Understanding Atkins

The Physicians Committee

Understanding Atkins

November 20, 2002

This week, Dr. Eric Westman of Duke University presented data from his study of the Atkins Diet at the American Heart Association (AHA) meeting, prompting many misinterpretations in the press. Over a year's time, the diet appeared to produce an average weight loss that was greater than that associated with an AHA Step I Diet (31 pounds versus 20 pounds), along with improvements in serum lipid concentrations.

However, the study also involved exercise and the use of various nutritional supplements, which would affect both weight and serum lipids. Also, the comparison diet, an AHA Step I diet, is not designed for weight loss, and the reasons why the AHA diet led to such a substantial weight reduction are not clear. Overall, the rate of weight loss seen with the Atkins regimen (roughly one pound per week) was similar to that associated with reduced-calorie diets or low-fat, vegan diets.

Although these most recent data are not yet published, Dr. Westman published previous results in the American Journal of Medicine.

The use of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets is associated with significant urinary calcium losses, which may, over the long run, be associated with increased risk of osteoporosis.

No long-term studies have yet assessed the extent to which the increased risk of colon cancer associated with daily meat consumption may be demonstrated in individuals following the Atkins Diet over prolonged periods.

Westman EC, Yancy WS, Edman JS, Tomlin KF, Perkins CE. Effect of 6-month adherence to a very low carbohydrate diet program. Am J Med. 2002;113:30–36.

Reddy ST, Wang CY, Sakhaee K, Brinkley L, Pak CY. Effect of low-carbohydrate high-protein diets on acid-base balance, stone-forming propensity, and calcium metabolism. Am J Kidney Dis. 2002;40:265–274.

Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Speizer FE. Relation of meat, fat, and fiber intake to the risk of colon cancer in a prospective study among women. N Engl J Med. 1990;323:1664–1672.

Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Ascherio A, Willett WC. Intake of fat, meat, and fiber in relation to risk of colon cancer in men. Cancer Res. 1994;54:2390–2397.

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