Healthy kidneys are the body's cleaning crew. Located under the
rib cage in the lower back, these twin bean-shaped organs, each the
size of a fist, filter out extra water, minerals, and toxins dumped
into the blood by the body's other organs.
Kidneys process 18 gallons of blood each hour with a
sophisticated method of excretion, absorption and re-absorption. By
the end of each day, they can produce as much as seven gallons of
The kidneys are reddish-brown, their concave sides facing each
other. They are cushioned in fat, with only the tops of them
protected by the rib cage. Perched on top of each kidney is an
adrenal gland, which produces many hormones vital to life. The
right kidney is a little lower than the left because it must
squeeze under the liver, a large organ that occupies a large
section of the upper right abdominal cavity.
In the concave section of the kidney is a depression containing
blood vessels, nerves and the ureter, a small tube that carries
urine away from the organ and down to the bladder. The
blood-filtering units of the kidney are microscopic tubes called
The leading causes of end-stage renal (kidney) disease are
diabetes and high blood pressure. These two conditions take a toll
on blood vessels, and the kidneys are rich with blood vessels.
Managing these diseases can go a long way toward preventing kidney
failure and the need for dialysis.
If your kidneys are normal, they don't need special care. A
healthy, balanced diet and enough water to quench thirst are
adequate to keep kidneys working fine. Fad diets, such as those
very high in protein, however, can hurt your kidneys. Drinking very
little water, or an overabundance of water (more than 8 quarts a
day), may also damage these organs.
Other than illnesses, the real kidney killers are drugs--they
must pass through the kidney to be filtered out of the bloodstream.
Some antibiotics, anesthesia medications, and antipsychotic drugs
may damage kidneys. Even over-the-counter painkillers, if taken in
large doses, may lead to kidney failure.
Common household chemicals can also hurt your kidneys. Chemical
solvents, wood alcohol, toluene, carbon tetrachloride (a cleaning
fluid), and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) can damage kidneys if
ingested or inhaled. Be very careful handling any chemical and use
it according to directions.