If you notice your sense of smell — or your appetite – isn't what it used to be, you may need to get your kidneys checked. I'm sure you know that smell plays a significant role in how we experience the taste of our food. So a diminished sense of smell can limit your ability to enjoy your meals. But what you may not realize is that olfactory deficits are a common symptom of kidney disease.
While your kidneys and your nose may seem unrelated, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital recently found that approximately 70% of people with chronic kidney disease and up to 90% of end-stage renal disease patients suffer from a reduced sense of smell. This often affects the patients' appetites to the point that they end up malnourished.
Kidney disease is a widespread problem in the US, affecting over 30 million adults. And many of them are affected by malnutrition. This study helps explain why. If food stops tasting good, you're more likely to stop eating it. If you've noticed this pattern in your own eating habits, you should talk to your doctor about your kidney function — and your nutrition status. While having trouble stopping and smelling the roses isn't a guarantee your kidneys are in trouble, it is something that needs to be investigated, and the kidneys are a good place to start.
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I know the prospect of having kidney issues can be scary, particularly if you're worried about having to be on dialysis. But I have a simple solution that can help slow the progression of renal failure: sodium bicarbonate. You know it as baking soda. I've written before about how it works, so I'll just summarize the instructions here: add ¼ tsp to a glass water and drink it slowly (about 15-20 minutes). Do this twice a day. It can help keep your kidneys functioning without dialysis longer and can even help improve your nutritional status.
Fixing the olfactory dysfunction isn't as simple. The researchers have begun investigating a therapy that has promise for improving the sense of smell in kidney disease patients. But until they determine that this technique is safe and effective, you'll need to ensure you're getting adequate nutrition based on some objective guidelines, not on what you feel like eating. As always, eat lots of veggies.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD