Before I was diagnosed with stage five CKD I thought the only job my kidneys did was assist in making urine. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The kidneys are a major player and affect almost every aspect of a healthy well-functioning body.  I was in the hospital for two weeks, which was just enough time for me to gain a basic understanding of kidney function. Almost every hospital caretaker that walked in my room was kind enough to give me a piece of the kidney puzzle.  I started taking notes.

portrait of a kidney

They are about the size of your fist and are located on either side of you spine just above your waist. If you’ve ever had a kidney infection, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your bottom ribs are strategically placed to protect the kidneys from trauma.

Inside the kidneys are about a million tiny filters called nephrons. This is where the filtering of excess fluids and dissolved waste occurs. After you eat or drink and your body uses the nutrients, the extra nutrients become waste.

Some of the waste ends enter the your bloodstream. With every beat of your heart, your blood is circulated through your body and passes through the kidneys. This is where those million nephrons go to work, constantly filtering waste and toxins. Every day your kidneys filter about 30 gallons of blood and remove about half a gallon of waste and extra fluids.

Reabsorption of Nutrients
Some of the nutrients from the blood are reabsorbed and transported to where they are needed. Other products are reabsorbed to help maintain equilibrium. This process is referred to as reabsorption rather than absorption because the compounds have already been absorbed once, normally in the intestines.

What the kidneys reabsorb

Regulating blood Pressure
The kidneys are responsible for slower adjustments needed to regulate blood pressure. Kidneys work to adjust the arterial pressure over the long term by impacting the fluid outside of cells. The kidneys complete this task by releasing a hormone called angiotensin II. This hormone, as part of an incredibly complex web, increases the kidney’s absorption of sodium chloride. This effectively increases the size of the fluid compartment just outside of the cells and raises the blood pressure. Anything that alters blood pressure can damage the kidneys over time, including excess alcohol, smoking and obesity.

Osmolality Regulation
Osmolality is the measure of the body’s electrolyte balance, or the balance between the fluid and the minerals in the body. Dehydration is the main factor for electrolyte imbalance. Most of you have probably tried sports drinks with added electrolytes when you exercise. To maintain the equilibrium of fluid to minerals the kidneys will increase urine concentration or increase water reabsorption, That, my friends, is a lot of work.

the function of the Kidneys

With all the intricate workings of the kidneys, you can imagine the far-reaching affects they have on the body. You can also imagine, if they became impaired, how it could be devastating to an otherwise healthy body. Everything from anemia, to bone loss, to heart disease, and other organ deterioration could be affected by kidney impairment. The body’s health is dependent on good kidney function.
Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is called a “silent disease,” much like heart disease is called “the silent killer.” The warning signs for kidney disease are very general and could be attributed to almost anything. By the time you notice the warning signs, you may have already lost 80% of your kidney function and be in the final stages of kidney disease.

The two most common causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure and Diabetes. If you have either of these diseases, work with your doctor to keep your conditions managed and under control.

Maintaining Healthy Kidneys
Kidney disease is preventable if you catch it in the early stages. You can work with your health care provider to make needed changes in your diet and lifestyle that will help alleviate the stress placed upon your kidneys. If you catch CKD in the early stages you could prevent yourself from having to go on dialysis or possibly needing a kidney transplant.

Hydration: drinking enough water is important for many reasons, but drinking too much water will not be of benefit. Around 6-8 cups per day is a sufficient amount.

Diet: because many kidney problems are due to high blood pressure and diabetes, maintaining a healthy diet can stave off many of the common causes of kidney disease.

kidneys love fresh berries

Salt: monitor salt intake. Salt can increase blood pressure so check with your doctor for your daily recommendation.

Over-the-counter medications: just because a drug is available to purchase without a prescription does not mean it is harmless. Overusing drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can damage the kidneys. Taking a class of drugs commonly used to reduce acid in the stomach is linked to a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease compared with not taking them.

Screening: if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, a regular kidney screening can help spot any potential health issues. This can be done with a simple urine or blood test. Easy.

Making changes to your lifestyle can be a pain, but you could save your own life by working with your doctor to discover if your kidneys are at risk. If they are, there many useful resources to help you get on track to take care of your kidneys and take care of your own wellbeing and longevity.

Give your kidneys some attention. They truly are the unsung heroes of the human body.

Best of Health,