Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Diet Reversing Diabetic Kidney Disease--in Mice

The tragedy of diabetic kidney disease is that finally getting your blood sugar levels under control can prevent diabetic kidney disease but can't reverse it.

Once you have chronic kidney failure, the conventional wisdom is that you're out of luck. Researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, however, announced in 2011 that extremely high-fat, extremely low-carb diet can reverse diabetic kidney failure, in mice.

This diet reverses the effects of diabetic kidney damage (high creatinine), although it doesn't seem to change the structure of the kidney, only its function. Could it work for people?
The researchers secured specially bred diabetic rodents and allowed them to develop diabetic kidney failure. They then put half the mice on a high-fat, low-carb diet similar to the ketogenic diet used for treating epilepsy in children, and let the other half of the mice eat high-carb. In just eight weeks, which is a very long time in the life of a rodent, the mice eating high-fat experienced a reversal disease.

Generalizing the results of this study to humans, researcher Dr. Charles Mobbs was quoted in Science Daily as saying that this was the first study showing that diabetic nephropathy (kidney failure) could be reversed by diet alone. Even though humans have much longer lifetimes than rodents, Dr. Mobbs reportedly told the online news service that people with diabetic kidney disease might go into remission even faster than rodents, in just four weeks on this extreme diet.

When rodents, or people, eat high-fat diets, cells all over the body start burning ketones instead of sugar.The brain continues to need a small amount of glucose, although even central nervous system tissue can operate largely on ketones released from fat. Since glucose is what "clogs" the filtration system of the kidneys, a short break from high glucose levels should allow them to recover.

Actually, this is what happens when people in the early stages of kidney failure start taking good care of their blood sugar levels. In the early stages of diabetic kidney failure, eating less usually is what is required. The farther the disease progresses, the more there is a need for fat in the diet.

But the kind of diet this study describes is more than low-carb. A single peanut could upset the metabolism of fat. A bowl of salad a day is out of the question. This diet requires mayonnaise, cream, butter, and a little high-fat cheese, with lots of vitamin supplements. It's not something anyone should try at home.

And if you already have kidney disease, high-fat along with high-protein just isn't going to work. In kidney disease, protein is as big a problem as sugar.

Don't run to the doctor asking to be put on a ketogenic diet just yet. But do take care to keep your blood sugar levels as normal as possible as long as possible so diabetic kidney disease never has a chance to develop.


Poplawski MM, Mastaitis JW, Isoda F, Grosjean F, Zheng F, Mobbs CV. Reversal of diabetic nephropathy by a ketogenic diet. PLoS One. 2011 Apr 20;6(4):e18604.

Image credit: Anna Frodesiak, via Wikimedia Commons.

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