The Dangers of Dieting With Kidney Disease

A new study shows the risks of certain diets for chronic kidney disease patients.

Medical illustration of kidneys

Call it a double-edged sword of obesity: You’re overweight and develop kidney disease, then diet, but do even more damage. That’s the finding of a new study that analyzed the nutritional and lifestyle habits of overweight people.

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Dr. Sankar Navaneethan is a nephrologist at Cleveland Clinic and led the study. He says high protein diets and diet pills appear to do the most damage.

“We know that high protein in people with chronic kidney disease could be harmful, so that is a red flag,” he says. “You don’t want people with chronic kidney disease to take a high-protein diet. Also, about 8 percent of the people also took medications to promote weight loss. Most of these medications unfortunately are not to be used in people with chronic kidney disease.”

Dr. Navaneethan and his team of researchers surveyed nearly 11,000 overweight adults. Of those with kidney disease, 50 percent said they tried to lose weight in the past year.

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High-protein diets and weight loss medications are not recommended in people with kidney disease because they may lead to further kidney damage. But study results show many of them consumed protein amounts that are above the levels recommended by the National Kidney Foundation for chronic kidney disease patients. Dr. Navaneethan says there is a need to define what lifestyle changes and weight loss methods are appropriate for overweight people with chronic kidney disease.

“It’s a simple blood test or urine test that could tell if you’re at high risk or you do have kidney disease. And if you do have that condition, then when you go down the road of losing weight, it would be better if you talk to the doctor and work hand in hand to develop the best modality,” Dr. Navaneethan recommends.

Full results of the study were published in the International Journal of Obesity.