The quiet organ
Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2023
When we think of our health, the heart, lungs, brain and colon often come to mind. But of equal importance to these are the quiet filtering organ—the kidneys. Last week, I wrote about organ transplants and shared my background in Hemodialysis nursing. So I want to share a bit about this vital organ that we usually do not think about unless there are problems.
The kidneys are blood-purifying organs below the ribcage on either side of your spine. Kidneys filter about 200 quarts of fluid every day and remove waste in the form of urine. Out of the 200 quarts of filtered fluid, we urinate about two quarts daily, and the remaining 198 quarts are re-used by your body. Kidneys also balance body fluids, electrolytes, and blood pH. In addition, kidneys produce renin which regulates blood pressure, and calcitriol, a form of vitamin D that, among other things, aids in calcium absorption.
Blood flows into the kidneys through the renal artery to the outer layer of the kidney into tiny filtering structures called nephrons. Within the nephron, you’ll find:
- Glomeruli—Tiny blood vessels where glomerular filtration (stage one filtering) occurs. The filtered fluids then pass to the renal tubules.
- Renal tubules reabsorb and return water, nutrients, and minerals to your body.
The filtered blood returns to the bloodstream through the renal vein.
Diabetics and people with high blood pressure are at the most significant risk for developing kidney disease. And trauma, such as sports injuries or injuries from car accidents, is also a cause of kidney function issues.
Symptoms of kidney disease are often nonspecific. Since kidneys can make up for diminished function, you may not develop recognizable symptoms until the damage is irreversible. Chronic kidney failure is the loss of function over time. Early stages of chronic kidney disease have few symptoms you would associate with the illness. However, in advanced chronic kidney disease, dangerous fluid, electrolytes, and waste levels build up in your body.
Depending on the severity, loss of kidney function can cause: nausea and vomiting, fatigue and weakness, decreased mental sharpness, muscle cramps, loss of appetite, high blood pressure that is hard to control, sleep problems, swelling of feet and ankles, shortness of breath from fluid buildup in the lungs, chest pain from the fluid buildup around the lining of the heart and dry, itchy skin.
If you believe you have symptoms of kidney disease, consider making an appointment to see your doctor. Early detection may prevent kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure. Suppose you have medical conditions that increase your risk of kidney disease. In that case, your doctor will monitor kidney function and blood pressure through blood tests and urine samples during office visits.
Treatment for chronic kidney disease likely focuses on delaying the progression of kidney damage by controlling the cause. End-stage kidney failure is fatal without dialysis or a kidney transplant.
If you suffer from kidney disease, avoid high-sodium foods like potato chips, frozen dinners, bacon, canned soup, deli meats, and salted snacks. A rule of thumb is to limit sodium intake to no more than 2000 milligrams per day.
If you have diabetes, you must avoid foods high in sugar. Even artificial sweeteners have proven to cause a decline in kidney function. Alternatives to processed sugars and artificial sweeteners are honey and raw, organic cane sugar.
Foods to include: Low-potassium superfoods that you can eat include apples and apple juice, cabbage, pineapple, boiled cauliflower, blueberries, plums, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Other superfoods for those with kidney disease include avocados, bell peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, fish, fried rice, pork, red grapes, egg whites, garlic, skinless chicken, radishes, and much more.
The kidney-friendly foods listed above are excellent choices for everyone, not just people following a renal diet. But remember, it’s always a good idea to discuss your food decisions with your healthcare provider to ensure that you follow the best diet for yourself.