Protein restriction for diabetic renal disease

Based on 12 studies, including from eight to 160 people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes for at least an average four-month period, restricted protein intake appeared to slow progression of diabetic kidney disease, but not by much on average. However, individual variation existed, therefore a low-protein diet may benefit some individuals. A low-protein diet can be difficult to adhere to, especially over the long term. Reducing the amount of animal protein is the usual method but some evidence suggests that a shift from red meat to white meat and fish or vegetables may give similar results. We found no data on the effects of low-protein diet on health-related quality of life and costs.

Authors' conclusions: 

The results show that reducing protein intake appears to slightly slow progression to renal failure but not statistically significantly so. However, questions concerning the level of protein intake and compliance remain. Further longer-term research on large representative groups of patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus is necessary. Because of the variability amongst patients, there might perhaps be a six month therapeutic trial of protein restriction in all individuals, with continuation only in those who responded best. Trials are required of different types of protein.

Read the full abstract...

Diabetic renal disease (diabetic nephropathy) is a leading cause of end-stage renal failure. Once the process has started, it cannot be reversed by glycaemic control, but progression might be slowed by control of blood pressure and protein restriction.


To assess the effects of dietary protein restriction on the progression of diabetic nephropathy in patients with diabetes.

Search strategy: 

We searched The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, ISI Proceedings, Science Citation Index Expanded and bibliographies of included studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and before and after studies of the effects of a modified or restricted protein diet on diabetic renal function in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes following diet for at least four months were considered.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers performed data extraction and evaluation of quality independently. Pooling of results was done by means of random-effects model.

Main results: 

Twelve studies were included, nine RCTs and three before and after studies. Only one study explored all-cause mortality and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) as endpoints. The relative risk (RR) of ESRD or death was 0.23 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07 to 0.72) for patients assigned to a low protein diet (LPD). Pooling of the seven RCTs in patients with type 1 diabetes resulted in a non-significant reduction in the decline of glomerular filtration rate (GFR) of 0.1 ml/min/month (95% CI -0.1 to 0.3) in the LPD group. For type 2 diabetes, one trial showed a small insignificant improvement in the rate of decline of GFR in the protein-restricted group and a second found a similar decline in both the intervention and control groups. Actual protein intake in the intervention groups ranged from 0.7 to 1.1 g/kg/day. One study noted malnutrition in the LPD group. We found no data on the effects of LPDs on health-related quality of life and costs.