If you’re confused about all the conflicting information...too much protein is bad for your kidneys...too little protein is bad for your muscles...we’re here to set the record straight. We’ll also reveal the best protein for our kidneys, and it’s a savior for those whose kidney function may already be compromised.
How Your Kidneys Work
The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products, excess nutrients, water and other liquids from the body. They are hard-working organs, filtering approximately 48 gallons of blood each day, and your general practitioner will want to keep a close eye on your kidney function.
At your annual checkup, your doctor will order a blood test that measures your eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) to determine how effectively toxins are being filtered from blood. The test measures creatinine levels in the blood. (Creatinine is a byproduct of creatine, which provides energy to muscles.) The lab technician then combines your creatinine level with factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, height, and weight, to approximate your GFR. The higher your GRF number, the healthier your kidneys.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs when your kidneys are unable to effectively clear the body of toxins, including the byproducts of amino acid metabolism: urea and ammonia. Proteinuria, increased levels of protein in the urine, can be a sign of early kidney disease.
Over 30 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, also called chronic renal failure, and over 60% of all adults over age 65 have a certain degree of kidney impairment. Kidney disease is often accompanied by the following risk factors:
- Insulin resistance
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
Protein and the Kidneys
Protein is made up of a string of amino acids in a particular sequence that determines the protein’s function in the body. Dietary protein is broken down into its component amino acids once it is ingested. Urea and ammonia are the byproducts of amino acid metabolism, which is why protein can have such an impact on kidney function.
Eating a high-protein diet has been proven safe for people with healthy kidneys.
Healthcare providers recommend that those already diagnosed with chronic kidney disease limit protein intake, because the kidneys have a hard time removing protein waste. High-protein intake can cause urea and ammonia to build up, taxing the kidneys and further exacerbating kidney damage.
Unfortunately, the low-protein diet recommendation can cause a bit of a catch-22 due to its ramifications on muscle health.
When your kidneys falter, your muscles become incredibly vulnerable. Kidney disease sets the stress response in motion, activates chronic inflammation, unleashes stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, and acidifies the accumulated urea and ammonia in the blood, which stunts the muscle protein synthesis response and leads to loss of muscle mass and strength. A loss of muscle mass compromises recovery and quality of life, and increases the risk of death.
So, what’s the workaround?
The Best Protein for Our Kidneys
Patients with chronic renal failure are prescribed a low-protein diet to ease the workload of the kidneys, in particular cutting back on animal protein. However, following a low-protein diet long term can cause a negative nitrogen balance, muscle wasting, amino acid deficiency, and neuropathy (weakness, numbness, and pain from nerve damage).
Supplementing with essential amino acids can help provide the necessary protein without putting such a stress on kidneys, and long-term supplementation has been shown to increase the reutilization of nitrogen, inhibit muscle wasting, and lessen the toxic effects of metabolites (1).
And here’s another benefit.
Many patients on maintenance hemodialysis have hypoalbuminemia, or low levels of a protein called albumin in the blood. This puts them at much greater risk for poor outcomes, including a higher risk for diseases and a greater likelihood of death. Essential amino acids taken orally have been shown to help increase blood levels of albumin and boost nitrogen levels in the body without burdening the kidneys with additional uremic toxins (2).
Furthermore, supplementing with oral essential amino acids can help improve malnutrition in peritoneal dialysis patients, thereby lowering the risk of disease and death (3).
Study after study confirms the benefits of essential amino acids (EAAs) on kidney health. The only possible hiccup is adherence. When expected to take 15 or more capsules for a full dose of essential amino acids, only 65% of patients stick to the protocol. That’s where The Amino Company comes in.
Our team of scientists has developed essential amino acid supplements with a full host of EAAs and the right amount of protein to promote proper kidney function in just 1-3 scoops.
For reference, Amino Co’s Heal is low sodium and low carb (with just 2 grams of carbohydrates and 10 mg of sodium), and high in protein (with 3 grams of protein and 7.56 grams of essential amino acids plus whey protein) in 1 scoop. It’s as simple as mixing the powder into 8 ounces of water or your favorite beverage. No more pills to swallow!
You can learn more about how amino acids support kidney health in this article.
More Healthy Diet Tips
To avoid kidney problems, it is important to follow the guidance of a registered dietitian, who will recommend foods to eat and foods to eliminate according to your daily protein needs or any restrictions placed on your phosphorus, potassium, or sodium intake.
A general guideline for a healthy kidney diet includes eating protein foods that are lower in cholesterol than are meat, dairy products, and eggs, such as chicken breast, fish, and plant sources of protein like soy and quinoa. To protect against weight loss, be sure to also fill your plate with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.