Thought about your kidneys recently? Like so many other body bits, kidneys tend not to be top of mind – they just do what they do and we are none the wiser until something goes amiss. And there’s the rub. You will probably be surprised to learn that chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects about 1.7 million people in Australia. That’s one in 10 adults over 18. Many more have no idea they are headed for trouble because kidneys are sneaky; there’s often no sign of problems until the disease is well advanced. The good news is you can guard against trouble by arming yourself with the facts and practising a few simple healthy life rules.
How they work
The important organs act as the body’s filtering system. They clean waste from about 200 litres of blood each day; the essential minerals and other elements are retained and the rest is passed through the body as urine. Kidneys ensure your body has the correct balance of salts and acids, and they produce certain hormones and enzymes that control functions such as blood pressure and the production of red blood cells. Kidneys also play an important role in keeping bones strong, as they produce active vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
What about kidney stones?
Kidney stones are small rocks made up of calcium crystals that can sometimes form inside the kidneys. You may not even be aware of them, or they may make your life a living hell. If a stone moves into the bladder and causes a blockage, it can result in severe pain. Most stones eventually ‘pass’ in urine but larger stones may require medical intervention. If you do pass a stone and you know it, it’s a good idea to try and retrieve it, then take it for analysis by your doctor, as this can assist in determining the best course of treatment going forward.
Do I have a stone?
Possible signs may include:
• ‘Gritty’ urine
• Feeling shaky or feverish
• Lower back pain
• Cloudy, bad-smelling urine
• Blood in the urine
• Recurrent urinary infections
• Feeling an urgent need to pee yet not being able to go
What should I do?
Follow the general rules for keeping kidneys healthy – in particular, drink lots of fluids, eat a balanced diet, and stay well hydrated. If you are ever in doubt, be sure to see your doctor immediately.
Can’t I function with just one?
Absolutely. It’s possible to live a normal life with just one kidney – in fact, many people are born with only one. Then there are those who selflessly donate a good working organ to someone with advanced kidney disease who might otherwise die. The proviso, of course, is that your one kidney should be in tip-top condition. In any case, just because it’s possible to live with only one, doesn’t mean you should slack off on caring for both!
The salt trap...
Excess dietary salt (sodium) increases the amount of protein excreted in urine – a huge contributing factor in both kidney and heart disease. Take a load off your hardworking kidneys by trying to consume less of it. Avoid cooking with it, shake less of it onto your food and eat less sodium-dense processed foods.
On nutrition labels, look for no-added salt foods that contain less than 120mg per 100g of sodium. It may be tough at first but you can train your palate to enjoy less salt by getting creative with flavourful herbs and spices instead.