Emerging evidence from Monash University in collaboration with Tokyo’s Jikei University School of Medicine shows that chances of adult kidney disease can be determined partly from birth.

The study, which was published in the journal Kidney International, found that the mother’s health plays a key role in long-term kidney health and warding off kidney diseases.

This is the first time a study has established evidence that some people are born already shielded against future kidney disease risk, while others are twice as likely to develop kidney disease.

The lead study author, Dr. Kotaro Haruhara, who is also Jikei University Adjunct Associate Professor (Research), along with his team, analyzed 50 healthy kidneys collected from Japanese adults aged 18 and older for the study.

Participants had an average age of 68, of which 60 percent were men. The team worked to examine the kidney’s primary process of filtering the blood. They focused their attention on the glomeruli, which are responsible for filtering the blood during urine formation, and also on the podocytes, which are the highly specialized cells of the kidney glomeruli.

Before now, it has been known that a higher number of podocytes a person has at birth is associated with the development and long-term health of the kidney. But for the first time, this study found a direct link between glomeruli and podocyte number. They found that kidneys with more blood filters (glomeruli) have more podocytes per filter, suggesting that those with increased glomeruli not only have increased numbers of podocytes overall, but these cells occur in higher amounts per filter.

Researchers write that this is the first study to find that kidneys with more blood filters have more podocytes in each filter.

They point out that this may be a potentially groundbreaking discovery in understanding risk factors surrounding kidney disease, as some people possess as few as 200,000 glomeruli while others have over 2 million glomeruli.

“Given that humans are born with all of their glomeruli and podocytes, our findings suggest that some people are born with a kind of double protection against kidney disease, whereas others are born with a double risk,” the study authors write.

Researchers add that premature infants and newborns with a low birthweight mostly had fewer glomeruli and elevated risks of developing hypertension and chronic kidney disease later.

Post-birth, it is generally impossible to raise the number of kidney filters in an individual since they reach completion at around 36 weeks of gestation. Therefore, the best alternative is to prevent the disease from the start. And it all comes down to the mother’s diet and nutrition.

Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, abstaining from alcohol, and following proper nutrition when pregnant may help boost these numbers in the children while in the womb, thereby lowering the risk of chronic kidney disease when they grow older.

Previous studies on human and animal models have also shown that poor maternal nutrition, drinking alcohol, lack of vitamins, and gestational diabetes can breed offspring with low glomerular numbers. 

The same advice also applies to adults. While they cannot alter their glomerular or podocyte number, they can prevent or minimize the development of hypertension and kidney diseases by simply taking care of their health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

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