When it comes to wellness, typically, people think first about the importance of heart, gut, and even skin health. However, those systems are only part of the bigger picture. Less often thought of as you move through daily lives, yet a critical component of your well-being is kidney health.
Why are Kidneys So Important?
Small but mighty, each kidney is only about the size of a fist.
Healthy kidneys act as highly efficient filters, removing toxins, acid, and extra fluid to make urine. The urine then flows from the kidneys to the bladder, flushing out liquid waste. These organs work together to maintain a delicate balance of substances and fluids within the body.
Without well-functioning kidneys, harmful toxins and excess fluids build up in the body. Untreated kidney problems can lead to symptoms ranging from headaches, fatigue, and fluid retention to extreme lethargy, high blood pressure, kidney failure, and more.
Kidneys are responsible for:
- Waste Removal. After your body converts food into energy, waste enters the blood. Kidneys step in to receive this high blood flow and filter out several waste products— urea and creatinine, among others. The substances your body doesn’t need move on and eventually excreted through urine.
- Fluid Balance. In addition to acting as filters, kidneys act as the gatekeeper for water regulation throughout the body. Depending on the body’s needs, kidneys can either conserve water if you’re dehydrated or excrete water to maintain proper fluid balance.
- Blood Pressure Regulation. Along with waste, kidneys excrete a number of hormones. One of those hormones is called renin, an enzyme that controls blood pressure and maintains healthy levels of certain electrolytes. If blood pressure falls, kidneys can secrete renin to constrict blood vessels and boost blood pressure. If there’s a problem with the kidneys and renin production is in overdrive, you can develop high blood pressure that results in hypertension.
- Acid-Base Balance. In order to function properly, your body needs the right balanceof acidic and basic (alkaline) substances. When acids rise too high, it’s called acidosis. When pH levels are too alkaline, it’s called alkalosis. Both conditions can be detrimental to your health. Fortunately, healthy kidneys regulate acid-base balance by reabsorbing or secreting compounds necessary for healthy pH levels in the bloodstream.
- Red Blood Cell Production. Red blood cells have the vital role of carrying oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body. Essential game players in this process, kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO), which signals the body to produce red blood cells. When kidney function is impaired, red cell production can slow down, causing anemia.
- Mineral and Electrolyte Imbalance. One of the kidneys’ most essential jobs is to maintain proper mineral and electrolyte balance. Electrolytessuch as sodium, potassium, and chloride are minerals that support healthy fluid levels; nerve, muscle, heart, and brain functioning; and more. Kidneys can retain or excrete electrolytes based on the body’s needs.
- Kidneys detoxify the body by filtering and secreting toxins out of the blood. Without healthy kidneys, toxins build up in the body, causing kidney disease.
How to Support Kidney Health
With varied roles and responsibilities, kidneys are powerhouse organs in the body. It’s important to take care of your kidneys to stay healthy. Here’s how:
Stay hydrated. Drinking the right amount of water, gradually and consistently, is essential to feel good and support your kidneys. Most adults need a minimum of 4-6 cups of water per day, but true daily water needs vary based on age, weather, and activity levels as well as other variables such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or illness. Talk to your doctor about how much water is right for you.
Follow a balanced diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains is a step in the right direction for kidney health. A healthy, varied diet avoids overworking your kidneys’ waste removal process and keeps sodium levels in check.
Limit sodium intake. When you consume too much salt (sodium) it can throw off electrolyte balance, impacting kidney function. Consuming a low-sodium diet can lower the risk of developing a number of illnesses, including hypertension and kidney disease.
Manage blood pressure and diabetes. Untreated diabetes and blood pressure problems can wreak havoc on kidney health. If you suspect you or a loved one is dealing with symptoms of diabetes or high blood pressure, see a doctor as soon as possible. If you’ve received a diagnosis, take medication as prescribed and follow your doctor’s guidance on managing the illness to protect kidney health.
Exercise regularly. Studies show exercise improves circulation, increasing the rate kidneys can filter blood. Shoot for at least thirty minutes a day of an exercise you enjoy and talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise plan.
Quit smoking. Smoking harms more than your lungs— your kidneys can suffer, too. Research shows smoking reduces blood flow to kidneys and increases chances of high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about setting up a game plan for quitting smoking to preserve your health.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol contains toxins that can place kidneys in overdrive. For an adult with healthy kidneys, moderate alcohol consumption is unlikely to cause harm. But chronic drinking or binge drinking can greatly affect your health and worsen kidney disease.
Avoid overuse of medications. Always take medications as prescribed. Abusing medications—prescription or over the counter— can have dangerous health consequences, including kidney impairment. Consult a pharmacist and/or doctor with questions about starting any new medications, and make sure to share a list of current medications you’re already taking to avoid unintended drug interactions.
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight forces the kidneys to work harder than normal and, over time, increases the risk for kidney disease. Work with your doctor to manage your weight and make lifestyle changes in diet and exercise to support kidney health.
Get regular check-ups. With simple tests at the doctor’s office, your primary care physician can help identify and diagnose kidney-related problems. Ensure you see your doctor at least yearly for annual checkups, and more frequently if directed.
Finding the Best Nephrologist in CT for Your Needs
At the PACT Kidney Center in Connecticut, we provide medical care to patients with all forms of kidney disease including, but not limited to, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, proteinuria, hematuria, hypertension and electrolyte disorders. Our nephrologists also provide patient education and work to promote why kidney health is so important to your overall wellbeing.
Learn More About PACT
Physicians Alliance of Connecticut (PACT) is a multi-specialty medical group led and operated by over 30 physician partners and more than 100 healthcare providers. We are committed to healthcare excellence, innovation, safety, and quality in private-practice patient care in the New Haven area of Connecticut.