In addition, the kidneys are part of an intricate balancing act that regulates blood pressure and lets just enough water out of your system so that you don't have edema (swelling from retaining water) and keeps just enough water in to keep your cells and tissues hydrated.
When the kidneys are sick or damaged, all kinds of things can go wrong! Blood pressure can go up or down (your blood is mostly water, after all), electrolytes can get out of balance, vitamin D levels can drop, and you can have wastes like urea building up in your blood.
Luckily, most people’s kidneys are happily and healthily working every day.
The Tiny, Tufty Nephron
It’s in that long tail that your kidney decides how much water to suck back in, and how much to let go into your bladder so that you can urinate it out.
There is a tiny blood vessel that goes to each of these filtration units. If these blood vessels feel themselves going slack because your blood volume is too low (like in dehydration, for instance), they put out an enzyme called renin, which triggers your body to secrete a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone then goes back to the kidney’s little filtration units and tells them to suck up more water, which brings your blood volume back up to normal.
The fine mesh at the head of your nephron, called the glomerulus, is made up of a tiny little network of “feet” called podocytes. The mesh made up by these podocytes is so fine, not even a single red blood cell can get through! It’s this fine mesh that allows the 1500 liters of blood that flow into your kidneys every day to retain all of your blood cells and important proteins, while acids and other wastes are allowed to pass out in your urine.
Sometimes this tiny mesh can get damaged, like when you have a bad urinary tract infection. In these cases you may see frothy urine because proteins are getting through, or even blood, if you have an infection that reaches all the way up into your kidneys. Any sign of blood in urine or infection in the kidneys is serious and should be treated by a medical professional right away.
Taking Care of your Kidneys
There are also certain foods that help the kidney function and heal.
Burdock is a root used frequently in Japanese and Korean cooking. It also grows wild all over Michigan! Burdock is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial. It has been used for centuries to treat urinary tract infections, as it increases urine output and can help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
Blueberries are full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. The flavonoids in blueberries nourish and support the small blood vessels of the kidneys, helping prevent damage in conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.