Saturated Fats and the Kidneys

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One of the body’s most important organs is the kidney. Properly functioning kidneys are essential for maintaining proper blood volume and composition; for filtering and excreting or saving various chemical metabolites; and for helping to maintain proper blood pressure. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is known to result from improperly functioning kidneys. Research carried out during the last few years indicates that both saturated fat and cholesterol play important roles in maintaining kidney function, as do the omega-3 fatty acids.

The kidneys need stable fats both for their cushioning and as their energy source. We know that the kidney fat normally has a higher concentration of the important saturated fatty acids than are found in any of the other fat depots. These saturated fatty acids are myristic acid (the 14-carbon saturate), palmitic acid (the 16-carbon saturate), and stearic acid (the 18-carbon saturate). When we consume various polyunsaturated fatty acids in large amounts, they are incorporated into kidney tissues, usually at the expense of oleic acid, because the normal high level of saturated fatty acids in the kidney fat does not change.1

A species of rat known to be prone to strokes and to spontaneously develop hypertension (high blood pressure) has been used to evaluate effects of different lipids such as plant sterols or cholesterol, and also fatty acids such as omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids in the finely tuned functions of the kidney. These animals are very sensitive to dietary cholesterol manipulations and a deficiency of cholesterol in their membranes makes their membranes weak and fragile. When plant sterols found in vegetable oils are substituted for cholesterol in their diets, these animals have a shortened life span.2 Also, these animals are reported to need a proper omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the kidney phospholipids. It was further reported that feeding oils high in omega-6 fatty acids without omega-3 fatty acids resulted in renal injury, and that feeding oils rich in the omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil, perilla oil, and flaxseed oil prolonged the survival time of this animal.3

The omega-3 fatty acids are recognized as being important, and the conversion of the flax oil-type omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) to the fish oil-type omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is enhanced when the diet contains saturated fat such as coconut oil. This conversion is hindered when there is extra omega-6 oils in the diet.4 Injury to the kidney from immune dysfunction (IgA nephropathy) responds to omega-3 fats (both flax oil-type omega-3 and fish oil-type omega-3).5 As noted, adding the saturated fats, especially coconut oil, improves the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids.

Another reason that coconut oil enhances kidney function is because it supplies myristic acid, the 14-carbon saturated fatty acid.6 Myristic acid is involved in the signalling from cell membrane receptors through G proteins and their attachment to membranes. These signalling proteins require a lipid such as myristic acid to be added to one end of the protein, a process called myristolation.7

Thus, the fats that we recommend for general good health, namely various saturated animal fats and tropical oils, along with a supplement of flax oil, are also specifically helpful for kidney function. Products containing high omega-6 oils and trans fatty acids should be avoided.


  1. Suarez et al, Lipids 1996;31:345; Taugbol and Saarem, Acta Vet Scand 1995;36:93
  2. Ratnayake, et al, J Nutrition 2000;130:1166
  3. Miyazaki et al, Biochim Biophys Acta 2000;1483:101
  4. Gerster, Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1998;68:159
  5. Kelley, ISSFAL, 2000;7:6
  6. Monserrat et al, Res Exp Med (Berl) 2000;199:195
  7. Busconi and Denker, Biochem J 1997;328:23

This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2000.

7 Responses to Saturated Fats and the Kidneys

  1. tom apligian says:

    I received my wifes kidney feb 27th 2014. I had fsgs and it is returning slowly. We have always been health nuts. Organic eaters etc. I feel getting back on blue ice fish oil with/butter would help with my kidney defenses. Are you of the same opinion. I am on numerous meds including anti rejection drugs. My concern is how will it react with my meds? I am 65 and otherwise have no other health issues. Perfect temp, glucose, but drugs pushed my bp up a bit. No big deal. I want to get back on my standard process and medi herb products asap.

  2. Pat Brady says:

    I would like to see an answer to the July 13, 2014 question.
    I have a friend who has had two kidneys over stretch of years
    and goes to work five days a week. I have a niece who has
    kidney issues but she hasn’t had a replacement yet. Would the
    fermented cod liver oil be helpful? I came to the site to
    read any articles on not only if FCLO (fermented cod liver oil)
    would be good for kidneys but any information regarding
    how to help and or maintain good kidney health (in a person).

    I just ordered and beginning to take FCLO (Blue Ice Cinnamon)
    and hope to recognize benefits soon. It has only been three days
    or so.

  3. Nice article. There should be an article that talks about kidney health and magnesium and other trace minerals. People are scared of salt, but they should be scared of using the wrong kind of salt. Lots more to talk about with kidneys.

  4. MuddyGurl says:

    This is the ONLY article I have found in support of saturated fats for kidney health.

    I lost one kidney to cancer, and the remaining has CKD Stage 3-4..I eat no meat protein, and I get an ENORMOUS amount of flack from my urology NP, nephrologist and Renal RD..all claiming that I MUST consume “heart healthy” margarines and veggie oils,lots of carbohydrates, yada yada, because they connect heart disease and cholesterol with saturated fats and warn me of strokes, etc if I dare eat butter.

    I follow a Low carb High fat vegetarian diet, and eliminate all processed carbs,and get most of mine from vegetables, some popcorn, a few LC tortillas. But the constant warnings from DaVita, Livestrong, NKF, and EVERY other website on nutrition and kidneys all warn NOT to eat saturated fats. ..ALL refer to the outdated heart disease concerns.

    So I take a risk in eating the diet I do, (Per conventional medical beliefs) and I was able to RAISE my GFR from Stage 4 back to Stage 3 when I went to a non-meat, high SF fats diet. I cook with coconut oil, and use butter, heavy cream liberally.

    My Neph and RD insisted I eat meat..but the facts are it builds ROS waste which a kidney with CKD can’t handle…so I would end up THEIR healthy patient needing dialysis (which is all they know to advise) ..instead of doing as I do and eating LCHF vegetarian, and hopefully delaying dialysis forever.

  5. Justine says:

    For those of you with kidney disease. Try stock/bone broth. In my last pregnancy I had some symptoms of multiple organ failure and also dislocated my pelvis running. (On separate occasions) stock helped both. My pelvis popped back into place on its own in the morning after I drank the stock of of basically an entire chicken lol and I went a day and a half with no urination and extreme swelling/ edema fluid on lungs to the point I felt like I was drowning. I had to sleep sitting up. Within hours of ingestion stock my symptoms began to subside. And I was back to normal fairly quickly. I am not a chronic sufferer but I feel like it may have applications for that as well. Couldn’t hurt to try.

  6. Vicki Benson says:

    Can you define for me:
    unsaturated fats
    saturated fats
    polyunsagturated fats
    monosaturated fats

    Thank you.

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