Saturday, August 1, 2009

Our Kidneys

When I began my journey into understanding how to deal with my kidney issue. I had to start at the very core of what was causing all this trouble. I had to learn about the organ that in question, the kidney.

I must admit that before that time, I really didn't know much about health. Like any young man, what I knew about health was related to exercise. It was something like health = exercise + muscles. Well, maybe a little bit more, but not much more definitely. 

To this day, the more I learn the more I figure out the there is so much more I don't know about my health.

So here it is... the kidney.

The kidneys are small bean-shaped organs, about 4 to 5 inches long, that filter our blood to make urine. We are born with two kidneys, which are located in the mid to lower back, slightly below the rib cage, with one on either side of the spine.

I've come to learn that our kidneys are one of the most important organs in the human body, performing a variety of important functions that allow us to live well. Of these, the most important functions are filtering the waste products found in our blood and removing excess fluids from our bodies.

But this is just the surface. It seems that in the background, it does so many other things that is needed by our bodies in order for us to be healthy.

Blood Pressure Control

One of the most well known facts about the kidney is that it regulates our blood pressure. It does this by removing the excess salt and fluids from our blood and turn them into urine.

When our blood pressure is low, our kidneys produce a substance called renin. Renin produces a number of chemical reactions within your body to increase blood pressure.

On the other hand, when our blood pressure goes up above normal, our kidneys spring into action by not taking salt and water out of our blood. By doing so, along with constricting blood flow by narrowing our blood vessels, the kidney brings down our blood pressure.

Electrolyte Regulation

In addition to filtering the body's waste products and controlling our blood pressure, our kidneys also maintain the balance of electrolytes levels in our bodies. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride are important to our bodies as they help in regulating hydration, and are critical for nerve and muscle function.

By removing the proper amounts of fluids from our bodies, the kidneys play a part in maintaining electrolyte balance. Too much water in our system will dilute electrolytes to the point that you could experience muscle weakness, contractions or even convulsions. While removing too much water will leave us dehydrated and concentrating the electrolytes too much.

Making Blood

One of the hidden secrets of the kidney is that it is needed by our bone marrows to produce blood. And without it we will lack blood and get very weak and sluggish. This is how it works. Erythropoietin is a hormone produced in the kidney that is needed to induce the production of red blood cells in the body's bone marrow. The kidney is the primary source for the body's erythropoietin, with the rest, about 10-15%, being produced in the liver.

Erythropoietin, yes, the word is a handful, promotes the development and differentiation of red blood cells and initiates the production of hemoglobin, which is the molecule within red cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. (more on this as we go along)

And yes, in case you are wondering, erythropoietin is also known as EPO. And it is the substance used by athletes, namely endurance athletes, to enhance performance, though the type they use is synthetic (man-made).

Bone Building

One other thing I wanted to mention was that our kidneys produce calcitriol, which is the active form of vitamin D. What calcitriol does is it regulates calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D levels to keep bones strong and healthy. By acting on cells of the intestine, calcitriol promotes calcium absorption from food. It is in this manner that our kidneys help in keeping our bones strong.

Going through all that, I am reminded by the saying that 'big things come in small packages'. This is definitely what I would say about the kidney.

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