Health is something we take for granted most of the time. We know that a healthy diet, rest, regular exercise, having fun, and feeling like we are part of a community are all essential to our wellbeing. Can we go deeper than that? Most people don’t take the time to consider the health of their individual organs, until some kind of health crisis occurs. There is a lot of attention given to heart health in the popular media, but what about other organs, such as liver and kidneys?
Both play a vital role in helping you maintain good health, but did you know that if your kidneys fail, or are irreparable damaged, that the other organs cannot continue to function? That means without intervention such as dialysis or a transplant, you will die.
So how do you keep your kidneys healthy? First, let’s consider the role of the kidneys in the body.
You have two kidneys, and they are positioned deep within the body, protected by your lower ribs, an important layer of fat, and muscles.
The kidneys help eliminate waste and excess fluids from the body. They provide an essential blood filtration process that helps remove toxins from the blood then out of the body.
Every day your kidneys filter approximately 200 litres of blood plus another couple of litres of waste. You don’t have 200 litres of blood – it’s just that the kidneys are constantly filtering the blood you do have, over and over, to make sure it stays clean, and to help balance various salts, acids, hormones and enzymes in the blood. They also produce important hormones that are necessary for the production of red blood cells, or help control blood pressure, as well as some vitamins necessary for bone strength.
In Eastern medicine, the kidney system is related to vitality. It is the storage facility for “qi”, and has a role in hair and bone health, secretions such as urine and semen, the ears, and growth and maturation (from child to adult, for example). There is a quote by a famous ancient Chinese doctor, Zhang Jie Bin, that states “there are two kidneys, kidney yin and yang, with the Gate of Vitality between them. The kidney is the organ of water and fire, the abode of yin and yang, the sea of essence, and it determines life and death.”
That may sound romantic or dramatic but it is true that kidney health is essential for life.
Looking after your kidneys can be quite straight forward:
– It’s important to get enough plain water (not tea), so the kidneys have plenty of clean fluid to help them dilute and flush out waste. (Tea is a diuretic – it takes water from the body)
– If you need to pee, don’t hold it in. Help the kidneys eliminate waste when they need to by responding to sensations indicating a need to use the toilet
– Don’t over eat protein. Protein is a major source of waste creation and if you are eating an excess of protein it will make your kidneys work much harder
– Manage your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is unstable the kidneys have to work harder to regulate the processing of fluids
– If you are diabetic, you need to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and work with your doctor to keep them stable. People with diabetes are more likely to experience kidney damage and end up on dialysis. The constant fluctuation in hormone levels, such as insulin, and a number of other factors can result in severe consequences for the kidneys.
– Avoid chemicals and toxins that will add to the volume of waste the body needs to deal with
If you notice you are holding fluid it can be sign that your kidneys are under stress. It may sound strange but the best thing to do to combat fluid retention is to drink more water! This can help the body create a more healthy balance between waste and essential body fluids.
A high salt intake can also be related to fluid retention and people with kidney issues need to very carefully monitor their intake of salt and some minerals.
Fluid retention can also be an indicator for other conditions such as an allergic reaction, chronic lung disease, or arthritis, so it’s worthwhile getting it checked out.
Another way to support the kidneys is with a kidney tonic. There are a number of kidney tonics prepared with Chinese herbs that may be beneficial. Look for herbal liquids or supplements containing Rehmannia glutinosa, Epimedium sagittatum, Cuscuta hygrophilae , Lycium barbarum (Goji Berry), Cornus officinalis (Cornelian Cherry), Dioscorea opposita (Chinese Yam), Alisma orientale, and Poria cocos.
Vanessa Blake is a freelance writer and health freak with a ridiculous general knowledge of nutrition and the body. No wonder she decided to study for a Diploma of Nutrition in 2003. She also loves yoga.