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“My bodybuilding lifestyle damaged my kidneys”

07 March 2023

A mum of two from Speke, Liverpool, is raising awareness this World Kidney Day (Thursday 9 March), after suspecting that she caused irreversible damage to her own kidneys when training to be a body builder. 

Laura Boylan, 37, has started volunteering for Kidney Research UK as she wants more people to take better care of their kidney health. She now relies on dialysis to keep her alive. 

Female wearing crop top and bottoms lifting a dumbbell weight.
Laura Boylan - prior to kidney disease

Lifestyle caused kidney damage

Laura and her specialist consultant believe that her lifestyle, including a very high protein diet combined with repeatedly ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions when consuming protein shakes, led to terrible damage to her kidneys. 

Six years ago she had begun to train intensively and prepare for a bodybuilding competition following a very high protein diet, but with little support or knowledge of nutrition.  

Laura says: “Because I didn’t really understand, in my head I was thinking the more protein you eat, the bigger you’re going to get, the better you’re going to look. So I was having steak and eggs for breakfast, I was eating eggs four times a day. I was also having a lot of protein shakes which I wasn’t diluting down properly. This carried on for over a year, probably not drinking enough water either, and I was taking other artificial things like caffeine shots.” 

She initially dismissed the warning sign of needing to go to the toilet frequently at night, as other bodybuilders did the same. But when she started to itch badly, alarm bells began to ring.  

“I went online to do a bit of research and figured out it might be my kidneys,” she says. “So I went to the doctors, who thought I was being crazy because I looked fit, I was like a fitness model. And then the bloods came back and showed I did have kidney disease, I was already at stage 3.” 

What had happened began to dawn on her when she started to train to be a fitness instructor. “I was learning more and more about nutrition during my course and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve really damaged myself’.” 

Starting dialysis treatment

Eventually, Laura went onto dialysis last year. “From August until December it was just hospital journey after hospital journey, pain, so many things that could have gone wrong did go wrong. It was really traumatising.” 

She had to stop work as a personal trainer and put on hold her business making and selling bikinis. Now on a form of dialysis that suits her and having had treatment for anaemia, she’s starting to feel like she can manage much better.  

“Going through this I totally lost who I am. I went through depression and suffered a lot from brain fog and forgetfulness. I did get to the stage where I just didn’t want to be here, I completely lost my voice,” she says. “Slowly but surely, I might not be who I was, but I’m starting to like this person that I’m becoming now, instead of just existing. You spend a long time worrying about ‘am I going to die?’ which is not a great way to live. So as of now I’m starting to feel more confident with my future.” 

Determined to raise awareness

Looking forward, training to become a midwife might be on the cards, but she knows she has a way to go and isn’t putting pressure on herself. Meanwhile, she has joined Kidney Research UK as a volunteer and is determined to use her experience to help others.  

This World Kidney Day Laura would like other kidney patients to sign up for Kidney Research UK’s free Kidney Kit, which is filled with recipes and accessible exercises tailored to kidney patients’ needs. 

Laura in her bathroom in a crop top and showing where her catheter is on her stomach.
Laura Boylan, showing dialysis catheter

“It’s really important that people think about how to look after themselves,” she says. “If you’re low on energy you can get in a rut, especially if you‘ve never been into fitness. And we have to be careful what we eat as kidney patients. You’ve got to do a certain amount for yourself to get better. This pack could boost people and give them the confidence. I would have loved to have something like this at the beginning, I’ve really had to figure everything out for myself.” 

Lucy Sreeves, executive director of income generation and communications said: “We’re really grateful to Laura for sharing her story and helping raise awareness this World Kidney Day. As Laura’s experience shows, being a kidney patient is tough and sometimes scary and it’s important that people know that help is available. Our funded research has shown the difference that the right nutrition and exercise can make to your physical and mental health. Our Kidney Kit is just one way people can benefit from the scientific work we fund every year.” 

For Laura, she’s taking small steps and her knowledge has come a long way. “I didn’t know anything about my kidneys, didn’t know what they were for, didn’t think about them. Now, I want everyone to think about them.” 

Kidney Kit bundle

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