How to Reverse Stage 3 Kidney Disease Using a Plant-Based Diet

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 and stage 3 kidney disease 10 years later, Sanna was told by her doctors that there was nothing she could do to improve her kidney health. Kidney specialists told her that living with stage 3 kidney disease would eventually require dialysis and a kidney transplant.

Imagine you were diagnosed with a serious health condition and told that there was nothing you could do reverse or even slow down the progression of the illness. How would you feel?

Sanna refused to accept such a grim future. She believed that there was something she could do to improve her kidney health, so she began searching online for answers.

Eventually she found the Mastering Diabetes Program and joined the coaching program in January of 2018. At this point, she was living with stage 3 kidney disease, evidenced by a decreased glomerular filtration rate (GFR), an increased albumin/creatinine ratio, elevated urine protein, and high blood pressure.

At that time, Sanna also experienced a fasting glucose of 126 mg/dL, a total cholesterol of 267 mg/dL, and elevated triglycerides of 106 mg/dL. She had eaten a low-carbohydrate diet for the past six years, believing that was the healthiest choice for her body.

Sanna’s dietician had recommended eating a low-carbohydrate diet because of her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, so she ate approximately 25 grams of carbohydrate per day. Each meal consisted of foods like eggs, dairy, beef, chicken, and fish, combined with either non-starchy vegetables or berries.

Although her low-carbohydrate diet didn’t contain processed foods, added sugars, or refined flour, her blood glucose was difficult to control and her kidneys had become progressively more inflamed over time.

Evidence-based research shows that a low-carbohydrate diet tends to be high in dietary components that are known to be nephrotoxic, including saturated fat, choline, and carnitine, while also being low in components that are necessary for healthy kidney function, such as vitamin c, polyphenols, and antioxidants.

Foods high in choline and/or carnitine, such as eggs, fish, meat, and poultry, cause the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract to produce a metabolic byproduct called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO).

TMAO is a dangerous metabolite that has long been implicated in the development of atherosclerosis, and more current research now shows that it plays a leading role in the development of chronic kidney disease and renal failure (1).

Research also demonstrates that high circulating levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol – which tend to result from eating a diet high in animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol – leads to chronic inflammation in your kidneys, which causes glomerulosclerosis, a form of kidney atherosclerosis (2).

As expected, cholesterol-lowering therapies (either through medications or lifestyle changes) have been demonstrated to improve renal function.

The best way to lower your cholesterol and improve renal function as well as overall health is to minimize or eliminate animal protein and animal fat, and consume a high-fiber, low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet.

Unfortunately, dietary guidelines provided by the National Kidney Foundation currently emphasize the importance of eating red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, fish, and eggs in addition to vegetables and grains in order to get obtain “the right amount of protein to help your kidneys.”

The guidelines further state: “Some people may be told to eat more calories. They may need to eat extra sweets like sugar, jam, jelly, hard candy, honey, and syrup. Other good sources of calories come from fats such as soft (tub) margarine and oils like canola or olive oil.”

​The guidelines also provide confusing information to patients, including that they should get enough (but not too much) sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Exactly how much is enough, but not too much? That’s anyone’s guess!

Sanna decided to eat a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet to reverse stage 3 kidney disease. After only 6 months of diligently following this lifestyle, her kidney function improved so much that her nephrologist told her to not come back!

“I was told in February [by my doctor] that this is not curable....I would end up on dialysis and need a kidney transplant. The kidney doctor was absolutely amazed about these numbers. Actually, I'm now in remission so I don't have to see her anymore except for diabetes check-ups twice a year.”

Take a look at Sanna’s bloodwork between January and September of 2018 below:

Biomarker

January 2018

September 2018

Albumin/Creatinine Ratio

290 mg/mmol

37 mg/mmol

24-hour urine protein

4.7 g

0.5 g

Fasting glucose

126 mg/dL

80 mg/dL

Cholesterol

267 mg/dL

112 mg/dL

HDL

66 mg/dL

50 mg/dL

LDL

201 mg/dL

43 mg/dL

Triglycerides

106 mg/dL

95 mg/dL

Blood pressure

150/100 mm Hg

102/75 mm Hg

Weight

122 lbs

118 lbs

Carbohydrates

25 g/day

200 g/day

Fat

50 g/day

10 g/day

We applaud Sanna’s bravery and her ability to keep seeking nutritional excellence, even after being told that it was impossible to reverse stage 3 kidney disease.

Needless to say, her doctors were astonished by her recovery, and we are extremely proud of her progress.

References

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About the Author

Jamie Koonce, DACM, L.Ac, Dipl.OM is the Digital Content Manager at Mastering Diabetes. She holds a Doctorate degree in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology & Anthropology from Hendrix College, and Certification in Plant-Based Nutrition through eCornell. Jamie has been enjoying a plant-based lifestyle since 1999. In addition to writing at Mastering Diabetes, she teaches continuing education courses to other health professionals on the science behind a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle for specific medical conditions.