Consumption of animal protein is a hot eating trend, and many people have reported significant benefits after adopting this pattern of eating.
This may lead to some of you to wonder- Is it healthy to eat only meat in the long term? There are allegations that animal protein intake is associated with incidences of Gout, Kidney dysfunctions and also something as worse as heart diseases. Is this all true? Well, not really.
So let’s start with this absolutely fallacy that correlates increase in animal protein consumption with Gout. (A painful, inflammatory disorder in which too much uric acid in the body crystallises and forms deposits in the joints). Uric acid is basically a breakdown product of a protein- Purine, which is present in red meat and other animal-based proteins. So, according to the conventional, lazy school of thought, the best advice would be to avoid animal protein completely. There is, however, a problem with this logic (of a low purine diet) because over 90% of elevated uric acid is due to impaired clearance, and not overproduction of uric acid (1).
While it is the kidney’s function to clear out this waste material (uric acid), reduced clearance is generally a result of yet another problem which is Insulin Resistance. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, body fat and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal that the hormone insulin is trying to send out—which is to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells. This further leads to ever-increasing levels of Insulin in your blood as the brain recognizes this ignorance as lack of insulin. These elevated levels of insulin impair the kidney’s ability to do its job. Hence, evidence suggests that most cases of gout are a result of this metabolic dysregulation (hyperinsulinemia) and metabolic syndrome as well (2).
Relooking at the standard dietary recommendations for gout – A Low Purine Diet – it might be wise to question this approach because low purine foods are mostly carbohydrate-based: cereals, bread, pasta, flour, sugar, and fruit. These cause insulin spikes far greater than what animal protein does. And just as low cholesterol diets have a trivial effect on serum cholesterol, low purine diets have a negligible impact on uric acid levels.
Also, we’d like to draw your attention to the fact that Gout is unknown in Eskimos despite their purine-rich diet (3). Definitely worth thinking about right?
What about the extra load on the kidneys then?
The changes in kidney function as a result of a high protein diet are expected and normal. These adaptive mechanisms are well within the functional duties of the kidneys. But aren’t high levels blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and Creatinine as a consequence of increased animal protein consumption? They sure are.
Nevertheless, people with higher muscular content, when coupled with a high protein diet, have their Creatinine levels on a little higher side too. As creatinine is a waste product produced by muscles from the breakdown of a compound called creatine.
Also high levels of BUN do not necessarily indicate kidney dysfunction. BUN levels usually increase on a high protein diet as it is a surrogate of how much protein you are eating.
If you are really concerned about a high protein diet and kidney health, instead of just looking at creatinine alone which can be “falsely elevated”, get a Cystatin-C GFR test done.
Cystatin C is a protein produced in the body. The levels are kept just right in normal conditions. It can be a problem when the levels of cystatin C go too high, as it is indicative of your kidneys not functioning not functioning properly.
In fact, research on patients with chronic kidney disease shows that reducing relative fat intake and increasing the protein intake may be beneficial for kidney functioning rather than deriving calories from a high fat, low protein diet (4).
Also, all of of you with normal functioning kidneys, a high protein diet would prevent you from end stage renal disease (ESRD) (4).
Another disease which people fear the most when it comes to animal protein consumption is the occurrence of a heart disease (Heart disease or diseases are a group of ailments related to compromised functioning of the heart), also known as cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
A variety of conditions occurring as a result can be- Atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, heart attack and something as worse as heart failure.
Now there's good evidence and explanation that when atherosclerosis does occur, it is almost always in the setting of insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. Insulin resistance reduces the ability of our body to clear circulating lipids, viz., triglycerides and free fatty acids. Hypertriglyceridemia has the strongest correlation with CVDs among the five components of the metabolic syndrome (5).
Long story short, animal protein does not trigger heart issues, neither does it trigger kidney dysfunction. We hope this article has answered your questions, in case you still have lingering doubts, feel free to reach out to us!