March 9th is World Kidney Day. What are kidneys and why are they so integral to our health? The kidneys are responsible for a variety of essential bodily functions. From release the hormone that produces red blood cells to activating vitamin D for your bones, the kidneys are a mixed bag. However, the kidneys’ primary function is waste management or filtration.

Blood flows through the kidneys and any waste or toxins in red blood cells are filtered out by the kidneys’ inner workings. The filters specific to the kidneys are called nephrons. And those nephrons handle over one hundred quarts of blood, which in turn filters out about a quart or two of urine. A lot of people think that the bladder is responsible for urine when urine is actually made in the kidneys; the bladder is primarily used for storage. This is why the kidneys are so essential to bodily function as no other organ can filter out waste. If your kidneys were to fail in any way, you would go through severe discomfort and potentially life-threatening illness.

Kidney failure or kidney disease can either happen on its own or as a symptom of another disease such as diabetes. With kidney failure, you may experience dehydration, an allergic reaction, or a severe infection such as sepsis. Some of the symptoms of kidney failure include:

–       Nausea

–       Swelling of your legs, ankles, or feet

–       Shortness of breath

–       Drowsiness or fatigue

–       Less urine than usual

There are two common ways to treat kidney failure. One treatment option is surgery; put on a long waitlist to receive a kidney transplant. Another option is dialysis, where a machine or catheter essentially replaces your kidneys and filters your blood.

To make sure that you don’t end up needing surgery or a machine, what can you do now to keep your kidneys healthy? A few common tips include:

–       Limiting sodium consumption to less than 2,300 milligrams a day

–       Cutting down on alcohol intake

–       Controlling blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol

–       Being physically active

–       Eating heart healthy foods

Diet is crucial not just to our overall health, but for kidney health as well. Eating healthy food and steering clear from unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking will prevent your kidney from working overtime or shutting down.