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The Role of Insulin and Potassium in Kidney’s Health

Mar 12, 2024

Insulin (a hormone) and potassium (an essential mineral) both play vital roles in the body. Insulin helps to control and maintain blood sugar levels in a healthy range, slowing or preventing kidney damage. The kidneys have an essential role in maintaining the right amount of potassium in the body. Both high and low potassium levels can cause damage to the kidneys and additional health conditions.

Key Points

  • Insulin is a hormone that helps control and maintain blood sugar and keep it at a healthy level.
  • When the body is unable to use or produce insulin, it leads to diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the small blood vessels and nephrons in the kidneys.
  • Potassium is an essential mineral that the body needs to function. Both high and low blood pressure can cause damage to the kidneys and other organs in the body.
  • People with CKD have a high risk for high potassium due to the kidneys being unable to filter out excess potassium.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the body by the pancreas and is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. This hormone helps move sugar from the blood to the inside of the cells. Without insulin, the sugar is not able to move into the cells and stays in the blood, causing high blood sugar.

Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use insulin properly or make enough insulin. Diabetes causes blood sugar levels to be too high as the body cannot use or make insulin as it needs.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes. This is an autoimmune disease where the body does not make enough insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin. This results in the pancreas making too little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured or prevented. However, it can be successfully managed with insulin shots and a nutrition plan.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces insulin and is unable to use it properly. Type 2 diabetes is more common in those who have a family history of the condition or if they are overweight. If you have higher than normal blood sugar levels, that is not type 2 diabetes; it is called prediabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs during pregnancy in women who don’t already have this condition. Gestational diabetes results as pregnancy hormone blocks the body from being able to use insulin properly. In most cases, blood sugar levels return to normal after birth.

Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes complications often have the same risk factors for diseases and can make these other diseases worse. For example, most people who have diabetes also have hypertension (high blood pressure), which can lead to CKD. Diabetes also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, as it lowers ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and raises ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of blood fat).

Significant complications of diabetes include:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease) and stroke
  • Blindness and other eye problems

Symptoms of diabetes will depend on high blood sugar levels. The most common symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are:

  • Urinating more than normal
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling more hungry or thirsty than normal
  • Having sores or dry skin that heal slowly

Symptoms specific to type 1 diabetes are often severe and sudden. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Throwing up or feeling sick to the stomach
  • Stomach pain

Most women typically don’t experience any symptoms of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is generally tested for between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

What is Potassium?

Potassium is an essential mineral that is needed by the body for many functions. It plays a vital role in helping muscles, including the heart and lungs, work properly.

What causes high potassium levels?

A common cause of high potassium (Hyperkalemia) is kidney disease. When the kidneys are damaged, they cannot remove excess potassium in the blood. Other causes of high potassium levels include:

  • Some medications
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Some rare diseases
  • Dehydration
  • Injuries that cause severe bleeding

Symptoms of high potassium

Most people may not experience any symptoms of high potassium. If symptoms do present, they may include feeling tired or weak, muscle pains or cramps, chest pains, unusual heartbeats, or nausea.

Complications of high potassium

Complications of high potassium can be dangerous, especially for the heart. When there is a high potassium level in the blood, the heart muscles are affected and can beat irregularly, which can cause a heart attack.

What causes low potassium levels?

A common cause of low potassium (hypokalemia) is kidney disease, as well as some medications such as diuretics and antibiotics. Other causes of low potassium levels may include:

  • Laxative overuse
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Eating disorders
  • Low magnesium levels
  • Adrenal gland disorders

Symptoms of low potassium

Most people with mild low potassium may not experience any symptoms, but if they do present, they may include:

  • Muscle weakness and spasms
  • Constipation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Tingling and numbness

Complications of low potassium

Low potassium levels can affect bone health and the digestive system. Over a period of time, low levels of potassium in the body can cause abnormal heart rhythms and muscle weakness. Low potassium is managed and treated with a potassium supplement, and in severe cases, potassium is given intravenously (through the vein).

Insulin and Potassium in Kidney Health

The role of diabetes in kidney health

Kidney damage that is caused by diabetes is called diabetic nephropathy. Diabetes damages the small blood vessels (glomeruli) and nephrons in the kidneys, reducing their ability to filter out waste products effectively. Over a period of time, this causes kidney disease.

Recent research has recently found that CKD may cause high blood sugar and diabetes. In CKD, the kidneys cannot effectively filter waste products out of the bloodstream. This can lead to diabetes as high blood levels of urea (a waste product) can inhibit the pancreas from making insulin properly.

Diabetes and CKD cannot be cured; however, disease progression may be stopped or slowed with early intervention and appropriate treatment and management. Treatment and management for diabetic nephropathy include lifestyle changes, a well-managed diet, and medical interventions that prevent and control associated conditions.

The role of potassium in kidney health

The kidneys help maintain the right amount of potassium in the body. Both low and high potassium levels can cause health complications. When the kidneys are damaged, they cannot remove excess potassium from the blood, resulting in high potassium (hyperkalemia) levels.

Diet and medicine are two ways that are used to treat high potassium. Potassium binders are medicines used to treat high potassium. Potassium binders work by attaching to the potassium in the body and preventing it from being moved into the bloodstream. This stops potassium from building up in the blood.

Panoramic Health

Panoramic Health is a leading, integrated provider group that delivers better outcomes for patients at reduced costs for everyone. In kidney care, we understand that experience matters. All care decisions are made by people who understand CKD from all angles and offer personalized and comprehensive patient care. This ensures better outcomes for CKD patients.