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Exploring the Role and Function of the Kidneys

Hormone production

Hormones are chemical messengers that move through the bloodstream and signal organs and blood vessels to produce different effects in the body. Our kidneys play a crucial role in producing the hormones, erythropoietin (EPO) and Vitamin D.

What do these hormones do?

Erythropoietin (EPO)

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that helps stimulate red blood cells formation in our bone marrow. If our oxygen levels drop, our kidneys react to this change by releasing more erythropoietin into the body. This hormone helps maintain our health by regulating the production of oxygen carrying red blood cells called hemoglobin. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin and is transported to where it is needed in the body. Imagine this process as people taking a bus. The bus (hemoglobin) picks up people (oxygen) and transports it to where it needs to go. This entire process is regulated by the erythropoietin hormone.  If there is a shortage of red blood cells, the body becomes anemic. An individual can become anemic if they do not have enough oxygen carrying capacity which can cause a number of complications.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is absorbed from food and produced by skin cells exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating calcium absorption and formation of healthy bone tissue.  Vitamin D needs to be activated before it can take effect.  The kidneys play a key role in converting Vitamin D into the active form Calcitriol. Calcitriol then helps regulate calcium absorption from the gastrointestinal tract to be deposited in the bone. For people with impaired kidney function, Vitamin D levels are low and impair calcium absorption. This imbalance can lead to abnormal bone formation.