March is National Kidney Month and this year we celebrate World Kidney Day on March 12. In honor of this health awareness month, here are five facts about the kidneys that may surprise you:
It doesn't take two to tango. The kidneys are located in your back, just below the rib cage, and most people are born with two kidneys. You only need one kidney though, making it possible to donate a kidney to someone else while you're still living.
Size doesn't matter. Each kidney only weighs about five ounces, but despite being small in stature, the kidneys are big in responsibility. Every day, they clean the body's entire volume of blood, removing toxins, wastes and excess water as urine.
Hold it. You can thank your kidneys for sending you to the bathroom an average of four to seven times each day. Healthy kidneys filter wastes from the blood and create urine in the process. When the kidneys are damaged, some proteins are small enough to "leak" into the discard pile, resulting in protein in the urine, the earliest sign of kidney damage.
Kidneys are master multitaskers. As the kidneys clean the blood, they simultaneously regulate the body's fluid levels, and keep blood minerals such as sodium, phosphorus and potassium in balance.
The domino effect. Healthy kidneys also impact other functions in the body. They activate vitamin D to maintain healthy bones, and release hormones that direct the production of red blood cells and regulate blood pressure.
Anyone can get kidney disease at any age. However, according to a new report, more than 50 percent of Americans currently aged 30 to 49 will develop kidney disease in their lifetime. This outweighs the risk of developing more commonly talked about diseases such as breast cancer and diabetes.
So what can you do about this alarming trend? Take five for your kidneys with these simple things everyone can do to protect their kidneys and prevent kidney disease:
Get tested! Often kidney disease has no physical symptoms until the late stages, making annual screening for those at risk critical. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) recommends yearly urine and blood testing for those with high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney failure, and for those over age 60. Ask your healthcare practitioner for an ACR urine test and a GFR blood test if you're at risk, or get screened for free though the NKF's KEEP Healthy program by visiting kidney.org to find a screening near you.
Reduce NSAID use. Over the counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may alleviate your aches and pains, but they can harm the kidneys, especially if your kidneys are already damaged. Always follow the recommended dosage and package instructions.
Exercise regularly. When you exercise, your kidneys benefit. Regular physical activity keeps your bones, muscles, blood vessels, heart and kidneys healthy. Even reducing the amount of time you sit each day can make a difference.
Hydrate! Stay well hydrated to help your kidneys clear toxins from the body more easily. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary beverages is also one of the best ways to avoid kidney stones. For most people, drinking 1.5-2 liters (three to four pints) of water per day is a healthy target.
Ease up on the processed foods. Processed foods can be a significant source of sodium, nitrates and phosphates, which have been linked to kidney disease. Consider adopting the DASH diet for a balanced and healthy approach.
Have a kidney question? Post it in the comments below.