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Medical Nutrition Therapy: How Diet Helps Treat Chronic Kidney Disease

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Author name: Lee Health

If you could afford treatment of a chronic medical condition to improve your quality of life, you would do that, right?

For instance, take chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function. When the kidneys aren’t working properly, waste builds up in the blood, including waste products from food.

For people with CKD who haven’t progressed yet to kidney failure, a dietary plan developed by a registered dietitian may help them better manage their disease and live better.

But many people don’t take advantage of this service.

In fact, about 90 percent of non-dialysis kidney disease patients never meet with a dietitian, according to an article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Most adults with chronic kidney disease remain poorly informed of how diet influences disease management and progression,” according to the study authors.

About 37 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, a number expected to increase in the next 20 years due to the obesity epidemic and aging population, according to Stacy Laffin, an outpatient registered dietitian with Lee Health Solutions.

She says almost half of adults age 65 and older are expected to develop kidney disease during their lifetimes. Not all patients with kidney disease progress to kidney failure, she adds.

“At Lee Health Solutions, our medical nutrition therapy (MNT) program is one of the most important ways to slow the progression and possibly prevent kidney failure,” Laffin says. “MNT may also help patients with chronic kidney disease improve their blood sugar and blood pressure, which can potentially delay disease-related complications of CKD.”

But many people who receive Medicare aren’t aware that MNT is a covered benefit, which Laffin calls a “missed opportunity to possibly prevent CKD progression.”

“MNT is an underutilized coverage benefit that Medicare Part B provides for patients who aren’t on dialysis,” she explains. “To qualify for MNT, people with CKD who are not on dialysis need to have either a diagnosis of diabetes, or a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease.”

Indeed, a recent survey of people aged 55 and older who have CKD reported that 90% of respondents were covered by health insurance, or what’s called an employer plan (40.5%) and/or Medicare (36.5%). However, 85% or more didn’t know that Medicare covers three hours of MNT for CKD in the first year and two hours in each additional year.

Lee Health Solutions offers MNT services via telehealth or in-person

To ensure patient safety and ease of access to its nutritional counseling services, Lee Health Solutions also offers its nutritional counseling services online in addition to in-person visits.

“Many people with CKD also have other co-existing health conditions that can limit their mobility,” Laffin notes. “Also, our telehealth services eliminate the transportation challenges ‘high season’ in our area often brings.”

What is chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function. Your kidneys perform many essential functions for your body including:

  • Filtering toxins and excess fluid
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Stimulating production of red blood cells
  • When these fist-sized organs get damaged, it can lead to several serious health consequences including anemia, increased occurrence of infections and can lead to the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

How can proper nutrition help manage the condition?

Lee Health Solutions MNT provides individualized dietary counseling provided by a registered dietitian for patients with non-dialysis dependent chronic kidney disease (Stages 3 to 5).

“We provide individualized education sessions to pinpoint problem areas, not only teaching what foods to limit such as animal protein and processed foods, but also what are the best replacement foods to choose and how to make those foods fit into your lifestyle,” Laffin explains. “Through the program, we can possibly help delay disease progression, reduce the likelihood of malnutrition and increase quality of life.

Laffin adds that medical nutrition therapy also may:

  • Delay kidney disease progression
  • Reduce likelihood of malnutrition
  • Increase quality of life 
  • Reduce related complications (obesity, anemia, heart disease, diabetes)
  • Reduce chance of hospitalizations

If you would like to learn more about MNT or to schedule an appointment, call Lee Health Solutions at 239-424-3120 or email LeeHealthSolutions@LeeHealth.org.