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Should you worry about a low-carb diet harming your kidneys?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
New information shows low-carb, high protein diets don't harm healthy kidneys.

Eating a low-carb, high protein diet is a popular way to lose weight. Researchers haven’t been sure if lower carbohydrate, high protein diets can lead to kidney damage, or if a low-fat diet might be a better option. Should you be worried about whether a low-carb diet can harm your kidneys?

High protein, low-carb diet no harm to healthy kidneys

One of the concerns about consuming excess protein for weight loss is the strain it puts on the kidneys that have the job of filtering waste from the body. High protein diets could theoretically lead to kidney disease, but the biggest risk is for people who already have damage to the organ.

The kidneys remove waste from the body after we eat in the form of urine. Each kidney has approximately one million little cells called nephrons. Inside each nephron are structures called glomeruli that do the job of filtering.

When the kidneys become damaged it’s usually because the nephrons become diseased. If kidney or renal function falls below 10 to 15 percent dialysis or kidney transplant is needed. Blood and urine tests are used by physicians to measure how well your kidneys are filtering waste products.

For the current study, researchers tested the impact of a low-carb; high protein diet among 307 healthy obese volunteers.

Researchers Allon Friedman, MD at Indiana University School of Medicine and his colleagues performed a variety of kidney function tests on the study participants.

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The results showed no harm to the kidneys from eating a low-carb, high protein diet for weight loss. The study group was followed for 2 years. The research also found there were no disturbances in electrolyte balance from the diet that was compared to low-fat.

Friedman said in a press release, “These results are relevant to the millions of healthy obese adults who use dieting as a weight loss strategy.”

That doesn’t mean a low-carb diet might not cause harm in the long run, the authors noted.

More studies are needed to determine if low-carb, high protein diets, like the Atkins, might have any adverse effect on the kidneys for people prone to kidney stones or have high blood pressure or existing kidney disease. The newest study supports the notion that a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss doesn’t seem to cause harm to the kidneys.

Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology
(doi: 10.2215/CJN.11741111)

May, 2012
"The kidneys and how They Work"

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