A kidney is a complex structure that serves to filter water and waste from the body. Most people have two kidneys that are the size of a fist and are situated on either side of the spine near the bottom ribs. The kidneys filter around 200 quarts of blood each day. Since the average human has six to eight liters of blood in their body, the kidneys are capable of filtering the entire bloodstream around 25 times per day. Understanding the structure of a kidney is the first step in learning how to improve kidney function.
The Filtration Process
As blood passes through the body, it is directed to the kidneys by a series of blood vessels that go from very large to extremely small. Within the kidneys there is a complex arrangement of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that only allow a single blood cell to pass through at a time. These vessels pass by a structure that contains a membrane that allows small particles to leave the bloodstream. The pores in this membrane are too small for blood cells to pass and they allow for the collection of water and waste in tubules while preventing blood cells from leaving the body.
The water and waste that is collected from the bloodstream is transported through the kidney by a long tube that passes by areas of high and low salt concentration. The concentration gradients that exist within the kidneys are designed to allow the body to add and remove water to the collection tubes based on the needs that the body has at the time. Eventually, the filtered water and waste pass from the kidneys to the bladder where they are stored until excreted in the form of urine.
While the primary function of the kidneys is to remove excess water and waste from the blood, they also remove drugs from the body, regulate red blood cell production, maintain blood pressure, and assist in the process of creating Vitamin D. In order to learn how to improve kidney function, one must appreciate the many responsibilities that the kidneys have and how different diseases can interfere with their ability to operate effectively. Acquiring this knowledge prior to the development of kidney disease is the best strategy for avoiding the need for dialysis.
Acute and Chronic Kidney Disease
Damage to the kidneys can occur over a very short period of time or may require many years to develop. Kidney damage that occurs very rapidly is referred to as acute kidney failure and is most often the result of an illness, injury, or toxic chemical. A large percentage of people who suffer from acute kidney failure will die. Around half of these patients recover through intense treatment in the critical care unit of a hospital. In contrast to acute kidney failure, is damage that occurs over a long period of time. This type of condition is referred to as chronic kidney failure and it is most often linked to diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Individuals who suffer from chronic kidney failure benefit most from learning how to improve kidney function as they undergo dialysis treatment.
Improving Kidney Function
Individuals who have chronic kidney disease resulting from diabetes are commonly taught how to improve kidney function by maintaining their blood sugar. Those that suffer from high blood pressure can improve kidney function by avoiding high salt foods. General recommendations for how to improve kidney function include avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, doing away with smoking, and inquiring about the possible adverse effects of imaging procedures such as x-rays. Additional steps that individuals can take to avoid needing dialysis in the future include exercising on a daily basis and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Diet can have a dramatic impact on the health of all bodily systems including the kidneys. When instructing dialysis patients on how to improve kidney function, it is critically important to discuss the dietary modifications that need to be made. In general, everyone should be careful about the amount of processed foods that they are consuming. These foods often contain very high levels of salt and additives that can have a damaging effect on the kidneys.
Preparing meals from scratch is an excellent way to monitor the amount of salt and additives that are going into the foods that you eat. Additional nutrients that need to be tracked include phosphorous, protein, calories, and potassium. More information about proper nutrition can be found in the renal diet recipes post. Individuals may also want to work directly with a dietitian to develop a diet plan that reduces the risk of kidney disease and helps prevent the need for dialysis treatment down the road.
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