Vegan Diet and ESRD

I have have been on dialysis for almost three years now, and for at least the last year and a half, I have eaten a vegan diet. Before I explain further, I want to stress that I am not a doctor, and what worked for me will not necessarily work for everyone. Please check with your doctor and dietitian before making any changes to your diet.

Picture this: April 1st, 2016. I was out at night walking with my wife, and suddenly I didn’t feel good. I got light headed and I had to sit down.

Later that night I had a weird sensation, a light numbness all over my body. Fast forward two days, and the numbness did not go away, so I called my dialysis nurse. She was concerned that I didn’t sound like myself, so on her recommendation I went into the emergency room.

I had the doctors stumped. My blood results all came back fine, and they really could not place my symptoms, so they did a CT scan. This was the first time I had ever had s CT scan, and it wasn’t bad at all. The CT was inconclusive, but it did show that there might be a bigger problem, so they decided to run an MRI. This was also my first time having an MRI, and it was not pleasant. The best way to describe it is trying to get to sleep with a robot making construction noises right next to you, even though you are wearing ear protection.

Get to the point Michael! My worst fears were realized: I had had a stroke. I never in my life thought that I would be saying those words, but yes, at age 37, I had a stroke. After the shock wore off, I was overcome with depression and anxiety. I never had them because of dialysis, but having a stroke is the closest I have ever come to death.

While I was in the hospital for the next week, I was visited by many different nurses, doctors, and other specialists. A social worker for the neurology department came to talk to me, and she recommended a documentary called Forks over Knives. I had watched this movie before, and I even went vegan for a short period, but this was different. My life was on the line.

My wife and I watched the movie and we immediately cut all eggs and dairy from our diet, and we started doing meatless Mondays, except our Mondays were vegan. I told my dietician that I was going to remove meat from my diet, and she recommended to do it slowly, so we could monitor my labs. She wanted to make sure I was getting enough protein and not too much phosphorus.

So we gradually cut more and more meat meals out of our diet until one day I made the decision to completely cut all meat out of my diet as well. This was sometime around March or April of 2017. I do still eat honey now and then, so I suppose I am not 100% vegan, but I like to call myself bee-gan.

My labs always look great. My albumin levels are always over 4.0, my phosphorus is always under 5.0, and my last Kt/V was 3.99 (if you are on dialysis, you know what these numbers mean). Granted, I still have a fair amount of kidney function left, and I take my binders religiously with every meal. I thank my doctor for not waiting to start me on dialysis, but I also thank a plant based diet.

If you are interested in going vegan, please talk to your doctor and dietitian first to discuss if this is right for you.