Understanding what the kidneys do is essential to appreciate their importance. They are vital for survival. We are born with two after all! (Although some people may only have one – and can live perfectly healthy lives.) The kidneys are two bean shaped organs. Each is about the size of a fist. They are located below the ribs on each side of the spine. Here is a brief summary of what the kidneys do:
They filter waste products from the blood.
About 200 quarts of blood are filtered through your kidneys per day! The kidneys get rid of waste products from metabolism, medications and other toxins.
They maintain acid/base and electrolyte balance.
Normal body pH range is from 7.35 to 7.45. The kidneys play a part in maintaining this level by excreting acids or reabsorbing bases. They also keep the correct amounts of electrolytes (sodium, potassium and calcium) in the blood. Nerves, muscles and tissues require the right balance to function properly.
They maintain fluid balance.
The body likes to remain in euvolemia – which is defined as the presence of normal amounts of body fluid. The kidneys help this balance by making sure what goes in is equal to what goes out.
They help control blood pressure.
When blood pressure drops, the kidneys produce an enzyme called renin. Renin begins a cascade of reactions in the body which eventually tells the kidney to hold onto fluid and sodium and thus bring blood pressure back up to normal.
They help make red blood cells.
Erythropoietin is a hormone produced by the kidneys which signals bone marrow signaling to produce red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body which is essential for proper function of cells.
They help keep bones healthy.
When you take in vitamin D from food or sunlight, the kidneys turn it into the active form which is called Calcitriol. Calcitriol performs many functions: it is needed for your gut to absorb calcium, balances phosphorus and calcium in your blood and is needed for bone formation.
As you can see, the kidneys perform numerous functions that keep your whole body running properly. Many issues can arise when the kidneys aren’t working as they should…. waste products can build up in the body, electrolyte disturbances may occur, blood pressure can be elevated, you can develop anemia and weak bones. The bottom line is – you may not feel well and this can have a huge impact on the quality of your life.
In addition to following your doctors plan, proper nutrition can improve these symptoms and help stop further kidney damage. Kidney diets are not one-size-fits-all, so fortunately that bland and boring “renal diet” you found on google is not necessarily right for you – and it could actually be doing more harm than good. This is why meeting with a registered dietitian, especially one who specializes in kidney nutrition, is so important. Take the leap and give nutrition a try, your kidneys are worth it!