Everyone knows that the kidneys are involved in urination, and for most people, that’s about as much thought as these little bean-shaped organs get.
Your kidneys are actually extremely important, multi-functional organs that don’t get enough credit. They play many vital roles in a healthy, functioning body, and it’s important to know what they do and how to care for them.
What Your Kidneys Do for You
The kidneys’ main function is to help remove waste products from the bloodstream, and get rid of them through the urine. But these remarkable organs work hard to do so much more than that.
Kidneys also support your body in the following ways:
- Regulating the amount of fluid in the body, through urine production
- Regulating your blood pressure, by producing a hormone that narrows the arteries
- Making red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body
- Producing active vitamin D, for strong bones and a healthy immune system
What is Kidney Failure?
Kidney failure is a serious medical condition that means the kidneys are no longer able to properly filter waste products from your bloodstream. There are two main types of kidney failure, namely acute and chronic.
Acute kidney injury is a sudden loss of kidney function that develops within 48 hours. Chronic kidney disease is a slow loss of kidney function, which happens over time.
The most common symptoms of kidney disease are changes in urination:
- Foamy, bubbly or dark-coloured urine
- Blood in the urine
- More frequent urination during the night
- Difficulty urinating, or a decrease in the volume of urine
There are plenty of other less obvious signs too, which aren’t directly linked to urination, but are still symptoms of what happens when things go wrong with your kidneys.
These symptoms include:
- Swelling/ water retention in the legs, ankles, feet, face or hands
- Fatigue or anaemia due to a decrease in red blood cells
- Shortness of breath, due to lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells
- Severe itching or skin rashes, caused by a build-up of waste in the body
- A metallic taste in the mouth, due to a build-up of waste in the bloodstream
- Nausea or vomiting, due to waste build-up
- Dizziness or difficulty concentrating, caused by a lack of oxygen being carried to the brain
Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems all increase the risk of kidney failure, but lifestyle (diet and exercise) also plays a role. The good news is, with a few healthy habits, you can ease the load on your kidneys and do your best to protect them.
Easy Ways to Protect your Kidneys
- Firstly, make sure you’re hydrated. That means drinking plenty of fresh, clean water. Other drinks like juice, coffee or tea can contribute a little towards hydration – but caffeine is a diuretic, and most juices are full of sugar and additives too. There’s simply no substitute for pure water.
Top Tip: If your urine is pale (straw-coloured or lighter), that’s a good sign that you’re getting enough fluid. Darker shades of yellow can be a sign of dehydration.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables. This will help you get enough of the nutrients and antioxidants that support kidney health.
- Avoid eating salty foods, or adding salt to every meal. Too much salt raises the sodium levels in your bloodstream, making it harder for your kidneys to remove the water (causing water retention). This leads to higher blood pressure and added strain on the kidneys.
- Avoid smoking and drinking. Having alcohol and nicotine in your system forces your kidneys to work harder to remove those added toxins from your blood. Not to mention the other health complications that smoking and drinking can cause!
- Monitor your blood pressure regularly. If it is high, you may have a higher risk of kidney failure, so speak to your health care practitioner about the right way to manage it.
- Regular exercise and a healthy body weight will reduce the workload on your kidneys. Just 30 minutes of physical activity every day will keep you fit.
Your kidneys do so much for you; say thank you by taking good care of them!