Mediterranean Diet May Decrease Risk of Kidney Disease

Kidney health may be less likely to decline with Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and healthy fats

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The Mediterranean diet has been tied to many health benefits, such as improved heart health. And new research suggests it may also protect kidney health.

The authors of a recent study set out to study the effect of the Mediterranean diet on kidney health.

They found that the diet — high in fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and healthy fats like olive oil — lowered patients' risk of chronic kidney disease.

"Many studies have found a favorable association between the Mediterranean diet and a variety of health outcomes, including those related to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer, among others," said lead study author Minesh Khatri, MD. "There is increasing evidence that poor diet is associated with kidney disease, but it is unknown whether the benefits of a Mediterranean diet could extend to kidney health as well."

"It makes sense that a diet that would decrease risk for cardiovascular disease may also support healthy [kidney] function," said Tina Marinaccio, MS, a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Registered Dietitian (RD) from Morristown, New Jersey.

"When we think of cardiovascular disease, we usually think of the heart. But the cardiovascular system includes all of the blood vessels in the body, including those that supply the kidneys," said Marinaccio, who was not involved in this study.

"The Mediterranean diet works because it is plant-based. Mono unsaturated fats displace the saturated fats that are associated with cardiovascular disease. Not to mention the inventory of anti-inflammatory properties in fruits and vegetables," Marinaccio explained.

"Maintaining healthy blood pressure also helps to preserve kidney function," she said.

For this research, Dr. Khatri and colleagues, of the Columbia University Medical Center, studied the effect of the Mediterranean diet on 900 people over the course of roughly seven years. The patients were 69 years old on average at the start of the study.

The study authors gauged the patients' adherence to the diet on a nine-point scale. For each point earned on the scale, the patients saw a 17 percent decrease in their risk of chronic kidney disease. Those who followed the diet most closely were, on average, 50 percent less likely than those who did not follow the diet to develop kidney disease. They were also 42 percent less likely to see a rapid decline in kidney function.

The kidneys act as filters for waste in the blood. When kidneys fail or struggle to function, such as with chronic kidney disease, too much waste can build up in the bloodstream and damage the body.

"If these data are confirmed in clinical trials, they will offer a novel and important approach in the fight against kidney disease," the study authors wrote.

In an editorial about the study, Julie T. Lin, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that patients shouldn't only focus on diet — even well-researched diets like the Mediterranean diet. She said a healthy lifestyle should also include exercise.

"We need to begin by embracing the reality that there is no magic pill or miracle food, only vigilance and discipline with diet and regular exercise and the rare indulgence in cake for special occasions."

The study and editorial were published Oct. 30 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 31, 2014
Last Updated:
March 16, 2015