March is National Kidney Month and this year, March 14 was designated World Kidney Day. This year’s theme is “Amazing kidneys!” Recognition designed to highlight the importance of kidney function, comparing it to that of the heart and lungs.
More than 26 million Americans have some form of kidney disease. Because it often goes undetected, many of those people will never discover they have it until the disease has already progressed. Nephrologist Dr. Trevor From, notes, “Kidney disease is like hypertension in that it’s silent.” This lack of awareness makes kidney disease an even more insidious killer.
The Kidney Foundation’s national president, Niloufer Bhesania emphasizes that, “World Kidney Day is a great way of promoting the importance of taking care of your kidneys and your overall health. It is also an opportune time to make a monetary donation to assist others or to make a positive decision regarding organ donation and to speak of your wishes with loved ones.”
Kidney disease affects at least one in 10 Americans. That increases the chances that you, someone you know, or a loved one, might be at risk of developing kidney disease. This most often occurs as a complication of heart disease, diabetes, and/or high blood pressure, which are its leading causes. Because of its effect on blood filtration, kidney dysfunction can lead to many other serious degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer.
Considered the body’s master chemists, the kidneys main function is to remove toxins from the blood,by filtering blood plasma and separating waste substances from useful chemicals. However, they do much more than that, producing certain hormones that regulate blood pressure, blood volume and blood pH, along with red blood cell production.
The kidneys hallmark is their outstanding filtering capacity. Dr. Barbara Ballermann, a professor of medicine and the director of the division of nephrology and immunology at the University of Alberta, offered this analogy, “Think of the gasoline tank of a car. You might have 60 liters in a tank. Well, the kidneys filter over three times as much every day. This is a huge rate of filtration. If they get hurt or sick, you end up losing vital protein in the urine and that can be detrimental to life.”
When the kidneys fail to function properly, it can lead to complete kidney failure, which causes toxins and waste products to accumulate in the body. This disrupts the chemical balance, as well as the thickness and volume of blood and other body fluids. The facts are plain; kidney disease is common, damaging, and often is undetected by those who have it. It is also treatable, so that kidney failure is not the only outcome. For those with kidney failure, dialysis, or a kidney transplant are the only chances of survival.
To manage your kidney health, follow this simple three-step process.
Determine if you are at risk.
- Do you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes
- Are you African-American, Native-American or Asian-American
- Do you smoke
- Do you have high cholesterol
- Are you obese
- Do you have a family member whose kidneys have failed
- Are you older than 65 years of age
Dr. Michael Copland, past-chair of The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Medical Advisory Committee, notes, “People at higher risk for developing kidney disease need to pay close attention to their kidney health. Regular monitoring of the kidneys, through simple blood and urine tests can show how well the kidneys are functioning. These tests also allow people to gauge their risk for developing kidney failure in the future.”
Perform annual testing.
- Blood testing (basic panels including blood sugar, cholesterol and kidney function tests)
- Blood pressure
Your health practitioner will examine your results looking at several factors. The two laboratory blood tests that measure kidney function are creatinine and blood urea nitrogen, or BUN.The creatinine level measures kidney function and is often elevated with kidney damage. BUN, another indicator, is used along with the Creatinine/BUN ratio to further assess kidney functioning.
Albumin is an essential protein in human blood that helps regulate blood pressure. Albuminuria, the presence of albumin in urine, is a sign that albumin is leaking into the urine. This is one of the early signs of chronic kidney disease.
Estimated GFR or (e-GFR) is another useful measurement of kidney function. Chronic kidney disease causes a reduced e-GFR, as shown through blood testing. It is calculated using age, sex and the serum creatinine blood test result, to estimate the kidneys ability to filter waste products.
- Eat a diet full of natural and unprocessed foods that enhance health
- Drink adequate amounts of water
- Cut down on salt consumption
- Get some form of exercise daily
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Develop healthy stress management techniques
- Practice good sleep habits
- Avoid smoking and drug or alcohol abuse
Kidney health effects, and is affected by, all other systems in the body. Maintaining healthy kidneys will minimize your risk of developing other degenerative diseases. By creating awareness and focusing on this often-overlooked aspect of wellness, you can maintain full kidney function and experience improved overall health and well-being throughout your lifetime.