A doctor holding kidney behind their back

Your kidneys are unsung heroes, quietly working behind the scenes to filter out toxins, balance minerals, produce hormones, and keep all systems going strong. About the size of a fist, these bean-shaped powerhouses filter a whopping 50 gallons of blood each day! 

Without even thinking about it, your kidneys are continuously removing waste, regulating fluid levels, controlling blood pressure, and more. But when kidney function falters, serious health issues can arise rapidly. Understanding how your kidneys operate and protecting their health is vital. 

In this post, we’ll cover what exactly those fist-sized organs do, kidney disease risk factors, symptoms to watch for, and lifestyle tips to keep your filtration system in peak form for years. 

Consider this your go-to primer for appreciating the tireless efforts of your internal cleansing crew! 

Kidney Health

The Basics

Let’s start with some need-to-know basics about those two organs working hard behind the scenes. They’re located just under your rib cage on either side of your spine – each one is roughly the size of a small fist. 

The kidneys filter your blood continuously without you ever noticing. Their main task? Acting as a toxic waste disposal unit for your bloodstream. Every day, 50 gallons of blood cycles through the kidneys to remove roughly 2 quarts worth of waste products and extra fluid. 

While they may be small, the kidneys have an enormous job filtering and balancing your body’s insides. 

What Do They Do?

Now that we’ve covered some kidney basics, what exactly do those fist-sized organs accomplish for your body? The kidneys are responsible for the following: 

  • Waste disposal: your kidneys filter roughly two quarts of urea and toxins from your blood daily so hazardous substances do not accumulate internally. 
  • Mineral management: sodium, potassium and other electrolyte levels need strict control – too much or too little throws critical nerve and muscle function out of whack. Your kidneys regulate the optimal mineral mix! 
  • Blood Pressure control: releasing just the right dose of special kidney hormones influences blood vessel constriction, keeping the overall blood pressure just right. 
  • Red blood cell production: bursting out fresh oxygen-carrying red blood cells is critical for energy. One key kidney hormone controls bone marrow release so ample reserve is always available. 
  • Vitamin D activation: the kidneys convert vitamin D into its active form that allows proper calcium and mineral absorption for strong resilient bones. 
  • Acid regulation: to prevent rising acidity threatening organ function, the kidneys selectively excrete excess acid while saving key base compounds. 

How To Keep Them Healthy?

Your hardworking kidneys deserve some care. By making a few healthy lifestyle choices, you can help keep them functioning at their best for years to come. 

Staying hydrated is the key to kidney health as it preserves kidney function. Drinking enough fluids, especially water, takes pressure off the kidneys so they can easily flush out waste and excess electrolytes. You should aim for at least six to eight glasses per day to support your body’s filtration system. 

Fuelling your kidneys with nutrient-rich whole foods is also good for the kidney. You should focus on incorporating more antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables into your diet, along with beans, fatty fish and other sources of key nutrients. Also avoid eating an overly acidic diet high in processed meat, soft drinks, fried food and refined grains. 

The kidneys also benefit from getting regular exercise – participating in physical activity helps manage blood pressure levels, weight, and diabetes risk so your kidneys don’t get overtaxed. A simple habit that pays off is aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day! 

Finally, avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and overusing over-the-counter pain relievers. It’s fine having the occasional drink and taking prescribed medication when needed. However, long-term heavy use of these substances can impair the kidneys. 

Kidney Health Healthy Lifestyle

Warning Signs of Kidney Problems

Since the kidneys operate mostly under the radar, issues can go undetected until major damage occurs. By having awareness of certain red flags, it can alert you to potential trouble, so problems don’t silently escalate. You should contact your doctor promptly if you notice any of the following warning signs: 

  • Changes in urination: pay attention to; the colour and smell of your urine, urgent need to urinate frequently, or pain while urinating – these can indicate infection or kidney dysfunction. 
  • Puffiness: having excess fluid can result in puffy eyes, swollen hands or ankles, or sudden weight gain from retaining water in tissues. 
  • Fatigue and weakness: declining kidney function allows waste to accumulate in the blood rather than being filtered out, making you feel exhausted, washed out and weak. 
  • Poor appetite or metallic taste: a buildup of waste products can dull sense of taste or cause a metallic taste in the mouth. It can also lead to gastrointestinal issues and poor appetite. 

As conditions like chronic kidney disease progress slowly over many years, getting ahead with screening tests allows for early treatment if caught promptly – do not ignore vague symptoms or wait for more noticeable issues before getting evaluated! 

Treating Kidney Disease

If one or both of your kidneys become impaired, timely treatment is key to preserving as much function as possible. While the damage can’t be reversed, there are steps that can be taken to give you a good outcome. 

A key step is getting health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes under control, which significantly takes pressure off the kidneys so further deterioration can be minimised. 

There are certain medications which give strained kidney tissues a breather by relaxing tightened blood vessels. There are also diuretics that may be used to flush extra fluid from the body and manage swelling. Finally, making appropriate dietary changes based on your condition also slows kidney disease progression. 

In some cases, if internal waste and chemical levels become dangerously unbalanced from advanced kidney failure, dialysis becomes necessary to filter the blood a few times a week. If your organs appear to be damaged beyond repair, your doctor may also recommend a pre-emptive kidney transplant. 

The Takeaway 

So, there you have it! Now you’re clued in on those powerhouse organs quietly working behind the scenes to filter out toxins, balance minerals, produce hormones, and keep all systems going strong. Let’s recap some key points: 

  • Stay vigilant about hydration, diet, exercise, and limiting toxin exposure which keeps filtration functioning smoothly. 
  • Monitor for changes in urination, swelling, fatigue or appetite – catch kidney dysfunction early! 
  • See your doctor promptly if any vague symptoms arise or you have kidney disease risks. Remember, protect through early detection. 
  • Show some love for those two unsung heroes silently protecting your inner health every minute. Prevention is key! 

For any other questions on kidney health or treatments, take advantage of our free ‘Ask-a-Pharmacist’ service where you can talk to a UK trained pharmacist. We’re here to help keep your kidneys happy!