The renal system consists of kidneys, ureters, and the urethra. They perform the most important function of filtering blood and helping remove excess fluid and toxins from the body. They also perform tasks that are essential for the normal functioning of other systems of the body and to maintain a balance of water, salts, and minerals. Know about the role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance and the need to protect the kidney.
The Role of the Kidney in Regulating Electrolyte Balance
Healthy kidneys filter about half a cup of blood every minute and remove wastes, toxins and excess fluid to make urine. It also removes excess acid in the cells and helps maintain a healthy balance of salts and water, which is called electrolyte balance. The kidneys also help maintain blood pressure.1
Maintaining the electrolyte balance is one of the important functions of the kidneys. Electrolytes are particles carrying an electric charge when they are dissolved in the blood. The role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance is by regulating their concentrations in the body.2 If there is any disturbance in this process, their concentrations may vary and cause an electrolyte imbalance.
The kidney is involved in regulating the balance of electrolytes such as2
Sodium – Sodium plays a major role in nerve and muscle function and helps maintain the fluid balance in the body. While you obtain sodium through food and drink, the excess is lost through urine and sweat. A healthy kidney adjusts the amount of sodium excreted and maintains its levels in the body. If there is an imbalance, it can result in conditions of high sodium or low sodium.
Potassium – Potassium is essential for maintaining healthy cells, nerves, and muscles. This too is obtained through food and removed through urine, where a healthy kidney helps in regulating its excretion and maintains normal levels. Any imbalance can cause high potassium or low potassium conditions.
Calcium – Calcium is required by the bones, teeth, muscle contraction, heart rhythm, blood clotting and to maintain enzyme functioning. The Parathyroid Hormone and Calcitonin maintain calcium levels in the blood. While calcium is present in bones, the body moves it into the blood to maintain its levels. An imbalance can cause too much calcium or too low calcium, causing further health problems.
Phosphorus – Phosphorus combines with oxygen to form phosphate, which is used as a building block for cell membranes, DNA, and other substances. It is obtained through food and excreted through urine and the kidney plays a role in maintaining its levels. An imbalance in their levels can cause too high or too low levels, which is harmful to health.
Magnesium – Magnesium is important for healthy bones, and teeth and for the normal functioning of muscles and nerves. Imbalance can cause too high or low levels of magnesium in the blood.
All these electrolytes help to balance the amount of water, maintain acid levels, help movement of nutrients, removal of waste, and ensure the smooth functioning of the cells, tissues, muscles, nerves, brain, and heart.
The kidneys play an important role in regulating the volume and composition of body fluids. Various regulating systems are involved in maintaining the volume of sodium and potassium concentrations, acidic levels, or the pH of body fluids.
How the role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance can be explained include3
Maintaining Water Balance
To maintain the water balance in your body, the amount of water consumed and excreted must be equal. Consumption of water is prompted by thirst and salt cravings.
Excretion is through different wastes, but mainly urine, which is regulated by the kidney. The kidney exercises this control through hormones like Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH).
- If there is a need to conserve water, the kidney will excrete less water and the urine produced will be more concentrated.
- If there is a need to remove excess water, the kidney will excrete more water, and produce urine, which is dilute in nature.
The role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance is also linked with regulating water balance, as it maintains the fluid level and concentration of these electrolytes. If the fluid balance or amount of water is upset, it can lead to dehydration or overhydration. High fever, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, certain medicines, and certain medical conditions affecting the liver or the kidney, can cause water imbalance in the body.
Maintaining Sodium Balance
The role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance is also noticed in maintaining osmolarity, which is the amount of solute or sodium per unit volume of fluid. An imbalance can cause cells to shrink or swell and affect their normal functioning.
Here, a healthy kidney can sense the need and act accordingly. If you become dehydrated, you will lose more water than sodium, in which case your kidneys will work to conserve water and not sodium. The kidney regulates this through the hormones ADH and Aldosterone. Thus, when there is a need to conserve water, the amount of urine excreted will decrease and the osmolarity will increase or the urine will be more concentrated. The kidney can also sense low blood pressure, in which case the kidney needs to conserve both water and sodium. Here, the amount of urine excreted will be reduced but the osmolarity is also reduced, which means the urine is not concentrated.
The Role of the Kidney in Regulating Electrolyte Balance – Clinical Significance
A healthy kidney thus understands the need of the body and regulates the excretion of water, sodium, and other electrolytes from the body. However, when there are any problems with the mechanisms in the way the kidney regulate electrolyte balance, it can lead to problems.
A 2022 report states that the kidney regulates plasma osmolarity by maintaining the amount of water, electrolytes, and solutes in the blood. The other main function of the kidney includes helping maintain acid-base balance, stimulating the production of red blood cells, regulating blood pressure, and performing the conversion of vitamin D to its active form.4
As the role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance is primary, kidney disease can lead to an imbalance in fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base balance. Disorders of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphorus are common in kidney disease and some may be life-threatening.5
Chronic kidney diseases are quite common and about 16.8% of the US population has chronic kidney disease.4
Timely diagnosis and treatment can minimize complications. Although electrolyte imbalance and acid-base derangements are the common cause of mortality in patients with chronic kidney disease or end-stage renal disease, they can be effectively managed with preventive measures and medical treatment.6
The role of the kidney in regulating electrolyte balance is crucial. Effective functioning of the kidney can ensure proper performance of its functions so that it can regulate the fluid and electrolytes. Having a healthy diet, following medical advice, and continuing treatment for existing conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease is important to prevent complications. Preventive measures like undergoing regular health check-ups and investigations to assess the renal function tests, as advised by your doctor can ensure preserving the healthy function of your kidneys.