Kidney Disease

A plant-based diet and lifestyle changes are increasingly recognized as the best way to prevent, manage, and treat chronic kidney disease when diagnosed early enough. Discover the foods and lifestyle habits scientifically proven to help below.

Cases per year

Each year, approximately 120,000 Americans develop end-stage kidney disease and start needing dialysis 1.

General frequency

More than 1 in 7 (that’s 15%, or 37 million) US adults have chronic kidney disease 2.

Risk

Chronic kidney disease is one of the top ten leading causes of premature death in the United States.

Managing chronic kidney disease with a plant-based diet and lifestyle changes

A patient of mine started changing her diet (less processed foods, more plant based) and dropped 33 lb, BMI from 47 to 40, and HbA1c 7.7 to 5.4 in 4 months! She is so motivated to continue making changes because she has so much energy and feels great!

Jennifer Wetherington, MD on how to manage the main risk factors for developing kidney disease.

Podcasts

Here are some top scientific studies that support the results our clinicians have seen first-hand:

Red and processed meat is associated with risk of kidney disease, whereas plant protein protects against kidney disease 

Associations of dietary macronutrients with glomerular filtration rate and kidney dysfunction: Tehran lipid and glucose study 

A study of 5,316 people looking at the association between plant and animal protein and the risk of CKD found those consuming the most amount of plant protein had a 30% lower risk for CKD compared to those who had the smallest intakes. Additionally, those consuming highest levels of animal protein had a 37% increased risk for developing CKD 3

Healthy plant-based diets are associated with better kidney function and prevent a decline in kidney function over time 

Plant-Based Diets and Incident CKD and Kidney Function 

This paper included 14,686 adults enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study. The results showed people that adhered to a healthy plant-based diet had a 14% lower risk of developing CKD, and those that consumed a pro vegetarian diet had a 10% lower risk of having CKD. Overall plant-based diets and healthful plant-based diets were also associated with slower decline in kidney function 4.

Plant-based diets improve treatment outcomes in patients with chronic kidney failure 

Healthy Dietary Patterns and Risk of Mortality and ESRD in CKD: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies 

A study combining the results of 7 separate studies included 15,285 patients with established chronic kidney failure. The results showed that plant-centered diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fiber together with a lower consumption of red meat, sodium, and refined sugars were consistently associated with lower mortality in people with chronic kidney failure 5.  

General information about kidney disease and management with lifestyle interventions

What is chronic kidney disease?

Our kidneys cleanse the blood by filtering out wastes, toxins, and excess fluids to be excreted in the urine.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), or chronic kidney failure, describes the gradual loss of this function. Overtime, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and waste accumulate until kidney function is significantly impaired.

Chronic kidney disease is split into five stages. The stage is determined by the eGFR (Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate) number, which is blood test reading that acts as a measure of how well your kidneys are working. The stages are: 

  • Stage 1: Your kidneys are still working well, with a normal eGFR of 90 or greater. There is mild damage to your kidneys. 
  • Stage 2: Mostly your kidneys are still working fine, but your eGFR has gone down to 60-89. There is still mild damage to the kidneys. 
  • Stage 3: At this stage, your kidneys are not working as well as they should, and the eGFR has gone down between 30 and 59. Damage to kidneys reaches moderate levels. 
  • Stage 4: Kidney function is worse and they are close to not working at all. You have an eGFR between 15 and 29 and moderate to severe damage to your kidneys.
  • Stage 5: At this end stage, your kidneys may have failed altogether and your eGFR is lower than 15. This is the most severe level of kidney damage. This can lead to needing dialysis (artificially filtering the blood) if the disease progresses to failure, which is otherwise fatal.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease, because they both cause significant damage to the kidneys.

Symptoms

Usually, an individual will have few signs or symptoms in the early stages of chronic kidney disease. You may not realize that you have kidney disease until the condition is advanced; as many as 9 out of 10 people with CKD do not know they have CKD 2.  

When chronic kidney disease progresses symptoms can appear. The symptoms of kidney disease can include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Fatigue and difficulty concentrating 
  • Feeling the need to urinate more often 
  • Having trouble sleeping 
  • Dry and itchy skin 
  • Swollen feet and ankles 
  • Urine is foamy or contains blood 
  • Muscle cramps 

Diagnosis 

There are certain questions that your doctor may ask as the first step towards your diagnosis, these include:

  • Medical history 
  • Family history 
  • Whether you have high blood pressure 
  • Current medications (they may affect your kidney function)
  • If you’ve noticed any changes in your urinary habits 

After this, there are several tests your doctor may conduct including a physical exam, checking for signs of problems with your heart or blood vessels, and a neurological exam. 

There are further tests that can then determine how severe your kidney disease is (the stage) including:

  • eGFR tests (blood tests), which is a measure of how well your kidneys are working 
  • Urine tests 
  • Imaging tests 
  • Removing a sample of kidney tissue for testing

Treatment 

Chronic kidney disease doesn’t have to be progressive. Treatment can significantly slow the progression of kidney damage, and a plant-based diet along with lifestyle changes has the power to reverse some of the damage.  

Plant-based diets can manage CKD due to the presence of healthy plant protein and the absence of animal protein. Animal protein increases the workload of the kidneys due to the higher generation of urea and nitrogenous waste products, whereas plant protein has protective properties. 

Plant-based diets are also beneficial because of the high fiber and phytonutrient content. The higher intake of micronutrients from plant-foods can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, thereby reducing the risk of kidney disease 6.  Plant foods have powerful healing properties that can reverse the damage caused by years of unhealthy diets, along with other tools like sleep, exercise, and avoiding risky substances. 

The development of CKD is most commonly due to an individual having diabetes and/or hypertension 7. Lifestyle interventions with plant based diets can reverse both hypertension and diabetes, further reducing the risk of developing kidney failure, and controlling any further damage in pre-existing cases.

a diagam showing mostly text, that explains how plant based diets can support kidney functions due to lower protein levels, fewer toxins from animal protein for the kidneys to deal with, and higher antioxidant levels resulting in lower levels of inflammation and reduced risk of kidney damage or failure

The National Kidney Foundation also supports the use of plant-based diets for management of kidney disease.  

Diet and lifestyle changes are most effective under the guidance of a qualified health professional who can support you to make the changes best suited to your unique health circumstances and condition.

Useful links

Think you may be suffering with this and need help? Join us today to make a change. 

References 

1. Kalantar-Zadeh, K. et al. Plant-Dominant Low-Protein Diet for Conservative Management of Chronic Kidney Disease. Nutrients 12, 1931 (2020).

2. Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/publications-resources/ckd-national-facts.html (2022).

3. Yuzbashian, E., Asghari, G., Mirmiran, P., Hosseini, F.-S. & Azizi, F. Associations of dietary macronutrients with glomerular filtration rate and kidney dysfunction: Tehran lipid and glucose study. J. Nephrol. 28, 173–180 (2015).

4. Kim, H. et al. Plant-Based Diets and Incident CKD and Kidney Function. Clin. J. Am. Soc. Nephrol. 14, 682–691 (2019).

5. Kelly, J. T. et al. Healthy Dietary Patterns and Risk of Mortality and ESRD in CKD: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. Clin. J. Am. Soc. Nephrol. 12, 272–279 (2017).

6. Moore, J. Whole-Food Low-Protein Plant-Based Nutrition to Prevent or Slow Progression of Chronic Kidney Disease. J. Ren. Nutr. 31, e1–e4 (2021).

7. Chen, T. K., Knicely, D. H. & Grams, M. E. Chronic Kidney Disease Diagnosis and Management: A Review. JAMA 322, 1294 (2019).

Setup a free 30 min consultation with our medical team

Join virtual medical groups led by plant-based physicians to address, treat and reverse the root causes of chronic diseases.

Schedule a free consultation

Our services are likely covered by your health insurance provider and billed as a standard visit, while our cash pay plans are on average thousands cheaper than alternatives.