Cutting Red Meat Spares Diabetic Kidneys

Healthnotes Newswire (July 6, 2006)—Removing red meat from the diet could save the kidneys of people with diabetes. New research shows that eating chicken instead of red meat, or switching to a low-protein vegetarian diet, improves kidney function in people with type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes. It also favorably alters the balance of fats in the blood, reducing heart disease risk.

People with diabetes face many complications, some of them life-threatening. One of the most common and deadly complications of type 2 diabetes is diabetic nephropathy—a form of kidney disease that, if allowed to progress, can put a diabetic on the short list for a transplant.

“Diabetic nephropathy develops in about 40% of patients with diabetes,” said Jorge L. Gross, MD, a Brazilian endocrinologist who designed and led the study. “It is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease in patients starting the transplant process.”

Each kidney houses a complex system of nephrons, microscopic units that filter the blood and form urine. In diabetic nephropathy, these filtration units become damaged and allow more of the blood protein albumin into the urine. As damage to the kidneys gets worse, the amount of albumin in the urine also increases, giving a fair indication of the progress of the disease.

In Dr. Gross’s study, 17 people with type 2 diabetes and large amounts of albumin in their urine followed each of three diets, with intervals between, in random order. The diets were a usual diet, which included red meat; a chicken diet, in which all meat in the usual diet was replaced with dark chicken meat (skinless leg quarter); and a low-protein diet, which was vegetarian (vegetable and dairy protein only) with at least a 50% reduction of their usual protein intake. Each diet was followed for four weeks with a four-week interval in between, during which time the people ate their usual diet.

When following the chicken diet and low-protein diet, the people had significantly less albumin in the urine and a significantly improved balance of fats in the blood.

“Withdrawal of red meat from the diet, either by replacing it with chicken or by following a vegetarian low-protein diet, has a clear beneficial effect on kidney function in people with diabetic nephropathy,” concluded Dr. Gross. “This is a relatively simple dietary modification, but it could have a significant effect beyond the conventional treatment.”

(Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:1032–8)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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