A new study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology finds that following a Mediterranean-style diet could significantly lower the risk of chronic kidney disease.

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Researchers found that participants whose diet most closely resembled a Mediterranean diet had a 50% lower risk of chronic kidney disease.

The Mediterranean diet mainly consists of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It also includes consumption of fish and poultry at least twice a week, and healthy fats – such as olive oil – in replacement of saturated fats. Red meats, processed foods and sweets are limited.

The diet has been hailed for promoting numerous health benefits. Medical News Today recently reported on a study claiming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil could reverse metabolic syndrome. Other studies have linked the diet to reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, diabetes and cancer.

As such, the research team – including Dr. Minesh Khatri of the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY – wanted to assess the effects of a Mediterranean diet against chronic kidney disease (CKD).

CKD is estimated to affect 20 million people in the US. Risk of the disease increases with age; it is most common in adults over the age of 70.

“There is increasing evidence that poor diet is associated with kidney disease, but it is unknown whether the benefits of a Mediterranean diet could extend to kidney health as well,” says Dr. Khatri.

For their study, the team analyzed the dietary patterns of 900 participants and followed them for almost 7 years.

Each participant received a Mediterranean diet score. The higher their score was, the more closely their dietary patterns resembled a Mediterranean diet.

Results of the analysis revealed that participants with a score of five or more – indicating a very close adherence to a Mediterranean diet – were 50% less likely to develop CKD and were 42% less likely to have a rapid decline in kidney function, compared with those who had a lower score.

Furthermore, the team found that every one-point increase in the Mediterranean diet score was associated with a 17% lower risk of CKD.

In an editorial linked to the study, Dr. Julie Lin, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, notes that although these findings are promising, regular physical activity alongside a healthy diet – such as a Mediterranean diet – is required to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle. She adds:

Although a seemingly simple goal, achieving this is challenging. We need to begin by embracing the reality that there is no magic pill or miracle food, only vigilance and discipline with diet and regular exercise, and the rare indulgence in cake for very special occasions.”

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study suggesting high-protein diets increase the risk of kidney disease, while a more recent study found that a Southern-style diet is associated with increased death risk among patients with kidney disease.