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Filtering Health

Shantella Y. Sherman | 3/19/2014, 2 p.m.
This season's health supplement examines kidney function and the preventative measures necessary to ward off impairment.
Shantella Y. Sherman

This season’s health supplement examines kidney function and the preventative measures necessary to ward off impairment. Coinciding with this year’s World Kidney Day (March 13), the Informer strives with this edition to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys to our overall health. Like James Weldon Johnson’s song “Dem Bones” that chorused a sing-a-long, “the knee bone connected to the thigh bone… the thigh bone connected to the hip bone… (and so on)” most Americans rarely take to heart the connectivity of their internal organs and the misfire of one that potentially causes irreparable damage or failure to others.

For instance, as fast-paced living gives way to pre-packaged meals – loaded with salt, sugar and fillers to help preserve them and replicate fresh tastes – Americans are consuming large quantities of ingredients that complicate kidney function. The result is usually the development first, of hypertension (salt) and diabetes (sugar) and then, damage to the kidneys through an inability to process and filter the waste from these additives from the blood.

Here is the breakdown simplified: When our bodies digest the protein we eat, the process creates waste. In the kidneys, millions of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) with even tinier holes in them act as filters. As blood flows through the blood vessels, small molecules such as waste products squeeze through the holes. These waste products become part of our urine. Useful substances, such as protein and red blood cells, are too big to pass through the holes in the filter and stay in the blood. Diabetes can damage this system, with high levels of blood sugar causing the kidneys to filter too much blood. All this extra work is hard on the filters. In time, the stress of overwork causes the kidneys to lose their filtering ability. Waste products start to build up in the blood. Finally, the kidneys fail. Having small amounts of protein in the urine requires treatment and keeps the condition from worsening; larger amounts of protein in the urine, however, signal chronic kidney disease (CKD) or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and require a machine (dialysis) to filter the blood or a kidney transplant.

Of particular concern among African Americans, kidney disease rates increase along with incidents of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes among teens and young adults. This suggests that poor eating habits are starting earlier (in the tween and teen years) and reaching critical stages among adolescents and young adults (under 30). African Americans are also less likely to donate kidneys or other organs, making the wait for those suffering from kidney disease that much greater. African Americans comprise 13 percent of the population and 34 percent of those waiting for kidney transplants.

Like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and a host of other chronic conditions kidney disease remains an illness largely precipitated by poor eating habits – especially neglecting to take in vital amounts of old fashioned water. World Kidney Day, celebrated each year on the second Thursday in March, will have passed by the time you enjoy this supplement; however, now is the time to assess your kidneys and began to filter a bit of self-love through them.

In this health edition, the Informer provides a wealth of information about kidney disease prevention, including healthy eating tips, and resources to kidney testing and management of kidney disease.

Read & Enjoy,

Shantella Y. Sherman

Editor, Special Sections