Friday, November 1, 2013

High Protein Diets & Health. By Veeraj Vic Goyaram

Nutrition Science

High Protein Diets & Health
Do they affect your Liver and kidneys?

Researched and Composed by Vic Goyaram
Bodybuilding is full of myths and a common one concerns the health effects of high protein diets. Along the same lines as "Bodybuilding makes the penis small", "Creatine damages the kidneys" and the like, high protein diets have been said to compromise the function of the liver, kidneys, the cardiovascular system, the skeletal system and God knows what else. Shockingly, the medical community have adopted these myths as facts, much to the disregard of scientific literature which proves otherwise. If a bodybuilder presents to a medical practitioner for some ailment, chances are high that his high protein diet will be put to blame. Most nutrition and dietetics books are full of these myths, as well. 

In this article we will attempt to shed some light on the effect of high protein diet on liver and kidney function. 

High Protein Diets and Liver function

The liver breaks down excess amino acids by the process of deamination. Therefore, the more amino acids from proteins consumed in excess of what we need, the greater the burden placed on the liver and the greater the risk of liver damage, right? 

The TRUTH: WRONG! The truth is that there is no evidence that this happens although there is an upper limit to how much amino acids your liver can degrade. That limit is very high anyway. On the contrary, high protein diets that good amounts of BCAAs are useful to treat liver diseases like cirrhosis (Suzuki et al., 2004).  Furthermore, it is a well known fact that unhealthy habits like overindulgence in sugar-sweetened beverages and booze can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and liver cirrhosis respectively. However, nobody bats an eye and gives lectures to people drowning themselves in these crap. Open a tupperware full of chicken or drink a whey protein shake and everybody loses their minds. Suddenly, your whole entourage turns into hepatologists (liver experts).
High protein diets do not negatively affect liver function
High Protein Diets and Kidney function

A high protein diet increases the output of ammonia which must be excreted by the kidneys in the form of urea. It has been hypothesised, therefore, that a high protein diet is detrimental to the kidneys because of the extra work they are made to do in that regard. People who suffer from renal problems are often placed on low protein diets in order to avoid this "burden" on the kidneys. The big question remains, does a high protein diet affect the kidneys of individuals with NO existing kidney problems?

The TRUTH: There is no evidence that a high protein diet affects negatively affects renal function even at the high intakes common among bodybuilders. Studies have compared bodybuilders consuming high protein (2.8g/kg bodyweight) with athletes consuming moderate amounts of protein and found that no significant difference in kidney function between these two groups (Poortmans et al., 2000).  A high protein intake may affect kidney function in people with existing renal problems but we cannot go further and say that this will also happen in healthy individuals.  Research published this year in the American Journal of kidney disease (Jurashchek et al., 2013) showed that a long term high protein diet does not negatively affect kidney function in healthy adults.

The consensus among medical scientists is that 
"it is uncertain that kidney health is affected by the long term consumption of a high protein diet and that there is no reason to restrict protein intake in healthy individuals"

If your medical doctor still scares you with the dangers of high protein diets then please invite him to keep up to date with scientific research (list of relevant articles below). Even if he asks "whether you know more than him" at least you did your part. 

..Certainly not damage your kidneys if you are healthy
Future articles will look at other aspects of the health effects of high protein diets. If you have any question, drop me a line! If there is anything complicated in whatever I write please also drop me a line. As always I'd be glad to assist.


Suzuki K, Kato A, Iwai M.  Branched-chain amino acid treatment in patients with liver cirrhosis.  Hepatol Res.  2004 Dec;30S:25-29.

Poortmans JR, Dellalieux O. Do regular high-protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes? Int J Sports Nutr 2000;10:28-38.

Juraschek SP, Appel LJ, Anderson CA, Miller ER 3rd.Effect of a high-protein diet on kidney function in healthy adults: results from the OmniHeart trial. Am J Kidney Dis. 2013 Apr;61(4):547-54. 

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My Bio: Passion for exercise physiology brought me all the way from Roche Bois, Mauritius to Cape Town, South Africa. I am currently doing postgraduate studies in molecular biology of exercise. My research, supervised by Prof. Edward Ojuka, looks at the influence of nutrition and exercise in metabolic gene regulation in muscle, research which is relevant and applicable to exercising individuals, sportspersons and diabetic individuals. My knowledge stems from my 18 years of experience in bodybuilding and 8 (and counting) years of university education in the field. I have also published work in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism (2013), International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2013) and co-authored two book chapters on molecular mechanisms of exercise in type 2 diabetes treatment. I also presented my research work at the 2012 International Sports and Exercise Nutrition Conference (UK). I am grateful to each and everyone at the UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine. "Knowledge without sharing is worth nothing"
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