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How eating more fruits and vegetables could help kidney disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Fruits and vegetables could help save damaged kidneys.

Aging, type 2 diabetes, repeated kidney infections, some medications, long standing high blood pressure and kidney stones can all lead to chronic kidney disease. If your doctor has told you it’s time to watch your lab work because of kidney disease that could ultimately lead to dialysis, you’ll want to know how eating more fruits and vegetables could improve kidney function.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) puts the body in a state of acidosis – meaning the blood PH changes. To protect the body from the ill effects of acidosis, doctors prescribe medications such as sodium bicarbonate to balance the body and preserve kidney function. But adding fruits and vegetables is another option because they’re alkaline.

Findings published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN) showed adding fruits and vegetables to the diet of patients with chronic kidney disease for one year was as effective as sodium bicarbonate for treating metabolic acidosis.

The study included 71 patients who were given either a diet rich in fruits and vegetables or supplementation such as bicarbonate. After one year, the finding showed:

  • Similar kidney function between the two groups after one year
  • Improvement in metabolic acidosis that was noted by higher plasma levels of carbon dioxide, which was higher in patients receiving bicarbonate.
  • Improved urine tests that measure kidney damage in both groups
  • No dangerous increase in potassium levels in either group after one year.

Kidney disease also means the body can’t eliminate potassium, making it important for patients with CKD to have frequent blood work. High potassium in the body can lead to heart rhythm problems, weakness, nausea and paralysis.

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The kidneys help keep the body in a state of metabolic balance. When injury occurs the body can’t remove acids.

Eating a typical Western diet that is high in animal protein and grains can make matters worse because they are highly acidic. In severe cases of metabolic acidosis, death can occur. Less severe states of acidosis make patients with kidney disease feel bad from lack of energy and confusion.

Nimrit Goraya, MD, Donald Wesson, MD (Texas A&M College of Medicine) and their colleagues conducted the study.

Muhammad Yaqoob, MD (Bartshealth NHS Trust and William Harvey Research Institute, in London) said in an accompanying editorial that few patients would be willing to add more fruits and vegetables to the diet, opting for the convenience of a pill.

He notes that larger studies are ‘urgently needed’ to find out whether bicarbonate combined with adding alkaline fruits and vegetables could help patients living with CKD. You can learn more about diet and kidney disease here. It's also important to get regular physical exercise and maintain a normal body weight if you've been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

February, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile