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New study finds significant impact of plant-based diets on chronic kidney disease patients

December 18, 2023

A study published in this month's issue of the National Kidney Foundation American Journal of Kidney Diseases (AJKD) provides new insights into the role of diet in the management of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Adherence to Plant-based Diets and Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease Progression and All-Cause Mortality, led by Dr Casey M. Rebholz, Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reveals that adhering to an overall plant-based diet and a healthy plant-based diet is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality among CKD patients. Conversely, those following an unhealthy plant-based diet face an elevated risk of CKD progression and all-cause mortality.

"It sounds like conventional wisdom, but the results of this study could have far-reaching implications," commented Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and a kidney donation recipient. "These findings challenge some of the status quo in nutritional guidance while offering actionable insights for healthcare professionals and CKD patients, providing a potential avenue for enhancing their well-being – and even their survival."

Traditionally, nutrition guidance for CKD patients has often focused on restrictions, particularly limiting protein intake and controlling phosphorus and potassium levels. This study suggests that plant-based diets can be a viable and beneficial dietary option for CKD patients. It encourages a shift away from the conventional approach of restriction to a more inclusive approach, emphasizing the importance of the quality of the diet rather than solely focusing on restrictions.

It also emphasizes the importance of dietary quality by distinguishing between overall plant-based diets, healthy plant-based diets, and unhealthy plant-based diets. Healthier plant-derived foods include whole fruits and vegetables, whereas unhealthy plant-derived foods include things like sugar-sweetened beverages.

CKD affects millions of individuals worldwide and is a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality. The study, which involved 2,539 participants with CKD from the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) study, conducted between 2003 and 2008, sheds light on the impact of dietary choices in CKD patients.

Among the key findings of the study, participants with the highest adherence to overall plant-based diets and healthy plant-based diets had a 26% and 21% lower risk of all-cause mortality, respectively.

Each 10-point higher score on the unhealthy plant-based diet index was associated with a 14% and 11% higher risk of CKD progression and all-cause mortality, respectively.

These critical findings underscore the practical implications of dietary choices for individuals living with CKD, offering a potential avenue for enhancing their well-being. It also highlights the significance of the quality of a patient's plant-based diet and its role in improving health outcomes and improving quality of life. While there are limitations to the study, including potential measurement errors in self-reported dietary data, this research represents an important step in understanding the impact of diet on CKD progression and management.

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