We need to look after our kidneys better

Most of us underestimate the contribution our kidneys make to our good health.

Kidneys are a feature-packed, highly efficient filtration and waste elimination system as well as the source of some essential hormones and vitamins. They’re compact, built-in, self-contained, portable and low maintenance.

About 1,500 litres of blood pass through the kidneys each day. Essential nutrients and water are reabsorbed and the waste products created by our cells are removed in the form of urine.

Together with the bladder, which acts as a mechanism to batch this output, kidneys are the ultimate personal waste disposal system, requiring little maintenance.

When things go wrong

Although there are many causes of kidney disease, dietary and other lifestyle issues are beginning to dominate. More than a third of all new patients are now reaching end-stage kidney disease due to diabetes and about one in eight as a result of high blood pressure.

Not only are many of the risk factors for kidney disease the same as those for heart disease, kidney disease itself is considered a risk factor for developing heart disease.

Symptoms of kidney disease

Many people are unaware of kidney problems as the symptoms are non-specific and occur late in the process – more than 90% of kidney function may be lost before any symptoms are noticed.

Common symptoms include nausea, a change in taste or loss of appetite, fatigue and itching from the build-up of toxins. Sometimes there may be swelling or blood or protein in the urine (protein may cause urine to become frothy).

However, thanks to technology, kidneys are the only major organs that can completely fail but leave patients alive and reasonably healthy, although an alternative filtration system is required (dialysis).

Dialysis and transplants

While dialysis keeps people alive, it only provides 10% to 15% of health kidney function.

A kidney transplant may avert the need for dialysis but in addition to the risks of having an operation and general anaesthetic, unless the patient has an identical twin, the transplanted kidney will be seen by their immune system as foreign.

Left unchecked, transplanted kidneys are soon rejected, and fail. Immune-suppressing drugs can prevent this, but they have serious side effects and have to be taken for the rest of your life, making them much more vulnerable to all sorts of infections, and also cancers.

Looking after your kidneys

“Chances are, if you are looking after your kidneys, you are also looking after the rest of your body” say Carsen and Chakera in the article published in The Conversation:

You’ve probably heard it all before but if you eat a balanced diet that’s low in salt, fat, and sugar, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, drink sufficient water, restrict your alcohol intake and don’t smoke, you are caring for your kidneys. You’ll also be reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancer.


Authors: Christine Carsen (Research Associate at the University of Western Australia &, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research) and Aron Chakera (Clinical senior lecturer, University of Western Australia)  Full Article: The Conversation

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