You can sense and experience your brain thinking, you feel your heart beating, you make your lungs expand and contract with the breath – but it’s very rare any of us will “feel” our kidneys at all unless there’s an infection of some kind.
When it comes to the body’s vital organs, we’d say the kidneys are the least-celebrated, behind-the-scenes performers; and yet without any kidney function (acute renal failure), humans can only live for about two to three weeks without the support of dialysis.
In honor of National Kidney Month, you might as well give your kidneys a gentle pat of thanks (they’re located on the back side of your body, just below your rib cage – higher up than you might think…).
You may only think of the kidneys as a place where waste is filtered and eliminated, and this is the kidneys’ main functions. However, it takes a lot of work to get that job done – and kidneys are responsible for other important jobs as well.
While you’re appreciating your kidneys, here are 5 amazing facts you may not have realized about these organ powerhouses.
The heart gets all the credit for pumping blood through your veins, so you’d imagine that more blood flows through the heart than any other organ, right?
In fact, more blood flows through the kidneys each day than through the heart, liver and the brain each day. Your kidneys receive about 120 pints (2.5 gallons) per hour via a dense and extensive system of capillaries. These capillaries are essential to accommodate the extensive filtering of high-waste volumes they eliminate each day.
Typically, we speak about healthy blood pressure as an important foundation of heart health. However, kidneys are responsible for affecting blood pressure as well. All that blood flow through the kidneys allows toxins and waste to filter at a fast rate.
If those capillaries or the veins/arteries leading to and from the kidney harden, constrict or become damaged, the kidney’s nephrons don’t have the oxygen and nutrients required to do their job. Toxins begin to accumulate as the filtration process slows down.
These accumulated toxins increase blood pressure further, and it becomes a vicious cycle. This is why high blood pressure is the second-leading cause of kidney failure.
Red blood cells provide two main functions; they contain hemoglobin, which carries and delivers oxygen molecules through your body and they also remove carbon dioxide from the cells and deliver it to your lungs so you can exhale it.
These vital cells are actually made in your marrow, but your kidneys produce a special hormone, called erythropoietin (EPO) that prompts the marrow to make red blood cells. If kidneys aren’t healthy, they can’t produce as much EPO, and the marrow produces fewer red blood cells. Over time, this leads to severe anemia.
Kidneys are amazingly adaptable. At age 40, the units that comprise the kidneys, called nephrons, begin to decline by a rate of 1% per year. This doesn’t make any difference in a healthy person because the remaining nephrons simply grow a little bigger to take up the slack.
Similarly, if part of a kidney is damaged, you are born without a kidney or you choose to donate a kidney to a recipient, your remaining kidney simply beefs up its nephrons’ and keeps doing its job. In children born with only one kidney, the existing kidney enlarges its nephrons so much that it winds up weighing as much as two kidneys would have.
The skin is the organ responsible for producing vitamin D for your body. If the skin slacks off for some reason, the liver is the second-string vitamin D producer, and if the liver doesn’t get the job done right – the kidneys will start to make it.
So go ahead, thank your kidneys and treat them to a healthy and hydrated National kidney month! Need to see a kidney specialist to keep your kidneys in good working order? Contact the Urology Team at Palouse Specialty Physicians.
The National Kidney Foundation put together this wonderful infographic for National Kidney Month
Published on March 29, 2019