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A pair of bean-shaped organs in the lower middle of the back, kidneys serve the vital function of cleansing the blood of excess water and waste products generated from normal metabolic processes, including the breakdown of active tissues and ingested foods. The kidneys, each of which contains around a million filtering units called nephrons, process about 200 liters of blood every single day while producing about two liters of urine. The kidneys play a major role in regulating levels of various minerals such as calcium, sodium and potassium in the blood, while preventing the buildup of the toxic by-products of ingested foods, drugs, vitamins, additives and excess fluids. The kidneys also produce important hormones, including the active form of vitamin D (calcitriol or 1,25 dihydroxy-vitamin D), which regulates absorption of calcium and phosphorus from foods, promoting formation of strong bones; erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells; and renin, which regulates blood volume and blood pressure.
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