New Study Finds Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Diet May Benefit Kids With Kidney Disease

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A new study found that putting children with a kidney condition on a 4-week gluten-free and dairy-free diet reduced inflammation and balanced their immune systems. For some kids, it even made their proteinuria (too much protein in the urine) go away completely. More research is needed, but this diet could be a promising supplemental treatment. 

This new pilot study tested whether putting children with steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome, a chronic kidney condition, on a 4-week gluten-free and dairy-free diet could benefit their health.1 Sixteen children ages 1-21 years old were selected to attend a specialized summer camp where their diet was tightly controlled and gluten-free and dairy-free. Researchers took blood, urine, and stool samples at the beginning and end to analyze changes in immune cells, inflammatory proteins, and gut bacteria. Although small, the study found hopeful results - the diet change reduced inflammation, balanced the immune system, and even put two children's proteinuria into complete remission.

The children all had a kidney condition called steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome (SRNS) where their kidneys leak too much protein into the urine.2 This often leads to immune system problems and swelling. Standard steroids and other medications fail to achieve remission in these patients.3 There is some evidence dietary changes may help, so the researchers wanted to study the effects of a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.4

At the 4-week summer camp, children completely avoided gluten and dairy.5 Their meals followed nutritional guidelines, just without those problematic proteins.6 Researchers took blood samples to analyze their immune cells by flow cytometry, a technique that counts cell types.7 They also measured inflammatory proteins and kidney health markers in the blood before and after the diet using advanced analysis methods.8 Stool samples went through microbiome analysis to assess gut bacteria changes.9 

Excitingly, they found that while on the diet, overall inflammation decreased.10 Pro-inflammatory proteins tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), growth-regulated oncogene (GRO), and interleukin-8 (IL-8) significantly reduced.11 Kidney injury marker KIM-1 decreased as well.12 At an immune cell level, regulatory T cells increased and TH17 cells decreased - indicating improved immune balance.13 Even the gut microbiome shifted towards more anti-inflammatory bacteria species.14 

Clinically, two children achieved complete remission of their proteinuria by the study end. The diet change reversed their kidney leakage. These responders had higher baseline blood zonulin, a protein suggesting gluten sensitivity, which then dropped.15 Unfortunately the effect didn't last - once home eating normally, both children relapsed. But again restricting gluten and dairy made the proteinuria disappear.

While promising, further research with more participants and a control group is needed to clarify the diet's helpful mechanisms and long-term impacts. But this pioneering study provides hope that dietary modification may provide children with SRNS a supplemental treatment strategy. When standard medications fail, manipulating food intake could help balance the immune system and improve outcomes.

To learn more about the health benefits of a gluten-free diet, visit our database on the subject here.

To learn more about natural approaches for proteinurea visit our database on the subject here.

To learn about the dangers of wheat consumption visit our database on the subject here.


References

1. María José Pérez-Sáez, et al., "Immunological Impact of a Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Diet in Children With Kidney Disease: A Feasibility Study," Frontiers in Immunology 12 (2021), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2021.624821/full.


2. Ibid.

3. Noel G. Hodson, Seng Chong Tan, Nicole S. Willis, and Jonathan C. Craig, "Interventions for Idiopathic Steroid-Resistant Nephrotic Syndrome in Children," Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 5 (May 2016), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464430/.

4. Kathryn V. Lemley et al., "The Effect of a Gluten-Free Diet in Children With Difficult-to-Manage Nephrotic Syndrome," Pediatrics 138, no. 6 (December 2016), https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2015-4528.

5. María José Pérez-Sáez, et al., "Immunological Impact of a Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Diet in Children With Kidney Disease: A Feasibility Study," Frontiers in Immunology 12 (2021), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2021.624821/full.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.
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