Protein. What about it?

 With today's frenzy for fitness, there is a lot of focus put on the subject of protein. Increased protein intake is no longer just for high level athletes, and body builders. Containers of protein powder abound in homes out there, and people increase their intake for weight-loss purposes.

So, what's all the hype? Is too much protein detrimental? Can it lead to toxicity? There are varying opinions, and not all of them are thus far backed by scientific evidence. Yet, all existing scientific evidence needs to be met with a critical mind. 

Much of the worry about protein is that too high of an intake may strain or damage kidney (renal) function, leading to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). 

Without getting too deep into the physiology, the generally accepted definition of CKD is decreased glomular filtration for 3 or more months. In addition, there are 5 stages of CKD. In other words, a progression. Furthermore, several conditions may predispose people for CKD; hypertension, diabetes, also abuse of analgesics.

First of all, it's necessary to mention that the body is in continuous flux. It constantly sustains homeotasis, adapting to the challenges we present it. The body is an amazing organism capable of handling strain and stress, and the kidneys are amazing organs in the same regard. In healthy individuals, protein intake far beyond recommended intake is tolerated by the kidneys, and there resides no evidence that it is harmful. 

To throw a little research background out there; the two longest standing studies are the Brenner Hypothesis, and the Nurse's Health Study. In short, the Brenner Hypothesis proposed that excessive protein intake negatively impacted renal function. The hypothesis fell short as it was a heterogeneous study meaning that dissimilar individuals were studied, whereby some of them were healthy, and some of them already within the five stage range of CKD. The Nurse's Health Study was research conducted on a homogenous group of patients already diagnosed with renal disease. In this case, it did show that excessive protein intake decreases renal function over time (11 year study) in these patients. Renal function is no longer optimal in patients with CKD, and the kidneys cannot handle as much stress. Yet, in comparison, no decreased renal function was found in a group of healthy individuals. 

So, here's some food for thought. 

The researcher in me is somewhat dissatisfied with the longevity and variable variation of existing studies specifically regarding renal function. Although an eleven year study warrants clout, it is seldom enough when researching long-term health effects. Remember that studies rarely give us an entire conclusion on any subject. They may help us answer one single question, but the answer is dependent on the design of the study; the target group, the variables, the longevity, the financing. Yet, the answer is usually one in a great maze of complexity.

The nurse in me knows that people are not running to their primary physicians testing their glomerular filtration rates, may have unrecognized symptoms or predisposed conditions, and especially those past the age of youth. My concern applies especially to the millions using high protein intake to promote weight loss, and without knowing their present health status. Furthermore, important is the knowledge that individuals have varying needs depending on other conditions, age, level of activity. 

In the age of information, it's easy to accept the side of the discussion that best fits wishes and mindsets, and without thought given to other effects on the totality of the body's physiology. It is understandable that if weight loss, fitness, or muscle mass is the focus of individual goals, it is a natural thing for people to jump on the wagon as a means to the end.

The health educator in me prods me to rather encourage people to seek the help of a dietician or other qualified professional that can provide knowledge of physiology and help map individual needs. It prods me to appeal to people to be somewhat critical, and ask pro/con questions. To ask, "What is right for me? What is necessary/unnecessary for my needs?".

In caretaking ourselves and our health, balance is key. Homeostasis means balance. Our job is to help our bodies maintain that balance in all that we do. Knowledge is a first step, and a powerful tool.

Stay safe and warm wishes,
Tamera Daun 

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