Experts warn that the popular Atkins Diet poses significantly higher cardiovascular risks for women. Dr. Robert Atkins opened his first weight loss clinic on Manhattan’s Upper East Side over 30 years ago and, until his death in 2003, his high protein, low carbohydrate diet has been the source of heated debates.
A team headed by Pagona Lagiou of the University of Athens, Greece found that an additional four-to-five cases of cardiovascular disease occur each year for every 10,000 women following Atkin’s diet, said News-Medical. This means that women following the Atkin’s Diet are at a 28% increased risk for ischemic heart disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. The study involved 43,396 Swedish women aged 30-49 who completed a thorough dietary questionnaire and were followed for 15.7 years.
The researchers measured diet on the low carbohydrate-high protein (LCHP) score in which a score of 2 corresponded to very high carbohydrate and low protein consumption and 20 related to very low carbohydrate and high protein consumption, explained News-Medical. The team found that every 1/10th carbohydrate intake decrease or protein intake increase was linked with a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, overall, at an incidence risk estimate of 1.04. The equivalent 2-unit increase in LCHP score was linked to a 1.05-fold increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that the unadjusted analysis revealed that when compared to an LCHP score of 6 or less, the risk for cardiovascular disease increased by 13% for women with a score of 10-12; 54% for a score of 13-15; and 60% for a score of 16 or higher. After adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors, a 5% increased risk for a cardiovascular event or death was linked with every 2-point increase in LCHP scores. The authors wrote that this 5% increase was caused by a daily 20-g carbohydrate reduction—the equivalent of a small bread roll—and a daily 5-g protein increase—the equivalent of one boiled egg, said News-Medicine.
The team pointed out that LCHP diets followed regularly “and without consideration of the nature of carbohydrates or the source of proteins” are linked to cardiovascular risk, said News-Medicine. The team noted that the possible short-term benefits of LCHP diets to control weight or insulin resistance should be investigated further and suggested that short-term benefits “seem irrelevant in the face of increasing evidence of higher morbidity and mortality from CVD in the long term.”
A related commentary written by Anna Floegel and Tobias Pischon, both from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany, stated that discrepancies from prior studies “need to be resolved before low carbohydrate-high protein diets can be safely recommended to patients,” according to News-Medicine.
As we’ve written, when introduced, Atkins claimed his diet was a revolutionary step forward in the concept of dieting, while his many critics argued that his diet was a potentially dangerous way of eating that can produce serious long-term health problems. Although some unpleasant side effects like constipation, diarrhea, headaches, and bad breath are common, it is the long-term, and more serious consequences that worry experts. For instance, the diet produces a condition known as ketosis, which causes increased levels of ketones (acids) in the blood. When ketone levels in the blood become dangerously high, a condition known as ketoacidosis can develop. Ketoacidosis is a potentially life-threatening illness, which can lead to coma and death if left untreated.
In some cases, people eliminate virtually all carbohydrates from their diet while eating excessive amounts of proteins like meat and cheese. In addition to the possibility of developing ketoacidosis, experts have long been concerned with the strain that high protein diets put on the kidneys and the risk of renal failure.