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chronic kidney disease

Walking may reduce the need for dialysis. METRO photo
Simple lifestyle changes can have an impact

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

On the heels of National Kidney Month in March, let’s look more closely at strategies for reducing chronic kidney disease (CKD). Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease. But those are only the ones at highest risk.

CKD is tricky because, similar to high blood pressure and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), it tends to be asymptomatic, at least initially. Only in the advanced stages do symptoms become distinct, though there can be vague symptoms in moderate stages such as fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite.

What are the CKD stages?

CKD is classified into five stages based on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a way to determine kidney function. Stages 1 and 2 are the early stages, while stages 3a and 3b are the moderate stages, and finally stages 4 and 5 are the advanced stages. Stage 5 is end-stage renal disease, or kidney failure.

Who should be screened?

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Physicians, those who are at highest risk should be screened including, as I mentioned above, patients with diabetes or hypertension (1)(2). 

In an interview on Medscape.com, “Proteinuria: A Cheaper and Better Cholesterol?” two high-ranking nephrologists suggest that first-degree relatives to advanced CKD patients should also be screened and that those with vague symptoms of fatigue, malaise and/or decreased appetite may also be potential screening candidates (3). This broadens the asymptomatic population that may benefit from screening.

Slowing CKD progression

Fortunately, there are several options available, ranging from preventing CKD with specific exercise to slowing the progression with lifestyle changes and medications.

How much exercise?

Here we go again, preaching the benefits of exercise. But what if you don’t really like exercise? It turns out that the results of a study show that walking reduces the risk of death and the need for dialysis by 33 percent and 21 percent respectively (4). And although some don’t like formal exercise programs, most people agree that walking is enticing.

The most prevalent form of exercise in this study was walking. Even more intriguing, the results are based on a dose-response curve. In other words, those who walked more often saw greater results. So, the participants who walked one-to-two times per week had a significant 17 percent reduction in death and a 19 percent reduction in kidney replacement therapy, while those who walked at least seven times per week experienced a more impressive 59 percent reduction in death and a 44 percent reduction in the risk of dialysis. There were 6,363 participants for an average duration of 1.3 years.

How much protein to consume?

When it comes to CKD, more protein is not necessarily better, and may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis (a group of 10 randomized controlled trials) of Cochrane database studies, results showed that the risk of death or treatment with dialysis or kidney transplant was reduced by 32 percent in those who consumed less protein compared to unrestricted protein (5). According to the authors, as few as two patients would need to be treated for a year in order to prevent one from either dying or reaching the need for dialysis or transplant.

Sodium: How much is too much?

Good news! In a study, results showed that a modest sodium reduction in our diet may be sufficient to help prevent proteinuria (protein in the urine) (6). Here, less than 2000 mg was shown to be beneficial, something all of us can achieve.

Medications have a place

We routinely give certain medications, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, to patients who have diabetes to protect their kidneys. What about patients who do not have diabetes? ACEs and ARBs are two classes of anti-hypertensives — high blood pressure medications — that work on the RAAS system of the kidneys, responsible for blood pressure and water balance (7). Results of a study show that these medications reduced the risk of death significantly in patients with moderate CKD. Most of the patients were considered hypertensive.

However, there was a high discontinuation rate among those taking the medication. If you include the discontinuations and regard them as failures, then all who participated showed a 19 percent reduction in risk of death, which was significant. However, if you exclude discontinuations, the results are much more robust with a 63 percent reduction. To get a more realistic picture, this result, including both participants and dropouts, is probably close to what will occur in clinical practice unless the physician is a really good motivator or has very highly motivated patients.

While these two classes of medications, ACE inhibitors and ARBs, are good potential options for protecting the kidneys, they are not the only options. You don’t necessarily have to rely on drug therapies, and there is no downside to lifestyle modifications. Lowering sodium modestly, walking frequently, and lowering your protein consumption may all be viable options, with or without medication, since medication compliance was woeful. Screening for asymptomatic, moderate CKD may lack conclusive studies, but screening should occur in high-risk patients and possibly be on the radar for those with vague symptoms of lethargy as well as aches and pains. Of course, this is a discussion to have with your physician.

References:

(1) uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org (2) aafp.org. (3) Medscape.com. (4) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014;9(7):1183-9. (5) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(3):CD001892. (6) Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2014;23(6):533-540. (7) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(7):650-658.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

By David Dunaief, M.D.

 

Dr. David Dunaief

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is much more common than you think. Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease. But those are only the ones at highest risk. This brings me to my first question.

Why is chronic kidney disease (CKD) a tricky disease?

Unfortunately, similar to high blood pressure and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), the disease tends to be asymptomatic, at least initially. Only in the advanced stages do symptoms become distinct, though there can be vague symptoms such as fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite in moderate stages.

What are the stages?

CKD is classified into five stages based on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a way to determine kidney function. Stages 1 and 2 are the early stages, while stages 3a and 3b are the moderate stages, and finally stages 4 and 5 are the advanced stages. This demarcation is based on an eGFR of >60 ml/min for early, 30-59 ml/min for moderate and <30 ml/min for advanced. Stage 5 is end-stage kidney disease or failure.

March is National Kidney Month

Why is CKD important?

The prevalence of the disease is predicted to grow by leaps and bounds in the next 15 years. Presently, approximately 13 percent of those over age 30 in the U.S. population are affected by CKD. In a simulation model, it is expected to reach 16.7 percent prevalence in the year 2030. Currently, those who are ages 30 to 49 have a 54 percent chance of having CKD in their lifetimes; those 50 to 64 years of age, a slightly lower risk of 52 percent; and those 65 years and older, a 42 percent risk (1). Thus, a broad spectrum of people are affected. Another study’s results corroborate these numbers, suggesting almost a 60 percent lifetime risk of at least moderate stage 3a to advanced stage 5 CKD (2). If these numbers are correct, they are impressive, and the disease needs to be addressed. We need to take precautions to prevent the disease and its progression.

Who should be screened?

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, screening for CKD may not be warranted in the asymptomatic “healthy” population (3). This means people without chronic diseases. The studies are inconclusive in terms of benefits and harms. In order to qualify as CKD, there has to be a minimum of three months of decreased kidney function. This appears to be a paradox: Remember, CKD is asymptomatic generally until the advanced stages. However, there are a number of caveats in the report.

Those who are at highest risk should be screened, including, as I mentioned above, patients with diabetes or hypertension. In an interview on www.Medscape.com entitled “Proteinuria: A Cheaper and Better Cholesterol?” two high-ranking nephrologists suggest that first-degree relatives of advanced CKD patients should also be screened and that those with vague symptoms of fatigue, malaise and/or decreased appetite may also be potential candidates (4). This broadens the asymptomatic population that may benefit from screening.

The fix!

Fortunately, there are several options available, ranging from preventing CKD with specific exercise to slowing the progression with lifestyle changes and medications.

Why exercise?

Here we go again, preaching the benefits of exercise. But what if you don’t really like exercise? It turns out that the results of a study show that walking reduces the risk of death and the need for dialysis by 33 percent and 21 percent, respectively (5). And although some don’t like formal exercise programs, most people agree that walking is enticing.

The most prevalent form of exercise in this study was walking. The results are even more intriguing; they are based on a dose-response curve. In other words, those who walk more often see greater results. So, the participants who walked one to two times per week had a significant 17 percent reduction in death and a 19 percent reduction in kidney replacement therapy, whereas those who walked at least seven times per week experienced a more impressive 59 percent reduction in death and a 44 percent reduction in the risk of dialysis. Those who were in between saw a graded response. There were 6,363 participants for an average duration of 1.3 years.

Protein is important, right?

Yes, protein is important for tissue and muscle health. But when it comes to CKD, more is not necessarily better, and may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis (a group of 10 randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of studies), results showed that the risk of death or treatment with dialysis or kidney transplant was reduced by 32 percent in those who consumed less protein compared to unrestricted protein (6). This meta-analysis used the Cochrane database to search for studies. According to the authors, as few as two patients would need to be treated for a year in order to prevent one from either dying or reaching the need for dialysis or transplant. Unfortunately, the specific quantity of protein consumption that is ideal in CKD patients could not be ascertained since the study was a meta-analysis.

Sodium: How much?

The debate roils on: How much do we need to reduce sodium in order to see an effect? Well, the good news is that in a study, results showed that a modest sodium reduction in our diet may be sufficient to help prevent proteinuria (protein in the urine) (7). Different guidelines recommend sodium intake ranging from fewer than 1500 mg to 2300 mg daily. This particular study says that less than 2000 mg is beneficial, something all of us can achieve.

Of course medications have a place

We routinely give certain medications, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, to patients who have diabetes to protect their kidneys. What about patients who do not have diabetes? ACEs and ARBs are two classes of anti-hypertensives — high blood pressure medications — that work on the RAAS system of the kidneys, responsible for blood pressure and water balance (8).

Results of a study show that these medications reduced the risk of death significantly in patients with moderate CKD. Most of the patients were considered hypertensive. However, there was a high discontinuation rate among those taking the medication. If you include the discontinuations and regard them as failures, then all who participated showed a 19 percent reduction in risk of death, which was significant. However, if you exclude discontinuations, the results are much more robust with a 63 percent reduction. To get a more realistic picture, the intention-to-treat result (those that include both participants and dropouts) is probably the response that will occur in clinical practice unless the physician is a really good motivator or has very highly motivated patients.

While these two classes of medications, ACE inhibitors and ARBs, are good potential options for protecting the kidneys, they are not the only options. You don’t necessarily have to rely on drug therapies, and there is no downside to lifestyle modifications. Lowering sodium modestly, walking frequently, and lowering your protein consumption may all be viable options, with or without medication, since medication compliance was woeful. Screening for asymptomatic, moderate CKD may lack conclusive studies, but screening should occur in high-risk patients and possibly be on the radar for those with vague symptoms of lethargy as well as aches and pains. Of course, this is a discussion to have with your physician.

References: (1) Am J Kidney Dis. 2015;65(3):403-411. (2) Am J Kidney Dis. 2013;62(2):245-252. (3) Ann Int. Med. 2012;157(8):567-570. (4) www.Medscape.com. (5) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014;9(7):1183-1189. (6) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(3):CD001892. (7) Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2014;23(6):533-540. (8) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(7):650-658.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Fruits and vegetables may protect the kidneys. Stock photo

By David Dunaief

Chronic kidney disease is on the rise in this country. In a study that looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) increased more than 30 percent from 1988 to 2004 (1). Earlier-stage (moderate) CKD is no exception and may not be getting enough attention. In this article, we will look beyond the more obvious causes of moderate chronic kidney disease, like diabetes, smoking, aging, obesity and high blood pressure (2).

Why is earlier-stage CKD so important? It is associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks (3). It also significantly increases the risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Those with decreased kidney function have a 24 percent prevalence of PAD, compared to 3.7 percent in those with normal kidney function (4). Of course, it can lead ultimately to end-stage renal (kidney) disease, requiring dialysis and potentially a kidney transplant.

One of the problems with earlier-stage CKD is that it tends to be asymptomatic. However, there are simple tests, such as a basic metabolic panel and a urinalysis, that will indicate whether a patient may have moderate chronic kidney disease.

These indices for kidney function include an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), creatinine level and protein in the urine. While the other two indices have varying ranges depending on the laboratory used, a patient with an eGFR of 30 to 59 mL/minute/1.73 m2 is considered to have moderate disease. The eGFR and the kidney function are inversely related, meaning as eGFR declines, the more severe the chronic kidney disease.

What can be done to stem earlier-stage CKD, before complications occur? There are several studies that have looked at medications and lifestyle modifications and their impacts on its prevention, treatment and reversal. Let’s look at the evidence.

Medications

Allopurinol is usually thought of as a medication for the prevention of gout. However, in a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of studies, the results show that allopurinol may help to slow the progression of CKD, defined in this study as an eGFR less than 60 mL/min/1.73 m2 (5).

The group using 100 mg of allopurinol showed significant improvement in eGFR levels (a 1.3 mL/minute per 1.73 m2 increase) compared to the control group (a 3.3 mL/minute per 1.73 m2 decrease) over a two-year period. There were 113 patients involved in this study. The researchers concluded that there was a slow progression of CKD with allopurinol. Allopurinol also decreased cardiovascular risk by 71 percent.

Fibrates are a class of drug usually used to boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and reduce triglyceride levels, another cholesterol marker. Fibrates have gotten negative press for not showing improvement in cardiovascular outcomes.

However, in patients with moderate CKD, a meta-analysis (a group of 10 studies) showed a 30 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events and a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular mortality with the use of fibrates (6). This is important, since patients with CKD are mostly likely to die of cardiovascular disease. The authors concluded that fibrates seem to have a much more powerful beneficial effect in CKD patients, as opposed to the general population. So, there may be a role for fibrates after all.

Lifestyle modifications

Fruits and vegetables may play a role in helping patients with CKD. In one study, the results showed that fruits and vegetables work as well as sodium bicarbonate in improving kidney function by reducing metabolic acidosis levels (7). What is the significance of metabolic acidosis? It means that body fluids become acidic and it is associated with chronic kidney disease. The authors concluded that both sodium bicarbonate and a diet including fruits and vegetables were renoprotective, helping to protect the kidneys from further damage in patients with CKD.

Alkali diets are primarily plant-based, although not necessarily vegetarian or vegan-based diets. Animal products tend to cause an acidic environment. The study was one year in duration. However, though the results were impressive, the study was small, with 77 patients.

Sodium rears its ugly head yet again. Red meat is not thought of positively, and animal fat is not far behind. In the Nurses’ Health Study, the results show that animal fat, red meat and salt all negatively impact kidney function (8). The risk of protein in the urine, a potential indicator of CKD, increased by 72 percent in those participants who consumed the highest amounts of animal fat compared to the lowest, and by 51 percent in those who ate red meat at least twice a week. With higher amounts of sodium, there was a 52 percent increased risk of having lower levels of eGFR.

The most interesting part with sodium was that the difference between higher mean consumption and the lower mean consumption was not that large, 2.4 grams compared to 1.7 grams. In other words, the difference between approximately a teaspoon of sodium and three quarters of a teaspoon was responsible for the decrease in kidney function.

In my practice, when CKD patients follow a vegetable-rich, nutrient-dense diet, there are substantial improvements in kidney functioning. For instance, for one patient, his baseline eGFR was 54 mL/min/1.73 m2. After one month of lifestyle modifications, his eGFR improved by 9 points to 63 mL/min/1.73 m2, which is a return to “normal” functioning of the kidney. His kidney functioning after 6 months actually exceeded 90 mL/min/1.73 m2 for eGFR. However, this is an anecdotal story and not a study.

Therefore, it is important to have your kidney function checked with mainstream tests. If the levels are low, you should address the issue through medications and/or lifestyle modifications to manage and reverse earlier-stage CKD. However, lifestyle modifications don’t have the negative side effects of medications. Don’t wait until symptoms and complications occur. In my experience, it is much easier to treat and reverse a disease in its earlier stages, and CKD is no exception.

References:

(1) JAMA. 2007;298:2038-2047. (2) JAMA. 2004;291:844-850. (3) N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1296-1305. (4) Circulation. 2004;109:320–323. (5) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010 Aug;5:1388-1393. (6) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012 Nov. 13;60:2061-2071. (7) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2013;8:371-381. (8) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010; 5:836-843.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.