Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 07, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 07, 2018
Published Date: Aug 21, 2017
What You Don’t Know About Your Kidneys Can Hurt You
Our kidneys are small, but powerful organs, their critical functions essential to supporting health and well-being and sustaining life. They remove waste products and drugs from the body, balance fluids and electrolytes, release hormones to regulate blood pressure, produce an active form of vitamin D that supports bone health and control red blood cell production, among other important functions. Here, we'll share 10 things that you need to hear about your kidneys – because the bottom line is that these two small organs are among the most important ones in your body.
1. How Your Kidneys Work
Your kidneys are the waste filters of your cardiovascular system. Located at the back of your lower abdomen, these two bean-shaped organs contain about a million little filtering units called nephrons. They process about 200 quarts of your blood every day yielding 2 quarts of excess fluid and waste that is expelled from your body as urine. This filtering process keeps the composition of your blood stable – a necessity for the proper function of virtually all major systems and organs in the body.
2. How Common Kidney Problems Are
According to CDC estimates (PDF), more than 10 percent of adults, or over 20 million people, in the U.S. have kidney disease of varying levels of seriousness.
3. Causes of Kidney Disease
According to the National Kidney Foundation, the two main causes of kidney disease, responsible for up to 75 percent of cases, are kidney damage from diabetes and high blood pressure. Other causes include Glomerulonephritis, which is a group of diseases that cause inflammation and damage in the kidneys, polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disease that causes large cysts to develop in the kidneys, congenital kidney malformations, auto-immune diseases and repeated urinary tract infections.
4. How to Tell If You Have Healthy Kidneys
Kidney disease often has no obvious symptoms until it is quite advanced, so blood and urine tests are the most accurate way to tell if your kidneys are healthy. Renal (kidney) function panels measure factors that include levels of waste products in the blood, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, as well as levels of potassium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, albumin and chloride, among others, that can help your doctor determine how well your kidneys are functioning. Urine tests look for protein in the urine, which can indicate kidney problems.
5. Risks of Untreated Kidney Disease
Kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is the main risk of untreated kidney disease, and occurs when kidney function deteriorates to the point that a patient must undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
6. Lifestyle Factors That Can Harm Kidneys
Lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of kidney disease include smoking, excessive alcohol use, overuse of over-the-counter or prescription pain medications and being overweight or obese.
7. Lifestyle Factors That Promote Healthy Kidneys
Being physically fit can lower your risk of kidney disease, so get plenty of regular exercise. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is essential to maintaining kidney health, as is controlling blood pressure if you suffer from hypertension and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
8. Foods That Can Help Keep Kidneys Healthy
The National Kidney Disease Education Program recommends plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy to support kidney health.
9. Dietary Factors That Can Be Bad For Kidneys
Perhaps the most damaging dietary factor in terms of kidney disease risk is excessive salt intake. The National Kidney Disease Education Program recommends keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams daily. Excessive amounts of protein and fats in the diet can also stress the kidneys, so limiting these to healthy proportions can help protect kidney health.
10. How to Improve Impaired Kidney Function
If your doctor has determined that your kidneys aren't functioning as well as they should, there are a number of things you can do to improve kidney function or help prevent further deterioration. Dietary changes often help, such as limiting salt, potassium, protein and phosphorus in your diet. Seeing a nutritionist for professional help in structuring a healthy kidney diet is your best bet. If you are overweight, losing those extra pounds will reduce your kidneys' daily workload, as will staying away from alcohol and any drugs – prescription, over-the-counter, herbal or illicit – that haven't been specifically cleared with your doctor. Smoking can worsen existing kidney disease, so if you're in the habit, quit. Last, but not least, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, controlling these conditions very carefully is crucial to preventing further kidney damage.