The Impacts of Plant Protein on Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patients should consider adding more plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu to their diet. While eating animal protein was previously associated with a negative health effect on these patients, a new study shows that eating plant proteins can actually improve their health – and lower their mortality rate.

“In this study, we found every 33% increase in the plant to total protein ratio was associated with a statistically significant decreased risk of death in those with CKD,” said Srinivasan Beddhu, M.D., a nephrologist with University of Utah Health Care. “Our research indicates that plant-based proteins could play an important role in improving the health outcomes for people with decreased kidney function.”

While the impacts of adding plant protein are being seen it still is not clear why these impacts are occurring. One hypothesis is that the consumption of plant proteins lowers the production of uremic toxins. “These toxins have been implicated in the progression of CKD,” says Beddhu. “They can also contribute to cardiovascular disease, and death in patients with kidney disease.”

Another explanation deals with the levels of phosphorus in the body. Normal functioning kidneys remove phosphorous in the blood. However, in patients with CKD the phosphorous cannot remove the mineral and that can lead to leaching of calcium from the bones, and deposits of calcium on organs.

“In animal protein sources the absorption rate of phosphorus is higher,” says co-author Xiaorui Chen, M.S., a graduate research assistant at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “However, in plant proteins there is a low bioavailability of phosphorus, so a diet high in plant protein for patients with CKD may also lower body phosphorus burden.”

More research still needs to be done on improving the lives of patients with CKD. “Dietary interventions, such as increasing plant protein intake, may have an effect on slowing down the progression of kidney disease,” says Beddhu. “But this needs to be tested in randomized controlled trials.”

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