Atkins Diet Not Safe for Everyone
The Atkins diet, which stresses low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods
as a way to lose weight, might not be safe for everyone, new research
In a case report, Dr. Klaus-Dieter Lessnau, a clinical assistant
professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, and
his colleagues describe a life-threatening complication of the Atkins
diet that occurred in 2004 to a 40-year-old obese woman.
The patient had followed the Atkins diet, including Atkins
supplements. She went to the hospital with difficulty breathing and was
diagnosed with a condition called ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis results when dangerously high levels of acids called
ketones build up in the blood. Ketones are produced in the liver during
starvation. A low-carbohydrate diet such as Atkins diet can lead to
ketone production, Lessnau's team notes.
"She had to be admitted to the intensive care unit," Lessnau said. "The diet actually caused her acidosis."
Lessnau is surprised that this problem with the Atkins diet has not
been reported before. "This is something that is not well-diagnosed or
may be underreported," he said.
"The Atkins diet is not a safe diet in everybody," Lessnau said. "It can cause potentially life-threatening problems."
One expert suspects the Atkins diet itself may not have caused the woman's problem.
"This shows that people who are obese and lose a lot of weight
quickly should be doing so under medical supervision," said Gary D.
Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at
Temple University. "Losing weight quickly brings its own set of
Foster doesn't blame the Atkins diet itself. "It's a bit of a red
herring to blame the diet," Foster said. "It's not clear from one case.
We have known for a long time that losing weight quickly is a bad idea
Another expert thinks that choosing a healthy diet is important when one wants to lose weight.
"One should be sensible when they want to lose weight," said Lyn
Steffen, of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and
author of an accompanying commentary. "They should choose a diet that's
healthy for them, as well as be physically active."
"My recommendation is to develop healthy eating habits for life,"
Steffen said. "The low-carbohydrate diet is not a diet for life."
Another expert said he's been against the Atkins diet from the time it was introduced in the 1970s.
"The Atkins diet is at odds with a strong foundation of knowledge
about the fundamentals of healthful eating and sustainable weight
loss," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research
Center at Yale University School of Medicine, and author of The Flavor
One case report does not prove that Atkins diet is a harmful diet,
Katz said. "But the burden of proof has always been the other way
around: diets at odds with conventional dietary wisdom must prove
themselves healthful. In my opinion, the Atkins diet never did, and
never will, meet this test."