The kidneys are pair of reddish-brown bean-shaped organs. Our kidneys are roughly the size of a human fist. We have a kidney on each side of our spine below the rib cage. 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 kidneys
As everyone knows, kidneys filter our blood and produce urine. But in addition to it, there are many functions performed by our kidneys. Some functions performed by our kidneys are:
- Waste removal: Waste-containing blood comes into the kidneys. Each kidney has around a million nephrons to filter blood. The nephrons remove wastes from the blood, and filtered blood goes back into our bodies. These wastes and toxins get removed from our bodies through urine.
- Electrolytes balance: Our kidneys maintain healthy electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphate) levels in our bodies. Any impairment in kidneys function may also lead to electrolyte imbalance.
- Control blood pressure: An enzyme called renin produced by our kidneys plays a critical role in controlling our blood pressure.
- Erythropoietin production: Our kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin. Erythropoietin helps our body to produce red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs are essential to transport oxygen from the lungs to all our body’s organs and tissues.
- Vitamin D activation: Our kidneys convert calcifediol into calcitriol (the active form of vitamin D). Calcitriol is essential for healthy bone growth.
- Balance water: The kidneys are one of the body’s organs that maintain water balance in our body. They maintain water levels in our bodies by regulating the volume of urine. If we drink plenty of water, our kidneys produce more urine and vice versa.
- Control acid-base equilibrium (pH): The normal pH of our blood is in the range of 7.35 to 7.45.
Our kidneys maintain this healthy pH by excreting or absorbing acids and bases according to necessity.
Common signs and symptoms when kidneys are not functioning properly
We may not feel any symptoms in the early stage of kidney diseases. There are many warning signs our body may give during renal insufficiency, but sometimes people correlate them to other health issues or ignore them:
- You may feel tired, weak, and find it difficult to concentrate.
- As we know, kidneys remove toxins and wastes from our bodies. Renal insufficiency may lead to toxin build-up and fluid retention in our body, which may cause dry and itchy skin.
- There is an increase in urges for urination.
- In kidney diseases color of urine also changes. Sometimes protein discharge in the urine cause foamy urine.
- A decreased kidney function may cause sodium retention leading to swelling in the feet and ankles.
- Puffiness around the eyes is an early sign of protein leak in the urine.
- Impaired kidney functions lead to electrolytes imbalance which causes frequent muscle cramping in our body.
How to maintain healthy kidneys
The kidneys perform many functions so maintaining kidneys’ health 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 may increase the risk of developing kidney diseases. Even without these risk factors, still taking care of the health of kidneys is very important. With some modifications in our lifestyle, we can keep our kidneys healthy. Some habits that can keep our kidneys healthy are:
- Stay fit and keep active: Regular exercise is not only good for our physical health, but it can also lower the chances of developing renal disease. Exercise not only reduces blood pressure and keeps our heart healthy but prevents renal damage. Moderate intensity exercises like walking, cycling, or swimming are good for renal health.
- Controlling chronic diseases: Control of chronic health conditions like diabetes and blood pressure may reduce the extra burden on your kidneys. Higher glucose levels put pressure on kidneys to filter blood. This extra exertion over a period can cause life-threatening damage to the kidneys.
- Control your weight: Extra weight or obesity puts us at risk of many health conditions that can cause kidney damage.
- Healthy diet: A diet low in sodium and processed food reduces the risk of kidney damage. We should include fresh fruits and vegetables low in sodium in our diets like cauliflower, blueberries, whole grains, fish, apples, peaches, apricots, papayas, and other food items good for kidney health.
- Reduce the use of over-the-counter medicines. Irrational use of NSAIDs and analgesics can harm our kidneys.
- Drink plenty of water as water helps kidneys clear toxins and other waste from our bodies.
- Cutting excess sugar: Excessive consumption of foods high in sugar can increase the chances of developing diabetes. Diabetes is one of the major causative factors for many kidney diseases.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol as they 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 Consultant – Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi