It’s a hot day,
and you’ve just downed
several glasses of water,
one after the other.
Behind the sudden urge that follows
are two bean-shaped organs
that work as fine-tuned internal sensors.
They balance the amount of fluid
in your body,
detect waste in your blood,
and know when to release
the vitamins, minerals,
and hormones you need to stay alive.
Say hello to your kidneys.
The main role of these organs
is to dispose of waste products
and to turn them into urine.
The body’s eight liters of blood
pass through the kidneys
between 20 and 25 times each day,
meaning that, together, these organs filter
about 180 liters every 24 hours.
The ingredients in your blood
are constantly changing
as you ingest food and drink,
which explains why
the kidneys need to be on permanent duty.
Blood enters each kidney through arteries
that branch and branch,
until they form tiny vessels that entwine
with special internal modules,
In each kidney,
1 million of these nephrons form
a powerful array of filters and sensors
that carefully sift through the blood.
This is where we see just how refined
and accurate this internal
sensing system is.
To filter the blood, each nephron
uses two powerful pieces of equipment:
a blob-like structure called a glomerulus,
and a long, stringy, straw-like tubule.
The glomerulus works like a sieve,
allowing only certain ingredients,
such as vitamins and minerals,
to pass into the tubule.
Then, this vessel’s job is to detect
whether any of those ingredients
are needed in the body.
If so, they’re reabsorbed in amounts
that the body needs,
so they can circulate in the blood again.
But the blood doesn’t only
carry useful ingredients.
It contains waste products, too.
And the nephrons have to figure out
what to do with them.
The tubules sense compounds
the body doesn’t need,
like urea, left over from
the breakdown of proteins,
and redirects them as urine
out of the kidneys
and through two long sewers
The tubes empty their contents
into the bladder to be discharged,
ridding your body of that waste
once and for all.
There’s water in that urine, too.
If the kidney detects too much of it
in your blood,
for instance, when you’ve chugged
several glasses at once,
it sends the extra liquid
to the bladder to be removed.
On the other hand,
low water levels in the blood
prompt the kidney to release some
back into the blood stream,
meaning that less water
makes it into the urine.
This is why urine appears yellower
when you’re less hydrated.
By controlling water, your kidneys
stabilize the body’s fluid levels.
But this fine balancing act
isn’t the kidney’s only skill.
These organs have the power
to activate vitamin D
to secrete a hormone called renin
that raises blood pressure,
and another hormone
which increases red blood cell production.
Without the kidneys, our bodily fluids
would spiral out of control.
Every time we ate, our blood would receive
another load of unsifted ingredients.
Soon, the buildup of waste would overload
our systems and we’d expire.
So each kidney not only
keeps things running smoothly.
It also keeps us alive.
Lucky then that we have two
of these magical beans.