How to take care of your kidneys

The kidneys are a pair of reddish-brown bean-shaped organs. Our kidneys are about the size of a human fist. We have a kidney on each side of our spine below the ribcage. The position of the right kidney is slightly lower than the left kidney because of the liver on the right side of the abdomen.

Functions of the kidneys

As everyone knows, the kidneys filter our blood and produce urine. But beyond that, there are many functions performed by our kidneys. Some functions performed by our kidneys are:

  • Waste Removal: Waste-containing blood enters the kidneys. Each kidney has about a million nephrons to filter the blood. The nephrons remove waste products from the blood and filtered blood goes back to our body. These wastes and toxins are removed from our body through the urine.
  • Electrolyte Balance: Our kidneys maintain healthy levels of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphate) in our body. Any deterioration in kidney function can also lead to an electrolyte imbalance.
  • Control Blood Pressure: An enzyme called renin, produced by our kidneys, plays a vital role in controlling our blood pressure.
  • Production of erythropoietin: Our kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin. Erythropoietin helps our body produce red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs are essential for transporting oxygen from the lungs to all organs and tissues of our body.
  • Vitamin D activation: Our kidneys convert calcifediol into calcitriol (the active form of vitamin D). Calcitriol is essential for healthy bone growth.
  • Water balance: The kidneys are one of the organs of the body that maintain the water balance in our body. They maintain the water level in our body by regulating the volume of urine. When we drink a lot of water, our kidneys produce more urine and vice versa.
  • Control acid-base balance (pH): The normal pH of our blood is between 7.35 and 7.45.

Our kidneys maintain this healthy pH by excreting or absorbing acids and bases as needed.

Common signs and symptoms when the kidneys are not functioning properly

In the early stage of kidney disease, we may not feel any symptoms. There are many warning signs that our body can give during renal failure, but sometimes people associate them with other health problems or ignore them:

  • You may feel tired, weak and have trouble concentrating.
  • As we know, kidneys remove toxins and wastes from our body. Kidney insufficiency can lead to buildup of toxins and fluid retention in our body, which can cause dry and itchy skin.
  • There is an increase in the urge to urinate.
  • With kidney disease, the color of the urine also changes. Sometimes protein excretion in the urine causes foamy urine.
  • Decreased kidney function can cause sodium retention, which can lead to swelling of the feet and ankles.
  • Bags around the eyes are an early sign of protein leakage in the urine.
  • Decreased kidney functions lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which causes frequent muscle cramps in our body.

How to maintain healthy kidneys

The kidneys perform many functions, so keeping the kidneys healthy is very important for leading a healthy life. Kidney disease often goes unnoticed until it reaches an advanced stage. High blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of kidney disease can increase your risk of developing kidney disease. Even without these risk factors, it is still very important to take care of kidney health. With some lifestyle changes, we can keep our kidneys healthy. Some habits that can keep our kidneys healthy are:

  • Keeping fit and active: Regular exercise is not only good for our physical health, but can also reduce the chance of developing kidney disease. Exercise not only lowers blood pressure and keeps our hearts healthy, but also prevents kidney damage. Moderate intensity exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming is good for kidney health.
  • Chronic disease management: Managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and blood pressure can reduce the extra strain on your kidneys. Higher glucose levels put pressure on the kidneys to filter the blood. This extra effort over a period of time can cause life-threatening damage to the kidneys.
  • Control your weight: Being overweight or obese puts us at risk for many health problems that can cause kidney damage.
  • Healthy diet: a low-sodium diet and processed foods reduce the risk of kidney damage. We should include low-sodium fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet, such as cauliflower, blueberries, whole grains, fish, apples, peaches, apricots, papayas and other foods that are good for kidney health.
  • Reduce the use of over-the-counter drugs. Irrational use of NSAIDs and analgesics can harm our kidneys.
  • Drink plenty of water as water helps the kidneys remove toxins and other waste from our body.
  • Reduce excess sugar: Excessive consumption of foods high in sugar can increase the chances of developing diabetes. Diabetes is one of the main causative factors for many kidney diseases.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol as these put more pressure on our kidneys and increase blood pressure.

Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle is the best thing we can do to keep our kidneys healthy for a long time.

Dr. Suman Lata Nayak, Director and Senior Advisor – Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi

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