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The Secrets to Keeping Your Kidneys in Good Shape

The Secrets to Keeping Your Kidneys in Good Shape

Like most people, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about how you can keep your kidneys healthy.  You drink, you pee, and as long as the color of your urine looks good, you don’t give it another thought.  Not to mention, most of us have two functional kidneys, so if one fails we still have another one left to do the job.  You may not realize it, but your kidneys do much more than just get rid of excess fluid.  So, if they’re not working properly, we could end up in big trouble.  Let’s review what our kidneys do and how we can help protect them.

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What Our Kidneys Do

According to Kidney.com (and all my nursing textbooks), our kidneys have five major functions.  They remove extra fluid and waste products, help control blood pressure, help regulate blood pH, make red blood cells, and help keep your bones healthy.  I bet most of you only knew about the first item on this list, but I want to make sure you know about the other four functions too.

  • Kidneys & Blood Pressure.

    The human body is designed to self-regulate whenever possible and that’s cool!  Just like we need a certain degree of water pressure to get water out of the kitchen faucet, our kidneys need a certain level of blood pressure in order to function properly too.  If the body senses the pressure is too high or too low, it can do two things.  First, it can adjust the amount of fluid it keeps in the body.  Second, it will either dilate or constrict blood vessels, which changes the pressure too.

  • Regulation of Blood pH.

    This part may take you back to high school science class and acid-base balance.  Our body needs to maintain a blood pH between 7.35 and 7.45 to work optimally.  The body has two ways of correcting abnormal pH.  Either it can work on your lungs to change your breathing rate or it can use your kidneys to adjust bicarbonate (base) levels.

  • Red Blood Cell Production.

    Our kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin that tells bone marrow to make red blood cells.  Red blood cells have the job of carrying oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body.  If our kidneys can’t do this job for us, we run the risk of having low red blood cell counts and may need to receive supplemental erythropoietin.

  • Keeping Bones Healthy.

    The kidneys make an active form of Vitamin D, which helps calcium and phosphorus absorption.  We need calcium and phosphorus balanced to keep our bones strong.  This is another job that the kidneys do when they are working well.

Causes of Kidney Trouble

Our kidneys can start to have trouble in a number of different ways.  The easiest way to understand kidney damage is to divide into either acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term) issues.  There are things that can happen to us today that can cause our kidneys to deteriorate.  But there are also things that can happen over many years that can cause a slower type of damage to occur.

  • Acute Causes.

    Acute causes include three majors problem.  We can have a sudden loss of blood flow to the kidneys, such as when we become dehydrated or have severe blood loss.  We can also have damage done directly to the kidney, such as getting blood clots of inflammation in the vessels near or in the kidney.  And we can run into a problem that urine can’t leave the kidney properly, which often happens when cancerous tumors form.  The Mayo Clinic did an excellent job of listing the types of things that can cause acute kidney failure if you are interested in reading more.

  • Chronic Causes.

    There are diseases that can cause chronic kidney damage that are beyond your control.  But the main causes of chronic kidney disease are within your power to manage properly.  They are high blood pressure and diabetes.  In fact, Kidney.org  reports that these two diseases are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all chronic kidney failure cases.

7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

  1. Avoid or Manage Diabetes.

    Ideally, it would be great if you could avoid getting diabetes in the first place.  Sometimes this is possible by healthy eating choices, especially low sugar and moderate carbohydrate intake and maintaining a healthy weight.  But, this is not always possible.  If you already have diabetes or are unable to prevent it, then manage it well according to your provider’s orders.

  2. Avoid or Manage High Blood Pressure.

    The same is true about high blood pressure.  There are some risk factors that we cannot control but many more than we can.  Once again, maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight can be very beneficial, as well as regular exercise.  It also helps to eat a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which focuses on low salt, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.  Lastly, if you can’t avoid this disease, make sure you take your medications or follow other orders as directed.

  3. Seek Help for Signs of Blood Loss.

    Signs of blood loss are always a cause for concern.  Whether it’s a large amount or a little bit, it’s worth getting it checked out.  Sometimes blood loss is obvious, such as when you have a nosebleed.  But blood can also appear dark black in your bowel movements and not be as noticeable.  If you lose too much blood, your kidneys won’t get enough pressure, oxygen, and nutrients and could have problems.

  4. Stay Properly Hydrated.

    Each of us is different when it comes to how much fluid we should have throughout the day.  If you have known heart or kidney problems, you may have fluid restrictions in place.  If you are elderly, you are more prone to dehydration and may need extra fluid.  Be sure to check with your care provider for recommendations on what is best for you and then drink that much daily.  Your kidneys need to be used regularly to stay healthy

  5. Eat a Healthy Diet.

    Eating a healthy diet is related to concerns about diabetes and high blood pressure we already mentioned.  But, it is also important to be careful about our cholesterol levels too.  High cholesterol levels can cause blockages in our blood vessels.  Blocked vessels won’t allow good blood flow to get to the kidneys, which can greatly reduce function.

  6. Use Over-the-Counter Medications Cautiously.

    You may not realize this, but NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen that are often used for pain and fever, can cause kidney damage with long-term use.  There are times when these medication are appropriate to use, just don’t treat them like candy.  Too much can be a bad thing.

  7. Limit Alcohol & Quit Smoking.

    I’m sure we have all heard this one before, stop smoking and limit your alcohol.  Smoking can damage the inside of your blood vessels and impair blood flow to the kidney.  It can also cause problems with high blood pressure.  And alcohol is a harmful chemical and when we ingest it, we force our kidneys to filter it.  The filtering process can damage the kidneys over years of abuse.  Alcohol also has the tendency to dehydrate us, which means less blood flow for our kidneys too.

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Did you learn something in this post?  If so, share it with a friend.  He or she probably doesn’t know that either.
  2.  Is there one thing that you can commit to changing today, that will help keep your kidneys safe for the future?  Please share your plans in the comment section below.

References

About Chronic Kidney Disease

Mayo Clinic – Acute Kidney Failure

National Kidney Foundation – Alcohol & Your Kidneys

Top 5 Jobs Kidneys Do

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