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Illustration of kidney & nephron filters

In the nephron, left, tiny blood vessels
intertwine with urine-collecting tubes.

Each kidney contains about 1
million nephrons, which do the
major work of filtering wastes.

Although relatively small in size compared to the heart or liver, the kidneys are an exceedingly complex organ, a "super filter" with a great many roles to play in the body.

Their primary role is maintaining the body's homeostatic balance — for example, the amount of acid or salts that build up in the bloodstream. It's an important task they perform by filtering various minerals and metabolites out of the blood, which exit the body via the bladder and urinary system.

Among other functions, the kidneys are in charge of keeping the body's pH balance at an ideal 7.5, along with producing hormones that keep your bones strong.

Another important job kidneys perform is steadying blood pressure, by controlling sodium ion reabsorption into the bloodstream.

Keeping kidneys healthy

The kidneys process upwards of ninety liters of blood every day, and although it's true that we have two kidneys (and that one can do the job), it's a much better idea to keep both as healthy as possible!

Since the kidneys are so important in keeping our system working properly, serious complications can arise from kidney diseases. One of the most prevalent causes of stress on the kidneys is dehydration, since without supplies of fresh water the kidneys will have to recycle "dirty" fluids, often resulting in infection or kidney stones (also see: Why Summer is Kidney Stone Season.)

Another common stress on the kidneys is the consumption of too much fatty meat and dairy, both of which strain the kidneys to some degree. And of course, overconsumption of alcohol is no friend to the kidneys. While alcoholism is often associated with liver disease, drinking large amounts of alcohol can also lead to high blood pressure, a major cause of kidney malfunction.

Since eating a diet rich in fats and proteins are also suspected culprits in developing kidney disease (including kidney cancer) a more balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables are recommended for keeping kidneys always functioning at their best.

More about kidneys around the Web:

The Kidneys and How They Work
- Check out a comprehensive guide with information on what the kidneys do and important tasks they perform, common causes of kidney failure and disease, with related diagrams and illustrations.

National Kidney Foundation A-Z Health Guide - How to avoid or treat kidney disease with comprehensive information on diet, nutrition, related infections, kidney stones, kidney failure, dialysis and kidney transplants.

Kidney stone - This Wikipedia entry on the topic offers information on symptoms, causes & cures including related photos, references and resources.

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