Most people are familiar with one important function of the kidneys—to rid the body of waste materials that are either ingested or produced by metabolism. A second function that is especially critical is to control the volume and composition of the body fluids. For water and virtually all electrolytes in the body, the balance between intake (due to ingestion or metabolic production) and output (due to excretion or metabolic consumption) is maintained in large part by the kidneys. This regulatory function of the kidneys maintains the stable environment of the cells necessary for them to perform their various activities.
The kidneys perform their most important functions by filtering the plasma and removing substances from the filtrate at variable rates, depending on the needs of the body. Ultimately, the kidneys "clear" unwanted substances from the filtrate (and therefore from the blood) by excreting them in the urine while returning substances that are needed back to the blood.
Although this chapter and the next few chapters focus mainly on the control of renal excretion, it is important to recognize that the kidneys serve multiple functions, including the following:
• Excretion of metabolic waste products and foreign chemicals
• Regulation of water and electrolyte balances
• Regulation of body fluid osmolality and electrolyte concentrations
• Regulation of arterial pressure
• Regulation of acid-base balance
• Secretion, metabolism, and excretion of hormones
Excretion of Metabolic Waste Products, Foreign Chemicals, Drugs, and Hormone Metabolites. The kidneys are the primary means for eliminating waste products of metabolism that are no longer needed by the body. These products include urea (from the metabolism of amino acids), creatinine (from muscle creatine), uric acid (from nucleic acids), end products of hemoglobin breakdown (such as bilirubin), and metabolites of various hormones. These waste products must be eliminated from the body as rapidly as they are produced. The kidneys also eliminate most toxins and other foreign substances that are either produced by the body or ingested, such as pesticides, drugs, and food additives.
Regulation of Water and Electrolyte Balances. For maintenance of homeostasis, excretion of water and electrolytes must precisely match intake. If intake exceeds excretion, the amount of that substance in the body will increase. If intake is less than excretion, the amount of that substance in the body will decrease.
Intake of water and many electrolytes is governed mainly by a person's eating and drinking habits, requiring the kidneys to adjust their excretion rates to match the intake of various substances. Figure 26-1 shows the response of the kidneys to a sudden 10-fold increase in sodium intake from a low level of 30 mEq/day to a high level of 300 mEq/day. Within 2 to 3 days after raising the
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.