Age-Related Kidney Function in Men vs. Women

June 07,2023 |
Older man and woman taking a nature walk.

Kidneys are vital organs that perform crucial functions in maintaining the body's overall health and well-being. For example, they help our bodies absorb nutrients for fuel while disposing of harmful or unnecessary substances. However, as we age, our kidneys can decrease in efficiency. This can lead to severe health problems, and, over time, kidney failure, which can be fatal. However, new research has shown that age-related kidney function isn’t quite the same between men and women. To better understand this, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about age-related kidney function in men vs. women, according to the findings from recent studies.


Understanding the Kidneys

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs on either side of the spine, just below the rib cage. They work hard to filter waste and excess fluids from our blood, which is eliminated through urination. The kidneys rely on a complex system of tiny blood vessels and other units called nephrons. Each kidney contains around one million nephrons, constantly working to help keep our bodies in homeostasis.

As blood flows through the kidneys, it’s filtered through the glomerulus—a cluster of blood vessels within each nephron. Here, waste products and excess fluids are removed and sent to the bladder to be expelled from the body as urine. The remaining filtered blood continues to pass through the tubules of the nephrons, where vital substances such as sodium, potassium, and calcium are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. The kidneys also play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure and producing hormones that stimulate the production of red blood cells.


Age-Related Changes in Kidney Functions

As we age, kidneys gradually become less efficient at filtering waste and excess fluids from the blood. This is a natural part of getting older and is often referred to by doctors as an age-related decline in kidney function or age-related nephropathy.

Although age-related changes in the kidneys can vary from person to person, some things will gradually happen to everyone. For one, the number of nephrons starts to decline, which decreases overall blood flow to the kidneys. This can reduce the kidney’s ability to filter waste and regulate fluid balance. Over time, this can increase the risk of kidney disease and other related complications.

Older adults may also experience changes in the structure and function of the bladder, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence. Additionally, some people become more susceptible to certain kidney-related diseases, such as diabetic nephropathy and hypertension, which can further contribute to age-related decline in kidney function.


Gender Differences in Women’s Kidney Functions Over Time

Over the years, women are more vulnerable to certain types of kidney damage or disease. This is especially true during pregnancy, as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes can cause complications to parts of the body, including the kidneys.

Additionally, women with chronic kidney disease (CKD) may be at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. This is because the kidneys play a role in maintaining bone health, and CKD can lead to calcium and phosphorus imbalances, weakening the bones over time.


Recent Research Findings on the Age-Related Kidney Function in Men vs. Women

Despite previous findings that found women at a higher risk for some kidney-related complications, new research suggests that men generally experience a more rapid decline in kidney function as they age.

A 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that men experienced a faster decline in kidney function than women, with the rate of decline accelerating after age 40. The study also found that men had a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) than women. Another study found that the rate of decline in kidney function was slower in women than in men. However, they noted that this was partly attributed to differences in hormonal factors, such as estrogen.

While the exact reasons for the gender differences in kidney function over time are not fully understood, it’s believed that hormonal differences, genetics, and lifestyle factors may play a role. For example, men may be more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, which can negatively impact kidney function.

However, it’s important to note that these gender differences aren’t universal. Several individual factors can influence kidney function in both men and women. The studies also found that factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking more significantly impacted kidney function decline in men than in women.


How to Maintain Kidney Health as You Age

Regardless of gender, it’s important to note that it’s still possible to maintain healthy kidney function with the right habits. The best way to do this is by living a healthy lifestyle and managing your underlying conditions. Your doctor may also recommend regular kidney function testing and monitoring to detect and address potential kidney-related problems. Additionally, if you experience any symptoms indicating declining kidney health, it’s essential to see your doctor as soon as possible to undergo diagnostics and treatment. In the meantime, take a proactive approach to kidney health with the following tips.


Stay Hydrated

Your kidneys need water to thrive, so staying hydrated year-round is essential. Drinking enough water helps flush out toxins and waste products from the kidneys, which optimizes their function and reduces unnecessary strain. Dehydration can also contribute to kidney damage, so drink plenty of fluids, primarily water, throughout the day.


Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese harms several systems within your body. For example, extra weight puts unnecessary strain on your kidneys and increases your risk of developing kidney disease. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy BMI through a balanced diet and regular exercise can help protect your kidneys. It would also be advantageous to cut out processed foods and avoid eating excessive amounts of protein to help support kidney health.


Manage Chronic Conditions

As the studies mentioned, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure damage your kidneys over time. Therefore, following your doctor’s treatment plan is essential to keep underlying conditions in check. Always take your medications as prescribed and contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.


Quit Smoking

Smoking is terrible for you. It can damage blood vessels throughout your body, including those that supply blood to the kidneys. Smoking also increases your risk of kidney disease and several types of cancers. Quitting can help protect your kidney health and reduce your risk of developing other health problems as you age.


Limit Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking will also lead to kidney damage, especially if it’s ongoing for several years. Try to drink in moderation or not at all. Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your blood pressure, further damaging your kidneys and other systems in your body.


Monitor Medications

Certain medications, including some over-the-counter pain relievers, can harm your kidneys. Talk to your healthcare provider about your medications and whether they may affect your kidney health. Although taking medications as prescribed is important, there may be alternative options for long-term care.


Get Regular Kidney Tests

Early signs of kidney disease and decline often go unnoticed, as they don’t tend to show symptoms until later stages. Therefore, as you age, talk to your doctor about scheduling regular kidney function tests to detect any changes or problems early on. Your healthcare provider may recommend blood and urine tests to check kidney function and look for signs of disease. In addition, your healthcare provider may recommend more frequent testing if you have a family history of kidney disease or other risk factors.

To help you maintain optimal kidney function as you age, Byram Healthcare provides medical supplies and support as needed. Visit our educational support page or our urology product selection guide to learn more. Byram is proud to offer full-service urologic care that can be discreetly delivered to your home.

Byram Healthcare is a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.