Critics of the Atkins diet have always questioned it's health validity. When Dr Atkins was called before a Senate committee headed by George McGovern, he was forced to admit that pregnant women following his low carb diet would suffer fetal damage to their unborn babies.
Studies since have found that long term, Atkins dieters do not lose weight more quickly, or keep it off more, over a twelve month period as compared to people following other diets. The initial weight loss is mostly fluid, not fat as is often claimed.
And whilst the high levels of protein and fats, and extremely low level of carbohydrates, appeals to some people's tastes, for most, it's unappetizing and doesn't produce a feeling of well being. As such, it becomes difficult to follow for long periods. Yet it is sold as a 'way of life', rather than a diet.
Most seriously, questions raised by Atkins's death, and the state of his heart health as revealed in the medical report after his death, seemed to give credibility to his critics.
Officially, Atkins died as a result of slipping on an icy pavement near his office. But his medical report revealed that he had a history of heart attacks, hypertension, and congestive heart failure. His wife explained the heart problems as a result of a virus they both contracted in Turkey.
Whether or not this is true, other evidence has since emerged that indicates Atkins diet is not good for the heart after all.
One recent study at Oxford University followed 19 people over a two week period. When they followed a diet high in fat and low in carbs, it was found that the energy stored in their heart was reduced by an average of 16%. In some people, this reduction was as high as 30%. On top of this, whilst they were on this diet, these people's hearts were unable to relax as easily. These changes reverted back to normal two weeks after they went back to a normal diet.
Jody Goran's experience was much worse. A 50 year old, he tried the Atkins diet and lost weight. He stayed on it for two years, but in October, 2003 he started having chest pains. He went to the doctor straight away, and they found that one of his main arteries was 99% blocked. He was not far away from having a fatal heart attack, and had to have surgery straight away.
Yet, 6 months before he'd started the Atkins diet, his check up revealed a very healthy heart. He had clean, unblocked arteries, and a 96% chance that he would NOT have a heart attack within the next 5 years. After following the Atkins diet for 2 years, not only was one of his main arteries blocked 99%, but his cholesterol had risen from 146 to 215. Just after the angioplasty, his cholesterol levels fell back to 209. But it wasn't until he discontinued the diet completely that his cholesterol levels returned to 146.
According to a report in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Atkins even acknowledged that in as many as 30% of dieters, higher levels of the 'bad' cholesterol can cause potentially serious heart problems. The same article does state that in others, the 'bad' cholesterol levels will lower, but 30% is a significant number. And there are other, healthier ways to lower cholesterol.
Overall, the questions and potentially serious side effects, quite apart from the bad breath and constipation, make this a highly questionable long term approach to weight control.
1. Australian Healthy Food magazine, April, 2006
2. The Weekend Australian Magazine, March 11-12, 2006