Kidney Problems on Low Carb Diets
Reports of Kidney Problems on Low Carb Diet

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5. Reported Kidney Problems (& Gout) on Low Carb Diets

Extract from "Updated Analysis of Health Problems Associated with High-Protein, High-Fat, Carbohydrate-Restricted Diets Reported via an Online Registry" by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) (Dec, 2003)

Note: Numbers in brackets refer to research references. See Low Carb Eating References

Kidney problems were reported by 19 percent of registrants: 10 percent reported kidney stones, 1 percent reported severe kidney infections, and 89 percent reported reduced kidney function.

One registrant reported, “I have recurring kidney infections with elevated leukocytes and blood in my urine. I have tender flanks and am currently under a urologist’s care to find the cause of the blood and the pain.” Another noted that he had three kidney stone episodes in the four months he was on a high-protein, carbohydrate-restricted diet. A person who experienced her first kidney stone episode while on a high-protein diet stated, “Even though I lost weight on the diet, if it’s responsible for my experience with kidney stones, it’s not worth it!”

High-protein diets are associated with reduced kidney function. Over time, individuals who consume very large amounts of animal protein risk permanent loss of kidney function. Harvard researchers reported recently that high-protein diets were associated with a significant decline in kidney function, based on observations in 1,624 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study. The damage was found only in those who already had reduced kidney function at the study’s outset, but more than 40 percent of adults over age 40 in the United States already have reduced kidney function, which suggests that most people who have renal problems are unaware of that fact and do not realize that high-protein diets may put them at risk for further deterioration. (9), (21)

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States and other developed countries and recommends protein restriction for the prevention of recurrent kidney stones. (22) In part, this is because protein ingestion increases renal acid secretion and calcium resorption from bone and reduces renal calcium resorption. In addition, animal protein is a major dietary source of purines, the major precursors of uric acid, which is an important factor in some people who have a propensity to form kidney stones. When uric acid builds up, especially in an acid environment, it can precipitate in uric acid stone formers and decrease the solubility of calcium oxalate, a problem for calcium stone formers. (17), (22) This situation is aggravated when the diet is both high in protein and carbohydrate-restricted because ketone bodies compete with uric acid for renal tubular excretion such that uric acid levels can increase even further. (23)

Gout Reported by 5 percent of Registrants

Gout is an excruciating type of arthritis characterized by joint swelling and pain caused by the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joint fluid. Uric acid is produced when the body uses proteins. Ketosis associated with a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet or fasting can precipitate an attack of gout. (16)

INDEX to PCRM Low Carb Health Problems Report

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