Protein's Role in Kidney Disease

The kidneys are organs that are about four inches long, and are found in the back wall of the abdomen on either side of the spinal column. Their main function is to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood as it flows through these organs. They are not huge in size, but the role that they play is significant. Though they are small (both of them together weigh less than a pound), they process over 18 gallons of blood each hour and filter over half of all of the fluid that is taken in by the body. In the end, the kidneys will excrete up to two quarts of urine during a day’s time. (Source: Every Woman’s Health, 1993). The kidneys are prone to a number of diseases and conditions, some of them very serious and even potentially life threatening. As with many other problems in the body, treating or preventing a number of conditions can begin and end with a better diet by either adding or eliminating certain foods.

Kidney Diseases and Conditions

The most common of the urologic disorders is also one of the most painful. Kidney stones are formed in a number of ways and from a number of different crystals. In the average person, a chemical process keeps these crystals from sticking together and forming a hard mass in the urinary tract. Once the mass forms, it can continue to grow, causing pain as it moves along, or if it is too large, may block urinary flow and become a medical emergency. Most kidney stones are not so dire however, and will pass without notice on their own.

There are several types of kidney stones, including the calcium oxalate stone and the phosphate oxalate stone. A less common type of stone is called a struvite uric acid stone, with an even rarer stone called the cystine kidney stone. Stones are most common for white men between the ages of 40 and 70, especially those who have a family history of kidney stones or other kidney disease. In addition, metabolic disorders of any kind can boost your chance of developing kidney stones.

Several inherited conditions may increase the chances of developing kidney stones, including:

– Hypercalcuria: increased calcium in the body, which may be the cause of up to half of the kidney stones.

– Cystinuria: an inherited but rare metabolic disease which causes a buildup of cystine (an amino acid produced by the breakdown of proteins during digestion)

– Hyperoxaluria: an inherited but rare metabolic disease related to a buildup of calcium oxalate in the blood. Calcium oxalate itself is a salt that is typically kept in balance. (Source: Medical Dictionary 1988)

In addition, there are other conditions that may increase the risk of developing kidney stones of any kind:

– Gout

– Excessive vitamin D

– Blockage of the urinary tract

– The use of diuretics

How Protein Can Affect Kidney Stones

Protein can affect kidney stones both negatively and positively. An excessive intake of protein (defined as over 35% of daily calories) can cause calcium oxalate stones. In addition, the rare, inherited metabolic disorder, cystinuria, can be caused by excessive protein-derived amino acids being present in the body. When protein is broken down in the body, it is broken down into amino acids, which are then absorbed and used to make new amino acids, hormones and enzymes for a number of functions in the body. There are a number of amino acids, eight of which cannot be made by the body. These are the essential amino acids and must be received from food sources. These are leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and lysine. In children, there is an additional amino acid that needs to come from food, but most adults are able to create the protein themselves (Source: The Vegetarian Society).

More Serious Kidney Diseases

Though kidney stones are by far the most common condition, there are others which are more serious. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects 26 million Americans, with many millions more at a serious risk of developing it. (Source: ) The risk factors for CKD include:

– Hypertension

– Diabetes

– Family history of kidney disease

– Being of a certain ethnic background

CKD, when left unchecked and untreated, will progress to renal failure.

How Protein Can Affect CKD

One of the symptoms that is most quickly noticed during lab tests is proteinuria, an excess of protein in the urine. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet with the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats can keep the body in better condition, reduce the chance of developing high blood pressure and lessen one of the risk factors for the condition. While CKD is caused by hypertension, it can also cause hypertension as well. One of the risk factors for high blood pressure is being overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight through healthy diet and exercise is one of the easiest ways to keep from developing high blood pressure. Each of the macronutrients is vitally important, including fat, carbohydrates and protein.

How Much Protein is Needed for a Healthy Diet?

The American Heart Association recommends that a diet that has no more than 35% of its calories from protein. To determine how much protein you need each day, you can ask your physician for a recommendation for your daily diet or you can estimate your own need. The average person needs around .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, however, there are other factors that can influence your need, including how old you are, how healthy you are and your activity level. If you are very active, your need can go as high as a full gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, while if you are not active at all, you may only need half of the regular amount.

If you are interested in the formula to calculate protein amounts for yourself, it is simple to do so: divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Multiply that answer by the right number, as determined by your activity level:

– .4 if you are sedentary

– .5 to .8 if you are moderately active

– .8 to 1 gram if you are very active

– Body builders might require between 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kg of body weight.

Building a Healthy Diet to Treat or Prevent Kidney Disease

Before changing any aspect of your diet, always check with your doctor for safety. Because excessive protein can cause additional problems with the kidneys, it is important to get the right amount. In addition to getting healthy proteins in the right amount, it is also important to get healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. One of the easiest ways to ensure good nutrition, especially with proteins, is by using supplements. Profect, from Protica , is a good choice: it is 100 calories, less than three ounces and gives a full 25 grams of protein per serving. There are a number of flavors to enjoy such as: Grapefruit-Mango, Passion Fruit, Orange Pineapple, Cool Melon Splash Fresh Citrus Berry. Again, it is very important to make sure that you are getting the right amount of protein, especially if you are at increased risk for any of the various kidney diseases.

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