March 7, 2023

Exploring the connection between kidney and heart health

Research trainee Nicole Larsen sheds light on how these two organs interact
cartoon kidney with heart

Nicole Larsen is a master’s student in the Medical Science Department of the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine under the supervision of kidney specialist and researcher Dr. Sandra Dumanski, MD. Her research project will assess the impact of reproductive hormones on cardiovascular health in males with chronic kidney disease. Read on for information about the link between heart and kidney health.

What do the kidneys do?

The kidneys are a critical component of the cardiovascular system and they are responsible for filtering the waste and excess water out of the blood. They also control blood pressure.

How are heart and kidney disease related?

Cardiovascular disease and kidney disease are closely linked. Cardiovascular disease increases the risk of kidney disease and vice versa. Individuals living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are 10 to thirty times more likely to develop heart disease. The No. 1 cause of death for people living with CKD is cardiovascular disease.

What causes CKD?

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of kidney disease. There are other less common causes, such as autoimmune diseases and genetic abnormalities. 

Is there a way to prevent CKD?

You can reduce your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying active and living free from tobacco. These will reduce your risk for developing CKD as well. 

Why is it important to research heart disease and CKD together?

CKD and heart disease are intimately related, therefore it’s important to study them together. Additionally, one in 10 Canadians have CKD, so the problem is widespread. Lastly, individuals living with CKD have identified prevention and treatment of heart disease as one of their top 10 priorities.

Tell us about your research

I study in the Kidney ReACH (Reproductive And Cardiovascular Health) research laboratory, and my work examines cardiovascular risk factors in CKD. We know that unbalanced hormones may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in both males and females, and that males with CKD often have unbalanced hormones. My thesis project will specifically address whether there is a link between lower levels of the male reproductive hormone, anti-Müllerian hormone, and increased cardiovascular risk.