The human kidneys are two bean-shaped, reddish-brown organs located behind the stomach on either side of the spine. Most humans have two kidneys. However, it is possible to live healthily with just one kidney.
The kidneys have several important functions: they filter blood, remove waste and toxins, and regulate the body’s balance of fluids and electrolytes. The kidneys also produce erythropoietin – a hormone involved in the manufacture of red blood cells, and regulation of blood pressure.
The kidney has a sponge-like structure and is made up of millions of tiny filters called nephrons. The entire blood in your body is filtered through the nephrons many times daily. Each nephron is made up of a glomerulus and a renal tubule. The glomeruli filter and remove fluids and toxins from blood cells. These toxins are then collected in the tubules, which reabsorb electrolytes and minerals, and are then sent back into the bloodstream. The toxins are sent out of the body by the kidneys via the production of urine.
The kidneys are resilient organs. Up to 90% of kidney function could be lost without a person feeling a thing. We can protect our kidneys by avoiding, or at least minimizing some of these habits:
Not Taking Enough Water
Dehydration puts the kidneys under pressure. Reduced water content decreases the ability of the kidneys to filter out toxins. Dehydration also increases the risk of developing renal conditions like kidney stones. Water should be taken over other fluids as much as possible.
Overconsuming Processed Foods
Processed foods are manufactured with a lot of salt, which has negative implications for the heart and kidneys. Too much sodium increases the amount of work the kidneys have to perform to excrete them. Useful calcium is also lost during the excretion of sodium, and this can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Overeating animal protein found in meat and related products can increase blood acidity, and affect the kidneys’ ability to maintain proper acid-base balance. This practice puts pressure on the kidneys and can cause chronic kidney disorders with time.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Renal function is affected by the amount of sleep we get, and when we get it. Sleep renews the tissues of the kidneys, other organs, and inadequate sleep increases the chances of developing kidney problems.
Not Dealing with Infections
Common infections like the flu or a cough prompt your body to create antibodies to fight them. These antibodies find their way to the nephrons and settle there, creating more pressure on the kidneys the longer the infection is untreated.
Prolonged Use of Painkillers
Pain medications affect renal function by reducing blood flow to the kidneys. Using them for an extended period puts pressure on the kidneys and can damage them. Thus, painkillers should be taken at low doses and for brief periods.
The rate at which the blood is filtered through the kidneys is known as the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). The glomeruli are tiny blood vessels in the nephrons, which play an important role in blood filtration. GFR calculator apps are used to determine how well the kidneys are working.
It is not possible to directly measure the GFR, so an estimate is obtained by taking your blood creatinine measurement and combining it with other factors to obtain an estimated glomerular filtration rate. Creatinine is a waste product filtered by the kidneys and excreted via the urine. Creatinine clearance is measured by collecting samples of your urine over a 24-hour period. Other factors involved in calculating GFR are your age, weight, height, and ethnicity.
The normal GFR for an individual with healthy kidneys ranges from 90 to 120 mL/min. This will be slightly lower in older people because of decreased kidney function.
There are several formulas for calculating GFR, but the two most popular are the Cockcroft-Gault and the MDRD (Modification of Diet in Renal Disease). The equation below gives the Cockcroft-Gault formula for calculating creatinine clearance:
CrCL=([140-age] x weight in Kg)/ (serum creatinine x 72)
The creatinine clearance value is multiplied by 0.85 for females.
The equation below represents the MDRD formula:
GFR = 175 x (serum creatinine)-1.154 x (age)-0.203 x 0.742 [if female] x 1.212 [if black]
There are many GFR calculators and apps developed to help you easily estimate your GFR and assess your kidney function. All you need is to enter your information in the labeled spaces for the GFR calculator and click on the calculate button.
Kidney care does not have to be difficult. You can keep your kidneys healthy by doing the following:
Eating healthy food reduces the risk of developing ailments like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases that can put the kidneys at risk. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and foods should be major components of your diet. Avoid sodium-rich food, processed meat, and high-sugar foods as much as you can.
Engaging in regular physical exercise can reduce the risk of kidney disease. Exercises strengthen the heart and lower blood pressure. Strenuous exercises should be avoided. You can achieve physical fitness by regularly walking, running, cycling, or engaging in other activities you enjoy.
Drinking plenty of fluids makes it easier for your kidneys to get rid of sodium and other toxins. Water also prevents the development of kidney stones. About 1.5 to 2 liters of water is adequate, depending on weather and lifestyle factors.
Smoking weakens your blood vessels and hampers the flow of blood to the kidneys. Smoking also elevates the risks of developing hypertension and kidney cancer.
Have regular kidney function checks if you think you are at risk of developing kidney disease. You are at a higher risk of developing kidney disease if you are overweight, have a family history of cardiovascular diseases, above 60, or suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure. Individuals born with low birth weight are also at risk of developing kidney diseases.
Use Medications and Supplements with Caution
Regular use of over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen can endanger your kidneys. Supplements and some herbal remedies have also been known to put the kidney at risk. You should consult your physician before taking any medications for pain.
The kidneys are critical organs without which it will be impossible for the body to function. It’s important to monitor and care for the kidneys regularly. Impaired renal reduces productivity and decreases the overall quality of life. You can regularly monitor your kidney health by downloading from our list of the best GFR calculator apps.
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