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Lower Phosphorous Levels for Kidney Disease Patients Eating Vegetarian Diet

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) who are told to limit phosphorus in the diet benefited from a vegetarian diet that kept levels of the toxic mineral from becoming high, compared to a meat based diet.

New findings from researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine and Roudebush Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center, show the source of phosphorous in the diet has an important effect on keeping phosphate-to-protein ratio balanced among patients with CKD.

Fruits and vegetables were compared in a study that followed kidney disease patients with chronic kidney disease given a vegetarian or meat-based diet for one week, followed by the opposite diet two-to four- weeks later.

The findings showed that eating fruits and vegetables could prevent the accumulation of phosphorous in the body that become elevated when the kidneys can no longer filter the mineral from the body. After four weeks, CKD patients eating a vegetarian diet had significantly lower phosphorous levels than those given a diet with meat.

High levels of phosphorous lead to weakened bones, itching and heart problems that increase the need for hospitalization and can lead to death.

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Kidney disease patients are cautioned to avoid phosphorous containing foods that include meat, cheeses, peanut butter, soft drinks, grain cereals and breads and is added to processed foods, but not found on food product labels. Since many patients with CKD are also diabetic, food choices become extremely limited and confusing. Physicians ultimately prescribe phosphorous binding medications to help control blood levels.

In the new study, patients with CKD, given the vegetarian diet that had equivalent protein and phosphorus as the meat-based diet , had a significant effect on keeping phosphorous levels low for patients being treated for chronic kidney disease.

The researchers did not explore the reason why fruits and veggies lower phosphorous levels, but concluded confirmation in larger studies could lead to recommending "grain-based vegetarian sources of protein to patients with CKD. This diet would allow increased protein intake without adversely affecting phosphorus levels,” the researchers wrote.

They add that counseling patients with chronic kidney disease should include the importance of limiting phosphorous in the diet with some emphasis on the importance of the source of protein from which phosphorous is derived. In the current study, chronic kidney disease patients who ate fruits and vegetables instead of meat, had substantially lower phosphorous levels in the body with less excretion of the mineral in their urine in follow-up lab testing.

CJASN: doi 10.2215/CJN.05040610.