Protein and Kidney Function

Protein and Kidney Function | The Paleo DietProtein and Kidney Function Excerpt

There is, quite obviously, a lot of misunderstanding about nutrition. And people who may not understand the science are often quick to suggest that the Paleo Diet is not a healthy way to eat. The Paleo Diet is meant to mimic the diet that our Paleolithic ancestors ate, because this is the diet that we evolved to eat and to which we are best adapted. Up to 35% of total calories in the diets of studied hunter-gatherer tribes comes from protein, yet many people who give nutrition advice will tell you that protein damages the kidneys. In this issue, we’ll address this concept about protein and its effect on kidney function, including how this applies to diabetics. We also provide some tips on eating while on vacation. 

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About The Paleo Diet Team

The Paleo Diet TeamThe Paleo Diet, the world’s healthiest diet, is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The therapeutic effect of The Paleo Diet is supported by both randomized controlled human trials and real-life success stories.

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“3” Comments

  1. You state that “In this issue, we’ll address this concept about protein….”, but there is no link on this page to access “this issue”, nor are there any instructions for doing so. This problem seems to be a pervasive one on your website, as I have found many other pages similar to this one where there is some intro material as a sort of teaser, but there is no way to access the full article (and no instructions for how to do so). This is unfortunate because many readers might be less proactive than me – they might just give up without even bothering to question you about it. It would be great if you could 1) get back to me to let me know how to access your full-length articles, and 2) fix your website so that other people like myself who stumble upon these pages in the future won’t have this problem.

  2. Most of my friends suggest that taking protein supplements of any for is harmful to my body and will cause issues to my kidneys.
    Please let me know the facts surrounding protein and kidney functioning.

    • If you eat a contemporary Paleo Diet, then animal products (fish, seafood, eggs, meats, poultry, game meat, organ meats) will be included in your diet on a daily basis. Consequently, there is absolutely no need to supplement your diet with protein pills or powder. In fact, many protein supplements are manufactured from non-Paleo products such as dairy (whey protein) and soybeans – items which may produce allergenic symptoms in some people, particularly when consumed at high levels.

      Figure 1 below demonstrates that contemporary Paleo Diets maintain significantly higher protein intakes (25 to 30 % of total daily energy) than the typical U.S. diet (15.8 %). A physiological protein ceiling exists in humans and amounts to between 35 to 40 % of total eucaloric energy, above which excessive dietary protein becomes toxic (1).

      High protein diets may worsen kidney function in patients with pre-existing kidney disease. However, recent studies have demonstrated that in healthy, normal people the kidneys quickly adapt to high protein diets by increasing their size and function so that the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) per unit kidney volume remain normal (2, 3).

      The first long term trial of high protein diets (25 % energy) in humans showed no deleterious kidney changes after 6 months (2). No changes were observed in urinary albumin (a marker of kidney dysfunction), pre/post high protein diet. GFR increased in this study, but so did kidney volume measured via MRI. The GFR expressed per kidney volume did not change. The authors conclusion was that the kidneys adapt to high protein diets in healthy, normal individuals. A similar conclusion reached in 2012 (3).

      1. Cordain L, Miller JB, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SH, Speth JD. Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar;71(3):682-92
      2. Skov AR et al. Int J Obes Metab Disord 1999;23:1170-77.
      3. Friedman AN et al. Comparative effects of low-carbohydrate high-protein versus low-fat diets on the kidney. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2012;7: 1103-1111

      Figure 1. Percent Protein Energy in Various Diets

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