Kidney Awareness Month

Overworked and underappreciated, our kidneys are essentially sophisticated trash collectors. These two fist-sized filters in our lower backs cycle almost 200 quarts of blood every day and remove excess water, waste, and blood impurities which are sent to the bladder for elimination. They also help balance the body’s pH and regulate blood pressure by controlling fluid and certain hormone levels, and even assist in calcium absorption by activating a specific form of vitamin D.

Maintenance of these important organs is relatively simple, and if you already get balanced nutrition and regular exercise you’re halfway there. If you don’t, talk with your physician about some lifestyle changes that could have a positive impact on your wellbeing. For starters, high sodium diets should be avoided and make sure to stay hydrated-four to six glasses of water each day (caffeinated beverages don’t count). Your doctor might recommend changing eating habits or switching to a Mediterranean-style diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, and unsaturated fats but low in animal proteins, especially processed meats. Smoking, high alcohol consumption, excess weight and NSAID pain relievers also put unnecessary stress on the kidneys and should be controlled. This is also true for certain vitamin supplements and herbal remedies, so be sure to inform your doctor.

Unfortunately, renal malfunction goes hand in hand with things like high blood pressure and diabetes, the leading cause of kidney failure. This affects about 30 percent of patients with Type 1 (juvenile onset) and 10-40 percent of those with Type 2 (adult onset). Diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the body, especially the kidneys. This reduces their ability to filter blood, leading to a backup of waste and symptoms like water retention, nausea, and swelling of the ankles.

Kidney disease, although sometimes caused by acute trauma, usually develops silently over years or decades. It is often not diagnosed until the late stages because many symptoms can seem common or vague-like headaches or feeling tired or itchy. Changes in appetite and urination, numbness, and skin darkening are signs of its progression. If left untreated, this condition could result in renal failure requiring dialysis or transplant, so early detection and immediate correction are key.

Did you know:

  • Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in the country.
  • More than 26 million Americans have kidney disease, and most don’t know it.
  • There are over 95,000 people waiting for kidney transplants.
  • More than 590,000 people have kidney failure in the US today.

Proper kidney function can be determined during a regular Doctor’s office visit with simple blood and urine tests. The glomerular filtration rate (GFR) blood test is the most important indicator of kidney health, as are proteins in the urine which could potentially turn into kidney stones. Other imaging tests such as ultrasounds or CT scans may also be performed to detect obstructions or structural abnormalities. To get started, The National Kidney Foundation even has a “Rate Your Risk Quiz” online.

Healthy kidneys mean balanced bodies, so consult your doctor and possibly a nutritionist to get your filters clean and keep them that way!