Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease

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7 Diet Tips for Polycystic Kidney Disease

  • woman-using-blender-in-kitchen
    Polycystic Kidney Disease Diet
    There isn’t one answer to the best diet for those with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a condition that causes cysts to build up in the kidneys and leads to kidney failure in 50 to 60% of people who have it. A registered dietitian who specializes in kidney disease is a key member of the healthcare team, providing personalized nutritional guidance and meal planning to help keep kidneys healthy. These plans tend to have common themes. Learn what they are and know what to expect.

  • Nutrition label
    1. Cut back on salt.
    Eating too much sodium can raise anyone’s blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. For those with PKD, high blood pressure (hypertension) can also accelerate the progression of the disease, causing more damage to the kidneys sooner. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advise those with chronic kidney disease limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day and avoid any packaged foods that get more than 20% of their Daily Nutritional Value from sodium.

  • Healthy meal
    2. Control protein.
    Your body needs enough protein for your body to function, but not too much for your kidneys to handle. As the body uses protein, it creates waste that the kidneys have to clear. Giving them extra work isn’t good for your PKD. If you aren’t already working with a registered dietitian, ask your doctor to include one on your healthcare team. Small portions of protein-rich fish, beans, and nuts are often recommended. A dietitian can help you determine the right mix for you.

  • bowl of white navy beans on table
    3. Choose heart-healthy foods.
    Many foods that are good for your kidneys are good for your heart. A heart-healthy diet typically includes fish and beans, as well as lean meats, leafy green vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Saturated and trans fats are limited because eating too much of them can lead to heart disease. Heart health is important when you have PKD because your heart already has to work harder to get blood to the kidneys. The heart and kidneys are highly connected, and harm to one tends to harm both.

  • Close-up of Caucasian woman holding bowl of high-fiber cereal with berries
    4. Reduce foods high in phosphorus.
    Phosphorus can build up in the blood of those with PKD. At a normal level, phosphorus protects the bones. At a high level, it does the opposite. It hurts bones by leaching calcium from them, making them weaker. Your doctor can determine your phosphorus level through a blood test and help you work with a dietitian to reduce it by opting for foods that are low in phosphorus (corn and rice cereals, light-colored soft drinks) over those that are high (bran cereals, dark-colored soft drinks).

  • red-apples
    5. Lower potassium.
    Like phosphorous, potassium can build up in the blood of those with PKD. The right amount of potassium helps your nerves and muscles, including your heart muscle, work properly. Too much can lead to arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or heart attack. The National Kidney Foundation defines a potassium-restricted diet as containing less than 2,000 milligrams of potassium a day. Your doctor can use a blood test to check your potassium, and a dietitian can point you toward low-potassium food choices like apples, carrots, and white rice.

  • Woman drinking water
    6. Drink lots of water.
    Some research has shown hydrating throughout the day helps reduce the build-up of a hormone called vasopressin in the body that encourages PKD cysts to grow. Getting into the habit can also help you reduce the number of drinks that contain sugar or caffeine. Caffeine, in particular, can cause problems for those with PKD because it’s a diuretic. That means it causes more water to be flushed out of your body in urine than usual, so it’s not as hydrating as water alone.

  • glasses of red and white wine on table
    7. Limit alcohol.
    An occasional drink isn’t thought to cause kidney damage. Drinking three or more ounces of alcohol a day over a period of several years, however, has been shown to raise blood pressure, which speeds the progression of PKD. The PKD Foundation recommends women with PKD drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day and men who have PKD drink no more than two. If you think it might be hard for you to change your drinking habits, talk with your doctor about support.

Polycystic Kidney Disease Diet | Staying Healthy With Kidney Disease

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
  1. Polycystic Kidney Disease. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/polycysticNutrition. PKD Foundation. https://pkdcure.org/living-with-pkd/nutrition/
  2. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Polycystic Kidney Disease.
    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/polycystic-kidney-disease/eating-diet-nutrition
  3. Eating Right for Chronic Kidney Disease. National Institute
    of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/eating-nutrition
  4. Heart disease & chronic kidney disease (CKD). American
    Kidney Fund. https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/complications/heart-disease/
  5. Potassium. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/potassium.html
  6. Potassium and Your CKD Diet. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/potassium
  7. The top four things you
    should know about water. PKD Foundation. https://pkdcure.org/blog/top-four-things-know-water/
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Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 6
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