Without getting any of the glory that normally go to the heart or the brain, our kidneys sure get the job done. Each day they process about 200 quarts of blood, filtering out about two quarts of waste products and extra water.
And yet most of us don’t have a good understanding of the kidney. Here are some of the more pervasive kidney myths out there.
1. Guzzling water will rid your kidneys of toxins.
Some people blame this myth on the bottled water industry. Whatever the origin, it seems to have stuck. The truth is that the kidney is a complex filter that does not depend on 2 liters of water a day to do its job. Your kidney will work fine, whether you drink a few cups or a few gallons of water each day. The one exception? Those at risk of kidney stones are advised to drink more water (see point 3 below).
2. You will know it if you have a failing kidney.
Our ability to make urine goes on for a long time after kidneys have failed. And failing kidneys are not painful. So how can you know the health of your kidneys? There are two common tests: a blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells you how well your kidneys are filtering; and a urine test checks for albumin, a protein that can pass through to your kidneys when they are damaged.
3. Drinking milk causes kidney stones, while drinking cranberry juice can prevent them.
Wrong on both counts. In fact, just the opposite is true. Cranberry juice can help battle frequent urinary tract infections, but it is also very high in oxalate, which can cause kidney stones. And diets low in calcium can cause kidney stones in some people. Turns out, there are a lot of misconceptions about kidney stones. They don’t usually pass in hours; in fact, it can take days. They don’t cause pain in the lower back. Instead, they feel more like labor contractions and the pain comes in waves.
One thing that is certain? Drinking lots of water (2 liters) can help prevent kidney stones. This five-year study found that participants who hydrated well had a 12 percent chance of having another kidney stone compared to a 27 percent chance for those who didn’t up their water consumption. If you’ve had a kidney stone and are concerned about passing another one, check out this guide by the National Kidney Foundation on how to reduce your risk.
4. There is nothing you can do about kidney disease.
Many factors affect the health of your kidneys. Two of the biggest are diabetes and high blood pressure—both conditions that usually can be controlled through diet, exercise and medication. Old age, smoking and obesity are risk factors for kidney disease, as well.
5. Dialysis is a death sentence.
The truth is, dialysis is a life-saver, helping your body remove waste, salt and extra water to prevent buildup. It also helps control blood pressure and keep safe levels of potassium and bicarbonate in the blood. The average lifespan for someone on dialysis is five to 10 years, but many patients on dialysis live well for 20 or even 30 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Furthermore, it’s important to note that dialysis should not be painful and that many people carry on with their lives just as they did before, with a little shuffling around to make time for the treatment.
6. I’ll never be able to get a kidney transplant.
Sadly, some people die while waiting for a transplant, but the truth is about 17,000 kidney transplants are done every year. The median wait time for a person’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years. Here is a guide from the National Kidney Foundation on understanding the transplant waitlist, and how to maximize your likelihood of receiving a transplant.
The best way to take care of your kidneys is to receive regular checkups where kidney health is monitored. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and not smoking are all important steps to take. If you’re concerned about your kidneys contact our urology specialists today.