How Your Kidneys Work and Your Risk of Kidney DiseaseYour kidneys work tirelessly removing cellular waste from your body, turning it into urine, and sending it to your bladder for elimination. But when they are damaged, toxins and waste can accumulate, leading to kidney damage and disease. What causes kidney disease? For many people, kidney disease slowly develops over the course of decades as a result from excess toxins in their diet and lifestyle. Under constant duress, those overworked kidneys gradually lose their ability to do their job as effectively – leading to more toxic accumulation and an even bigger workload. But it’s not always diet and lifestyle. High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, adverse drug interactions, smoking, heavy drinking, and your genetic makeup can all damage your kidneys, too. Basically, we’re all at risk, especially as we get older. And the scariest part is that there are very few recognizable signs of kidney damage. The lack of symptoms specific to kidney disease is one reason why it can go undetected for many years. It’s what we call an asymptomatic disease, and once it begins, there is no cure. You can only slow its progress or replace the failed kidney’s function with dialysis or a transplant. These are both painful and life-altering decisions. Dialysis is expensive, uncomfortable, and time consuming. And a transplant? The waiting list is often years long, and you’ll likely get sicker while you wait. This is becoming a worrisome trend. According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 30 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, and millions more are currently at risk for it. This number does not have to be so high. You can protect yourself from kidney disease starting today.
How to Read Kidney Blood TestsMy intention is not to scare you. But I am truly passionate about preventative care—how you care for your body today will pay dividends 10 to 20 years from now. This is especially true for kidney disease. Given the lack of symptoms or a cure, early detection is an urgent priority. The longer kidney disease goes untreated, the more damage can accumulate. But a routine blood test can tell you everything you need to know about the markers for kidney disease – how your kidneys are functioning and whether waste levels in your blood are below, within or above a healthy range. Of course, if you’re a not doctor, test results appear written in another language that they only teach in med school. I’m here to breakdown three key things you should look for in your blood tests and how to read them.
- BUN/Creatinine Ratio: This test shows if your kidneys are eliminating waste properly. High levels of creatinine, a byproduct of muscle contractions, are excreted through your kidneys and suggest reduced kidney function. A healthy BUN/creatinine ratio is 10:1 to 20:1, though men and older individuals may be a bit higher. A low ratio might be as simple as a lower protein diet, but it may also signal muscle or liver damage.
- Calcium: Too much calcium in your bloodstream could indicate not just kidney problems but a host of others – overly active thyroid or parathyroid glands, certain types of cancer (including lymphoma), problems with your pancreas, vitamin D deficiency, and more. Calcium levels between 9.0 to 10.5 mg/dL are considered healthy, though older individuals typically score a little lower than that. Low calcium might indicate low protein, magnesium, or vitamin D levels; too much phosphorus; pancreatitis; underactive parathyroid gland
- Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR): This test estimates the amount of blood passing through special filters (glomeruli) in your kidneys that filter waste from blood. A range above 100 mL/min is considered healthy. A low rate indicates potential kidney damage.