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Nitrogen emissions pose risk to kidneys

16 October 2019

Elevated levels of nitrogen pose a risk to kidneys. This link has been revealed by a research project involving more than 143,000 inhabitants of the northern Netherlands, carried out by a number of UMCG nephrologists and researchers. Today they publish their results in the scientific magazine PLOS ONE.​

Chronic kidney damage is a major health problem, the most serious forms of which are associated with a significant strain on the patient and high costs for society. It has been known for some time that the incidence of chronic kidney damage varies considerably between countries. Identifying the causes of these geographical differences can provide a better understanding of the causes of kidney damage, thus providing a basis for better prevention. So far, little is known about such regional differences in the Netherlands when it comes to kidney damage. This study was the first to investigate  whether regional areas could be identified with relatively low or high frequency of cases of kidney damage and potential determinants thereof. 

Conducting the research

For their study, the researchers used the large Lifelines cohort. Lifelines is the data repository and biobank in which information about the health of three generations of inhabitants of the northern Netherlands is being collected over a period of thirty years. The researchers determined  estimated renal function, which indicates the speed at which the kidneys filter waste products from the blood, of no fewer than 143,735 LifeLines participants. They then correlated those results with postcodes to find out where renal function was the poorest or the best and related that to environmental exposure.

Nitrogen emissions are a decisive factor

The results showed that, in the north of the Netherlands, the extent to which chronic kidney damage occurs varied significantly between regions. These differences were not easily explained by known risk factors such as age, high blood pressure and diabetes. The spatial analyses showed that exposure to nitrogen dioxide was a major factor. The greater the exposure to nitrogen, the poorer the renal function. 

Risk of kidney damage

This indicates that a high level of nitrogen emission not only poses a risk to the respiratory tract but also to the kidneys. According to the researchers, the results indicate that spatial analysis can be a useful tool to guide strategies for the prevention of chronic kidney diseases.

geographical differences nitrogen emission and function kidney