KIDNEYS – The Unsung Heroes

In Blog by Amanda Chong

by Leon Tan, Nutritionist

We often underrate the roles of our kidneys when we think about our health. In fact, our kidneys are as important to our health as our heart or lungs. The kidneys are located one on each side of the spine under the lower ribs. They are reddish brown in colour, bean shaped and each about the size of an adult’s fist. A person can live quite well with only one kidney if the other kidney is lost due to injury/disease, and some people live healthy lives even though born with one kidney missing. However, with no kidney function death occurs within a few days!

Kidneys – a massive filter system

Can you imagine the implications of an industrial filter that could be used in a process for more than 70 years without ever being paused, cleaned or replaced?  The human kidneys are capable of such a feat. They are incredibly amazing filtration devices in that they can be used continuously for the duration of a human life without becoming clogged.  

Each kidney is made up of about a million tiny filtering units called nephrons. Every day, your kidneys filter about 200 litres of blood.  As blood enters the kidneys through the renal arteries, it passes through the nephron; fluid and waste products are filtered out. Much of the filtered fluid is then returned to the blood through the renal vein, while the unwanted chemicals or wastes are concentrated in any excess fluid as urine.  Around one to two litres of waste leave your body each day as urine depending on your build, how much you drink, the temperature and the amount of exercise you do.

Besides cleaning the blood, the kidneys also:

  • make and regulate important hormones in the body that help to control blood pressure, red blood cell production and calcium uptake from the intestine.
  • maintain body fluid at the correct levels for the body to function.
  • control body chemistry by regulating the amount of sodium, potassium, water and other chemicals moving around the body. The body needs these minerals to maintain good health, but they must be maintained at the appropriate level.
  • help regulate the levels of other minerals such as calcium and phosphate, which are important in the formation of bones.

Take care of your kidneys

Your kidneys play an important role in the daily workings of your body and help maintain your general wellbeing, so it makes good sense to take good care of them. Here are some things you can do:

  • Avoid or stop smoking.
  • Eat wisely.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • To satisfy thirst, drink water.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Take steps to reduce the risk of urinary tract infection.
  • Treat kidney stones quickly.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are normally little, solid mineral deposits that develop in your kidneys. The stones are made of mineral and acid salts.

Kidney stones have many causes and can certainly affect any portion of your urinary tract – from your kidneys to your bladder. Frequently, stones develop whenever the urine becomes concentrated, enabling minerals to crystallize and stick to each other.


A kidney stone will not trigger signs and symptoms until it moves around within your kidney or moves inside your ureter – the tube connecting the kidneys to the bladder. Then, you may experience these particular signs and symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, beneath the ribs.
  • Pain that spreads into the lower abdominal area and groin.
  • Pain which comes in waves and varies in intensity.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Pink, red or even brown urine.
  • Cloudy or smelly urine.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Constant desire to urinate.
  • Urinating much more often than normal.
  • Fever and also chills if an infection exists.
  • Urinating relatively small quantities.

Pain caused by a kidney stone might change – for example, switching to a different place or even increasing in intensity – as the stone moves through your urinary tract.

When to seek medical attention

Make an appointment with your health care professional in the event that you experience any signs and symptoms that worry you.

Get instant medical attention in the event that you encounter:

  • Pain so extreme that you cannot sit still or even find a more comfortable position.
  • Pain followed by nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain followed by a fever and chills.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Trouble passing urine.

Risk factors

Factors which raise your risk of forming kidney stones include:

  • Family or your own history. When someone in your whole family has kidney stones, you are actually even more likely to form stones, as well. Also, in the event that you have recently already had one or more kidney stones, you have an increased possibility of forming another.
  • Dehydration. Not drinking enough water every day can increase your risk of kidney stones. People who live in hot climates and those who sweat may have higher risks in comparison to others.
  • Certain diets. Eating a diet which is high in protein, sodium and sugar might raise your possibility of having kidney stones. This is particularly true with a high sodium diet. An excessive amount of salt in your diet increases the quantity of calcium your kidneys need to filter and significantly increases your possibility of having kidney stones.
  • Being obese or overweight. Elevated body mass index (BMI), huge waist size and excessive weight gain have certainly been associated with an increased possibility of kidney stones.
  • Digestive diseases and also surgery. Gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease as well as persistent diarrhoea can result in alterations in the digestive process, which may have an effect on your absorption of calcium and water thus increasing the levels of stone-forming substances in your urine.
  • Other medical conditions. Health problems and disorders that may raise your possibility of having kidney stones include renal tubular acidosis (a medical condition that involves an accumulation of acid in the body due to failure of the kidneys to appropriately acidify the urine), cystinuria (a rare condition in which stones made from an amino acid called cystine form in the kidney, ureter, and bladder), hyperparathyroidism, certain medications as well as some urinary tract infections.

Prevention & other health recommendations

Prevention of kidney stones may include a combination of lifestyle improvements. You can decrease your risk of kidney stones if you:

  • Consume water throughout the day. For people with a history of kidney stones, doctors normally recommend passing about 2.5 litres of urine a day. Your health professional might ask that you estimate your urine output to make sure that you are actually drinking enough water.  If you live in a hot, dry weather or if you exercise regularly, you might have to consume much more water in order to produce enough urine. Light and clear urine is a sign that you are likely drinking sufficient water.
  • Consume fewer oxalate-rich foods. These include rhubarb, beets, okra, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, nuts, teas, chocolates and soy products.
  • Select a diet low in refined sugar, salt and animal protein. Decrease the quantity of salt you eat and also pick non-animal protein sources, such as legumes.

Our NewLife nutritionists can help you to develop a nutritional programme that reduces your risk of kidney stones.

Passing kidney stones can be very painful, but the stones normally cause no permanent harm. Depending on your situation, you might need nothing more than to consume pain medicine and take in lots of water in order to pass a kidney stone. In other circumstances – for example, in the event that stones become lodged in the urinary tract or create problems – surgery might be needed.

If you do have stones in your kidneys, the following health recommendations may be beneficial:

  • For pain relief, drink the juice of half a fresh lemon in a glass of water every half-hour until the pain subsides. You can alternate between lemon juice and Apple Cider Vinegar.
  • Use only distilled water for drinking and cooking.
  • Try drinking a large amount of liquid (preferably distilled water), allow twenty minutes for digestion, and then run up and down the stairs vigorously or bouncing on the rebounder. This has been known to allow small, stubborn kidney stones to pass naturally.

Well-functioning kidneys are essential to your overall health.  Remember to care for them and keep them stronger and longer!