One of the greatest things about being a doctor in today’s media and Internet-savvy world is that I can fairly easily get the word out about health conditions that people should be aware of. One of the downsides however, is competing with all of the information that’s already out there. Some of it’s good. Some of it isn't. But I think most often, people are left wondering where exactly they should place importance in terms of disease awareness. Overall, heart disease and breast cancer get quite a bit of attention from the media and from consumers. On the male side of health issues, prostate cancer is an often discussed topic. Where do your kidneys rank on your health priority list? Are they on it at all? And would it surprise you to know that kidney disease kills more Americans each year than prostate cancer and breast cancer – combined?
Kidney disease claims the lives of more than 90,000 Americans every year. For many of them, the severity of the disease wasn't realized until its later stages, when the options become much fewer. But getting to know your kidneys, and taking care of them while they’re still healthy can ensure they continue working hard for you well into the future.
Most people are born with two kidneys and each one is about the size of your smart phone. Every ½ hour, your kidneys filter all of your body’s blood. This happens roughly 60 times each day and results in the circulation of about 180 liters. That’s like processing more than 300 Venti lattes, every day. These organs might be little but they’re arguably among the hardest workers in your body. They don’t rest and they don’t take vacation time! In fact, the kidneys have a higher blood flow than the brain or the heart.
While most humans have two kidneys, it is possible to live with only one as long as it is healthy. Is that an even greater testament to how strong these organs are? They’re on overtime when there are two of them, so the fact that you can continue to live a healthy life with just one is another reason to respect and take care of them.
Yes, you can live well with one kidney. But you can’t live with none. I can’t tell you what a sad thing it is to have to tell a patient that their kidneys are no longer functioning at the level they need to be in order to sustain a healthy life and that the patient is now faced with tough decisions: to undergo dialysis for the rest of their lives and to get on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
The good news is this: preventing kidney disease and keeping your kidneys healthy is fairly easy. Some tips:
• Eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and high in fiber. Avoid processed foods – they make your kidneys work harder than they already do.
• Stay hydrated. Your kidneys thrive on fluids. Think of it as lubrication for a strong and powerful machine. When it comes to your fluid of choice, stick mostly with water.
• Don’t smoke. As far as your body is concerned, there is nothing in cigarette or other tobacco products that is actually “useful.” So, your kidneys work hard to filter them completely out of your system as waste. They've already got enough to do. Don’t give them unnecessary “junk” to clean out.
Take care of the organs that work so very hard to keep you living well. When you do, they’ll continue to put in overtime for you for a long time to come.