at risk of having kidney disease. A soft drink typically contains carbonated water, a sweetener and a natural or artificial flavoring. The sweetener may be a sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, a sugar substitute or some combination of these.
A recent study carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found that a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may be linked to an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology published the findings of the study, which looked at 3,003 African-American men and women with normal kidney function who were enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study, “a long-term study investigating risk factors for diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.”
The findings seem to support the earlier study conducted in Japan. More than 12,000 university employees underwent their annual check-ups at their health center. As part of the exam, their urine was tested for evidence of protein.
Protein in the urine is considered an early, but reversible, marker of kidney damage.
The study, which tried to find out if there was an association between drinking soft drinks and an increased risk of kidney damage, discovered that employees who consumed more than two bottles of soft drinks a day have more protein in their urine compared to those who had fewer or no soft drinks on a daily basis.
“Nearly 11 percent of employees who said they drank two or more soft drinks per day had protein in their urine during three years of follow-up,” wrote Denise Mann, reporter at Health Day. “In contrast, 8.4 percent of those who did not drink any soda and roughly 9 percent of those who drank about one can a day tested positive for protein in their urine.”
While researchers cannot point out the exact mechanism on how soft drinks hurt the kidneys, they have a few ideas.
“Oxidative stress and inflammation included by fructose, which is a more active sugar than glucose, may play an important role,” said Dr. Rhohei Yamamoto, study author and professor in the department of geriatric medicine and nephrology at Osaka University.
Still another earlier study, also conducted in the United States, showed the same finding. Drinking two or more diet sodas a day may double a person’s risk of declining kidney function.
According to the study, women who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 30-percent drop in a measure of kidney function.
“Thirty percent is considered significant,” disclosed researcher Julie Lin, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a staff physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That’s especially true, she added, because most of those who participated in the study had well-preserved kidney function at the start of the study.
Those studies are indeed a wake-up call for Filipinos, who love to drink soft drinks.
The Department of Health reports that one person dies every hour from kidney failure. Every year, more than 7,000 cases of kidney failure in the country are recorded. This puts kidney failure as the ninth-leading cause of death among Filipinos today, according to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI).
The NKTI said that for every 1 million Filipinos, 120 of them are most likely to develop kidney failure.
The kidneys, two bean-shaped organs that measure about 4 to 5 inches each, produce urine from waste products removed from the blood. While most people have two kidneys, there are few who are born with only one. “All functions normally performed by two kidneys can be carried out adequately by one healthy kidney,” according to The Merck Manual of Medical Information.
Unknowingly, health problems affecting the kidneys are becoming common compared to in the past. “Many Filipinos don’t realize that developing kidney failure can be just as disabling and life-threatening,” said Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, a cardiologist at the Manila Doctors Hospital.
For the uninformed, healthy kidneys clean the blood in the body by removing excess fluid, minerals and wastes. Not only that, kidneys also make hormones that keep the bones strong and the blood healthy. But if the kidneys are damaged, they don’t work properly.
Harmful wastes, it has been found, can build up in the human body. Blood pressure may rise that may cause hypertension. When the body retains excess fluid and do not make enough red blood cells, kidney failure may result.
“If your kidneys fail, you need treatment to replace the work they normally do,” said the National Institute of Health in the United States. “Before dialysis was available, total kidney failure meant death,” noted the US National Kidney Foundation (NKF). “Today, people with kidney failure can live because of treatments, such as dialysis and kidney transplant.”
According to medical experts, dialysis is a way of cleaning the blood when the kidneys can no longer do the job required from them. Dialysis gets rid of the body’s wastes, extra salt and water, aside from helping control blood pressure.
Actually, there are two kinds of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. “In hemodialysis, blood is pumped out of your body to an artificial kidney machine, and returned to your body by tubes that connect you to the machine,” the NKF explained. “In peritoneal dialysis, the inside lining of your own belly acts as a natural filter. Wastes are taken out by means of a cleansing fluid called dialysate, which is washed in and out of your belly in cycles.”
Kidney disease, particularly end-stage renal disease, is already the seventh-leading cause of death among Filipinos, recent statistics show. For patients with ESRD, a kidney transplant is often the only hope for survival. While the number of patients with ESRD is increasing, the number of living and deceased kidney donors remains dismally low.
Dr. Enrique Ona, who used to be the director of the NKTI, said that kidney transplantation is cheaper than dialysis “in the long term.” “Moreover,” he added, “survival rates and quality of life in transplants are much better.”
A transplant costs half a million pesos to P1 million for a one-time surgery, as long as the donated organ is not rejected by the recipient’s system.
“Kidney diseases are on the rise, and it can be considered part and parcel of the dreaded epidemic of noncommunicable diseases,” pointed out Castillo. “In fact, there can be hardly any argument that most chronic kidney disorders are also lifestyle-related problems, and share the same risk factors as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.”