What Do Kidneys Do??

As I’m continuing to work on sharing information about kidney health and nutrition, I just realized something.

I skipped a pretty important topic.

I haven’t talked much as to what your kidneys even do for you!

Whoops.

My bad.

But fear not! I’ll fill you in on why they are sooo important!

Your kidneys are about the size of your fist and located in your torso, by your lower back. Most people have two kidneys, but some are born with one that just does the job for two.

This is also why many choose to be living donors.

Let’s dive in to the functions of the kidneys, and how they are impacted with chronic kidney disease.

  1. Kidneys are part of the internal filtration system.

The kidneys are filtering your blood, 24/7. The kidneys pull toxins and waste products from the blood stream and release them into the bladder, where they are eventually eliminated in your urine.

In fact, your kidneys filter approximately 180 liters of blood every day!

With chronic kidney disease, there is a higher risk of toxin/waste build up. This is where diet comes in play, with individualized guidelines for protein, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. The varying stages will result in different diet, medication, and lifestyle recommendations for each person.

2. Kidneys balance pH.

The kidneys filter excessive acid and base to make sure your blood and body is not too acidic nor basic. (Those special waters they sell do not do this!) However, your diet can play a part in your acid/base balance.

With chronic kidney disease, medication is often prescribed to ensure the balance is maintained. If you are on dialysis, you also recieve a special order with your treatments to help regulate your acid/base balance.

3. Kidneys create vitamin D.

Have you heard you get vitamin D from the sun? Well, it’s your kidney that is responsible for turning that “sunny D” into an important hormone in your body. That hormone then helps with regulating your calcium levels and bone health.

With chronic kidney disease, medication/supplementation may be provided to keep levels adequate (but note: this is not the same as the “vitamin D” you see in the pharmacy section). Always talk with your physician and dietitian about a new supplement before starting it!

4. Kidneys help create red blood cells.

The kidneys make erythropoietin to create red blood cells. These cells play an important role in delivering nutrients and oxygen to your organs (including your kidneys!).

With chronic kidney disease, it is common to experience anemia due to the low hemoglobin. Symptoms of anemia include low energy/fatigue, looking pale, cold hands or feet, poor appetite, or difficulty concentrating. Medication is provided based on physician order

5. Kidneys keep bones strong.

By creating active vitamin D, the kidneys help manage our bones, which are constantly a work in progress. Along with this, the kidneys oversee your calcium and phosphorus balance.

With chronic kidney disease, calcium can become very low or very high, which leads to increased risk of fracture/breaks, stroke, and heart attack. Phosphorus also then becomes uncontrolled, which also increases the risks of these health complications.

6. Kidneys balance blood pressure and hydration level.

The kidneys regulate how much fluid we need, and how much what we release by urination. In doing this, it will change our blood pressure by releasing the hormones needed to increase or decrease the pressure. Think of a garden hose: increasing the water increases the pressure at which the water comes out.

With chronic kidney disease, some need to limit their fluids and some need medication to help with urination. As the kidney function declines, so does the ability to urinate. This means most with later-stage kidney disease will be on medications and fluid restrictions.

Chronic kidney disease is highly individualized.

The diet, lifestyle, medications, and renal replacement therapy can be different across people who have the same disease. If you are struggling with kidney disease and want to have a deeper discussion into what your needs are, let’s work together.