Kidney Health: What You Might Not Know About Your Body's Blood Filter

September 07,2022 |
Doctor talking to his patient.

The kidneys are small, bean-shaped organs that sit just below the rib cage on opposite sides of your spine. They remove waste by filtering the blood in your body to help you remain in a state of homeostasis. About every minute of every day, the kidneys will filter about a half cup of blood. In a healthy individual, this means filtering about 720 cups of blood, or close to 45-50 gallons, each day. The resulting waste product is urine, which flows into the bladder through the ureters. Once the bladder is full, neurons begin firing to your brain to remind you that it’s time to find the nearest bathroom. Urine is diverted out and away from your body through the urethra. All of these components, and a few more, make up the urinary tract. While this seems pretty straightforward, there are a few things you might not know about your body’s blood filter. Here, we’ll explore some lesser-known facts and the importance of kidney health.


The Importance of Kidney Health

The kidneys are a life-sustaining purification system that filters out toxic substances, excess sodium, acid, extra fluid, and more. This allows your body to maintain a healthy balance of potassium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, salts, and water in the bloodstream. The state of homeostasis provided by your kidneys creates an optimal environment for your body to function. If levels of these minerals or salts become too saturated or undersaturated in the blood, it can affect everything from nerve feelings, muscle control, and the microscopic chemical reactions that make our body work. Kidneys are also essential to regulating blood pressure, maintaining bone health, and producing red blood cells.

Without functioning kidneys, your body wouldn’t be able to expel the waste that’s produced when you eat or drink. This would result in a major upset of the chemical balance within your cells, eventually leading to sepsis and complete shut-down. Like most organs (except for the appendix), your body cannot function without a healthy kidney.


Interesting Facts about Your Kidneys

When people think of interesting kidney-related facts, the ability to survive with only one is at the top of the list. Kidney donations are often made by friends or family members with compatible blood types and tissue types. However, there are several lesser-known interesting facts about your kidneys. Some of them include the following.


  1. Kidney Filtering Capacity

    As mentioned, the kidneys filter up to 50 gallons of blood each day. All of this happens automatically deep within your body. While it might not seem like a big deal, the kidneys work hard to successfully extract waste materials. In fact, each kidney is made up of about one million tiny structures called nephrons. These are the filtering units, constructed of a glomerulus and a tubule. The glomerulus is an intricate cluster of tiny vessels that each drop of your blood passes through up to 25 times per day. The size and width of these glomerulus allow the microscopic waste particles and water to pass into a tubule, while keeping the larger, essential nutrients (proteins, carbs, fat) in your blood stream. As the filtered liquid (water, waste, minerals) begins to travel back up the tubule, blood vessels reabsorb any essential nutrients and the water that your body needs. The remaining liquid in the tubule is what eventually comes out of the body as urine.


  2. Kidneys Produce about One to Two Liters of Urine Per Day

    The blood filtration process happens every day, as you ingest food and beverages. Depending on your height, weight, and intake, the kidneys can produce between one and two liters of urine per day. This can change based on how much water you’re drinking, the temperature outside, and whether or not you’re physically active or more sedentary.

    When you increase your liquid intake, the process is the same but not as much water is reabsorbed by the blood vessels when it passes through the tubule. This is why being hydrated leads to a more transparent color of your urine—the waste materials are less concentrated. When you’re dehydrated, your kidneys will try to absorb every drop of water that passes through the tubule, which is why your urine may appear dark yellow or even brown. Hydration is an important part of keeping your kidneys healthy and reducing their overall workload.


  3. If One Kidney is Lost, the Other Gets Bigger

    This is one interesting fact that many people don’t know—when you lose one kidney, the other gets bigger. In fact, the remaining kidney can increase to about 50% or 60% of its normal size! This is done to make up for the lost capacity of waste filtration that occurs when one is removed. This growth is due to increased protein synthesis that occurs within the kidneys, which essentially signals cellular growth to accommodate a higher need for filtration and processing. This change in size has even been known to happen in individuals who still have both kidneys, but experience disease or decreased efficiency in one.


  4. Chronic Kidney Disease Affects 1 in 7 Americans

    Chronic kidney disease is a condition that affects the efficiency of kidney functioning. This is usually a gradual decline that happens over time, making it easy to go unnoticed until CKD has progressed to more serious stages. The biggest risk factors in developing CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure, so if you have either of these underlying conditions it’s important that you talk to your urologist about testing for kidney functioning over the years. Your doctor can measure functioning through blood tests for creatinine and a urinalysis to check for protein in the urine.

    Some symptoms of CKD include swollen ankles or feet, shortness of breath, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, itchy skin, weight loss, hematuria, increased frequency, and more. If you experience any symptoms of chronic kidney disease, see your doctor immediately as these are often indications that the condition is already in an advanced stage.


  5. Kidney Cancer is Among the 10 Most Common Cancers

    According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. It affects close to 75,000 people each year, 60% of which are men. However, when caught early, patients with kidney cancer tend to have a 93% five-year survival rate, which is why it’s important to see your doctor regularly and at any sign of an abnormality. Otherwise, the cancerous cells begin to render kidneys unable to perform their job, which can lead to serious complications such as an imbalance of red blood cells and even sepsis. While kidney cancer affects older individuals more often, those with a family history should talk to their urologist about preventative screenings and healthy lifestyle behaviors. Smoking, obesity, and exposure to certain chemicals can also increase your risk of developing kidney cancer.


  6. What You Consume Affects Kidney Health

Since your kidneys are responsible for filtering out waste from your food and beverage, it makes sense that what you consume has a direct effect on their health. Some of the best ways to optimize kidney health are to decrease your sodium intake, follow a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, limit phosphorous and calcium intake, reduce potassium intake, and opt for whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and foods with plenty of omega-3 fatty acid like fish and eggs. While you can still enjoy things you love in moderation, eating a diet that’s primarily filled with whole, nutritious foods will help support optimal kidney health and provide the rest of your body with vitamins and minerals you need for health and vitality.

Maintaining good kidney health is an important part of longevity and overall bodily functions. The more you take care of yourself, the lower your risk of developing complications or conditions that may affect how your kidneys operate. If you experience kidney stones, notice any signs of chronic kidney disease, or have a family history of kidney cancer, see your urologist regularly for proactive measures against further problems. If you experience any pain or discomfort in your abdomen, see your urologist or another medical professional as soon as possible. To learn more about urologic supplies, urology problems and complications, or additional resources, visit our educational support page. Byram Healthcare is a full-service urological care supplier that offers discreet home delivery directly to your doorstep.

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.