The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974


March is National Kidney Month, a time to heighten awareness on the importance of these important organs.

• Your kidneys, those bean-shaped organs, are vital to the function of your body. Located just below the rib cage, with one on each side of the spine, each kidney measures about 4.5 inches in length, about the size of your computer mouse. Weighing in at 4 to 6 oz. each, they account for just 0.5% of the average person’s body weight.

• Although they are small in size, the kidneys are very complex organs, purifying blood and eliminating the body’s waste. Every day, the kidneys filter the entire body’s blood supply about 400 times, recycling about 400 gallons daily. In just one hour, the kidneys take in 120 pints of blood, with the flow higher than that of the heart, liver, and brain. About 25% of the blood pumped out by the heart heads for the kidneys.

• Each kidney contains between 1 million and 2 million nephrons, tiny little filters that filter the blood and eliminate waste. Contrast this with a mouse kidney that contains just 12,500 nephrons. If all the nephrons in both human kidneys were placed end to end, they would cover a distance of nearly 10 miles. Each nephron separates water, acid, ions, and molecules from the blood, filters out wastes and toxins, and returns essential molecules to the blood. About half a cup of blood is filtered every minute.

• If one kidney fails, the other steps up to handle the load. The nephrons have the capability of enlarging to keep things working through a process known as hypertrophy.

• Some people, especially those who are obese or take calcium supplements, are at a higher risk of kidney stones. The stones occur when a solid piece of material develops in the urinary tract, causing severe pain in the lower back or abdomen. Other contributors include a diet high in animal protein, sodium, refined sugars, milk, grapefruit and apple juices, and the excessive use of antacids.

• It’s estimated that about 500 million people worldwide, about 10% of the adult population, have kidney disease, and many don’t even know it. Its progress can be slowed down, but the damage cannot be reversed. While many things can contribute to kidney disease, the leading causes are high blood pressure and diabetes. Tight control of blood sugar levels can slow the disease’s advancement. Cutting down on processed foods can be a big help, since these are usually high in sodium, nitrates, and phosphates, which have been linked to kidney disease. The kidneys can also be damaged by excessive use of NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

• About 1.5 million people go through kidney dialysis or a transplant every year. Dialysis removes excess water, solutes, and toxins from the blood in those whose kidneys cannot perform these functions. The first kidney transplant was performed in 1933 by Ukranian surgeon Yuri Voronv. Although the patient died within two days, Voronov’s work was an important milestone in the world of medicine. The first successful kidney transplant was performed in 1954 by Dr. Joseph Murray, who transplanted the kidney of one identical twin into another at a Massachusetts hospital.