Eating a High Protein Diet May Accelerate Kidney Problems

New York, NY
October 30, 2003

Eating a diet high in protein – and meat in particular – may worsen kidney function in people with mild forms of kidney disease, new study findings suggest. According to the National Kidney Foundation, around 20 million Americans - one in nine adults - have chronic kidney disease.

People diagnosed with kidney disease are often asked to limit their protein intake, a step research suggests may slow the decline in kidney function. Recent research suggests that following the increasingly popular high-protein diet for a prolonged period could harm the kidneys. While recommendations to reduce dietary protein are typically limited to people with moderate kidney disease, the latest research suggests that people with mild kidney problems could also benefit from less protein on their plates.

The researchers found that, among women with mild forms of kidney disease, the more protein they ate, the faster their kidney function declined. The decline was more pronounced among women who ate a high percentage of non-dairy animal protein, such as red meat, chicken, turkey and pork. Women with healthy kidneys did not appear to experience any decline in kidney function linked to protein consumption.

The findings are based on dietary surveys and kidney function tests of 1,624 women. Study participants underwent kidney function tests that were administered 11 years apart. Participants noted how much protein they consumed in their diets during the interval.

“These results suggest that even people with mild forms of kidney disease should refrain from following a high-protein diet for long periods of time, and instead stick to meals more balanced in other food groups, such as vegetables and carbohydrates” says Leslie Spry, MD, spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation.

Protein is needed for growth, upkeep and repair of all parts of the body. When the body breaks down and uses protein, a waste product called urea is made. When the kidneys are not working well, urea is not removed as it should be, causing it to build up inside the body. By decreasing the amount of protein, the kidneys have a lighter work load, with less urea to clean out.

For more information about protein and kidney disease, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010.