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A Beginner’s Guide to Kidney Health

July 8, 2020
Published in: Primary Care

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The kidneys play a critical role as trash collectors. Today we will give you a broad overview of what it is exactly that your kidneys do, as well as some quick tips on how you can make sure they are doing the best job they can.

So what do my kidneys do?

Every day, about 200 quarts of blood will travel through your kidneys. Most of those quarts are carrying oxygen and other vital nutrients to other organs in your body. Some of it, however, about 2 quarts of it, is considered to be waste. That waste is made up of extra water, as well as the byproducts that are produced during the breaking down of food in the body. Those 2 quarts are then expelled from the body as urine.

In addition to this filtration process, the kidneys also act as a source for producing vital hormones for your body. First, there is Erythropoietin, which stimulates the bones to make red blood cells. Second, kidneys produce Renin, which helps to regulate your blood pressure. Finally, there is the active form of Vitamin D, which helps maintain calcium for bones and the normal the broader chemical balance in the body.

What happens if they’re not working properly?

Filtration is vital to your body’s overall health – if your kidneys fail, then harmful byproducts begin to build up in your circulatory system. As waste builds, it can begin to have serious effects on your body, beginning with swelling in your ankles, nausea, weakness, poor sleep, and shortness of breath. Over time, these symptoms can worsen. If the damage to your kidneys is too severe, then they can cease working altogether, which can be life-threatening.

Kidney failure is also known as renal failure. Short-term renal failure (or acute renal failure) is commonly caused by a traumatic injury – say if you are experiencing blood loss from an accident, the decrease in blood pressure may cause renal failure. Chronic renal failure (lasting for more than three months) is typically caused by another condition, with diabetes being the most common culprit.

How can I be good to my kidneys?

If you visualize your kidneys as a filtration system, then it makes it very easy to imagine the best ways to take care of them: you want to make sure there is good pressure throughout the system, and make sure that you are not introducing more material into the system than it is capable of filtering.

Through that analogy, healthy blood pressure is important to your kidneys. If blood pressure is too high, it can damage the veins and vessels within the kidney and make it more difficult for it to filter your blood. Similarly, having a higher concentration of waste products in your blood can cause a build up. Doctors recommend limiting your intake of alcoholic beverages, as well as certain over-the-counter drugs. By taking more than the recommended dosages of things like ibuprofen or aspirin, you are causing your kidneys to work a little bit harder to filter it out. It’s also recommended that you limit your salt intake, and drink plenty of water.

Finally, as chronic renal failure is frequently caused by diabetes, it is recommended that you do your best to head off further complications if you may be at risk. Type-2 diabetes is preventable with the appropriate precautions and can be a major risk to your kidneys later down the line.

The kidneys may be the "garbage collectors" of the body, but that doesn't mean that you should trash them. You can help them stay healthy by limiting the amount of work they need to do to keep your body clean. If you are concerned about the health of your kidneys, there are ways to test their capacity – talk to your primary care provider for ways to check your urine for proper kidney function.