Is the Ketogenic Diet Harmful to the Kidneys?

Kidney stones are a well-known potential side effect of the ketogenic diet. Research published in the Journal of Child Neurology found that among children following the ketogenic diet as a treatment for epilepsy, 13 out of 195 subjects developed kidney stones. To reduce the risk of kidney stones, children in the study were given potassium citrate supplements. Eating a lot of animal foods on the ketogenic diet can lead to more acidic urine and a higher risk of kidney stones.

This acidic state can also worsen the progression of chronic kidney disease. Very high levels of ketones make the blood more acidic and overload the kidneys. Medical News Today reports that one of the side effects of a ketogenic diet is the formation of kidney stones. By processing higher amounts of protein, the kidneys work hard and are forced to excrete more sodium, calcium and potassium, as well as filter out more by-products of protein metabolism.

This additional loss of fluid and electrolytes can cause low blood pressure, another function mediated by the kidneys. Ketosis in the presence of diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis and coma, and can be life-threatening. The ketogenic diet, or “keto diet”, is part of a series of modern low-carb (“low-carb”) diets that include the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and the Zone diet. It was developed at the Mayo Clinic in 1924 as a treatment for epilepsy in children. In recent years, it has returned and today, medical teams are once again using it as therapy for epileptic children whose seizures do not respond to medications.

The medical ketogenic diet is based on precise ratios of fats to proteins and carbohydrates, so it requires careful monitoring by a medical team. This is because the diet is not balanced and can cause nutrient deficiencies, among other things. In particular, some studies suggest that the ketogenic diet does not provide enough calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus. The men consumed their normal diet for a total of six months and a high-protein diet for a total of six months. If you're thinking about going on the ketogenic diet but aren't sure about its effect on your kidneys, research confirms that a low-carb, high-protein diet won't harm kidney function, as long as you don't have any pre-existing kidney conditions. Most research on kidney stones and the ketogenic diet has been done in children with epilepsy since this diet was initially designed as a dietary management tool for refractory seizure disorders in children. For this reason alone, I often tell my patients that I don't recommend the ketogenic diet as the best weight loss strategy for them.

In addition to constipation, diarrhea can appear as a side effect of the ketogenic diet, especially in the first few weeks after. While data are still coming in on the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet, I think there are too many risks and unknowns to safely recommend this type of diet for most people with kidney disease. The review states that higher levels of protein caused by the ketogenic diet could accelerate kidney failure in people with kidney disease, as well as increase levels of “bad cholesterol”.In addition, it remains to be seen whether people can follow a ketogenic diet for many years, and this is an important part of any long-term healthy dietary pattern. In addition, the benefits of a ketogenic diet over other restricted forms of eating such as intermittent fasting, plant-based diets, DASH diets, Mediterranean diets, paleo diets etc., have yet to be determined. Whenever a non-traditional diet becomes mainstream there is skepticism about its real impact on health and the ketogenic diet is no exception.

A diet rich in healthy low-carb foods such as avocados, nuts and non-starchy vegetables provides more nutrients than processed meats and ketogenic treats.

Bruce Chen
Bruce Chen

Medical & health reporter. Award-winning internet evangelist. Embraced the low-carb keto diet and lost 9 pounds.