Low-Carbohydrate Dieting

Evaluating Risk Factors: Low-Carbohydrate Diet

Evaluating your likely current (and near future) state of health means taking into account the risk factors — such as low-carbohydrate dieting — that affect you.   Our medical diagnosis tool, The Analyst™, identifies major risk factors by asking the right questions.

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If you indicate recent dieting, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
Have you been on a strict low-carbohydrate ("low-carb") diet such as the "Atkins Diet" or "Dukan Diet"?
Possible responses:
→ Don't know
→ No
→ Yes, but not any more
→ Currently, for less than 2 months
→ Currently, for more than 2 months

The Diagnostic Process

Based on your response to this question, which may indicate not being on a low-carbohydrate diet, discontinued low-carb diet, short-term low-carb dieting or long-term low-carb dieting, The Analyst™ will use differential diagnosis to consider possibilities such as:
Breast Cancer

Women with the highest intake of animal fat seem to have over a 75% greater risk of developing breast cancer. [Journal of the National Cancer Institute 95 (2003): p.1079]

Cancer, General

The American Cancer Society has officially condemned diets high in animal grease, concluding that "a low carb diet can be a high-risk option when it comes to health." [American Cancer Society. Weighing In on low carb Diets. 2004]

Colon Cancer

Studies at Harvard and elsewhere involving tens of thousands of women and men showed that regular meat consumption increases colon cancer risk as much as 300%. [New England Journal of Medicine 323 (1990): p.1664; Cancer Research 54 (1994): p.2390]  As one Harvard School of Public health researcher noted, because of the meat content, two years on the Atkins Diet "...could initiate a cancer.  It could show up as a polyp in 7 years and as colon cancer in ten." [Nutrition Action Healthletter January/February 2004: p.1]

Coronary Disease / Heart Attack

Essentially every single study on low carbohydrate diets that measured uric acid levels has shown that uric acid levels rose. [Obesity Research 9 (2001):1S]  Uric acid itself has been tied to cardiovascular disease risk in virtually every instance it's been studied over the last 50 years, and may be an independent risk factor by increasing free radical damage or making the blood more susceptible to clotting. [American Journal of Cardiology 85 (2000): p.1018]

In another clinical trial, despite statistically significant weight loss reported in the Atkins group, every single cardiac risk factor measured worsened after a year on the Atkins Diet (measures included LDL, triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL, total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio, homocysteine, Lp(a), and fibrinogen).  While the LDL in the Atkins group increased 6%, the LDL cholesterol levels in the whole-foods vegetarian group was cut in half, dropping 52%.

Based on an analysis of the Atkins Diet, long-term use of the Atkins Diet is expected to raise coronary heart disease risk by over 50%. [Journal of the American College of nutrition 19 (2000): p.578]

Effects of a Low Carbohydrate Diet

The American Heart Association states: "Individuals who follow these diets are therefore at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall." [Circulation 104 (2001): p.1869]


Authorities recommend that Americans get "at least 30-35 grams" [Gastroenterology 118 (2000): p.1233] of fiber each day "from foods, not from supplements." [Circulation. 102 (2000): p.2284]  The initial phase of Atkins' diet, which dieters may have to repeatedly return to, has about 2gm of fiber per day. [Atkins, RC. Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution. Avon Books, 1999]

The May 2004 Annals of Internal Medicine study showed once again that most of the Atkins Dieters are constipated and headachy.


The director of MIT's distinguished Clinical Research Center measured the serotonin levels in the brains of 100 volunteers eating different diets.  Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the human brain that regulates mood.  In fact, the way antidepressants like Prozac are purported to work is by increasing brain levels of serotonin.

What the MIT researchers found is that the brain only made serotonin after a person ate carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates seemed to naturally stimulate serotonin.  By starving of the brain of this essential mood elevator, the researchers fear that diets such as the Atkins Diet may make people restless, irritable or depressed.  Women, people under stress, and those taking anti-depressants may be most at risk. [MIT News 20 February 2004]

Gout / Hyperuricemia

In March 2004, an article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting the effect of meat intake on gout risk.  Harvard researchers followed almost 50,000 men for 12 years and found that "each additional daily serving of meat was associated with a 21% increase in the risk of gout."  In fact, the Atkins Diet has been blamed directly for the rising incidence of this painful disease. [The Observer, 18 January 2004]

Kidney Disease

Followers of diets such as Atkins' risk kidney damage [New England Journal of Medicine 307 (1982): p.652].  Atkins once wrote, "The diet is safe for people even if there is a mild kidney malfunction."  We now know this to be false.

In a press release entitled "American Kidney Fund Warns About Impact of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health," their Chair of Medical Affairs Paul W. Crawford, M.D., wrote, "We have long suspected that high-protein weight loss diets could have a negative impact on the kidneys, and now we have research to support our suspicions." [American Kidney Fund news release, 25 April 2002]  Dr. Crawford is worried that the strain put on the kidneys could result in irreversible "scarring in the kidneys."

The Harvard Nurse's Study proved that high meat protein intake was associated with an accelerated decline in kidney function in women with mild kidney insufficiency [Ann In ed 138 (2003): p.460].  The problem is that millions of Americans – as many as one in four adults in the United States – seem to already have reduced kidney function, but do not know it, and would potentially be harmed by high meat diets like Atkins [American Journal of Kidney Diseases 41 (2003): p.1].  The amount of protein deemed "excessive" in the Nurses Study and which furthered their kidney damage is only about half of what one might expect to get on the Atkins Diet. [Journal of the American College of Cardiology 43 (2004): p.725]

American Kidney Fund chair Dr. Crawford concluded, "Chronic kidney disease is not to be taken lightly, and there is no cure for kidney failure.  The only treatments are kidney dialysis and kidney transplantation.  This research shows that even in healthy athletes, kidney function was impacted and that ought to send a message to anyone who is on a high-protein weight loss diet." [American Kidney Fund News release, 25 April 2002]

Kidney Stones (Urolithiasis)

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States, which can cause severe pain or even urinary obstruction and kidney damage.  Plant protein did not seem to have a harmful effect. [American Family Physician 60 (1999): p.2269]

LDL/HDL Ratio, High

The May 2004 Annals of Internal Medicine study showed that a third of Atkins Dieters suffered a significant increase in LDL cholesterol.  One person's LDL shot from an unhealthy 184 to a positively frightening 283 (which means their total cholesterol was probably somewhere over 350). [Annals of Internal Medicine 140 (2004): p.769]  With so many people on these diets, that could mean Atkins is endangering the health of millions of Americans.  LDL cholesterol is, after all, one of the most important risk factors for the number one killer in the United States for both men and women: heart disease. [Circulation 89(1994):1329]

Multiple Vitamin Need

Atkins followers risk a number of serious nutrient deficiencies [Journal of the American Dietetics Association 86 (1985): p.460].  When cutting calories, it's especially important to eat nutrient-dense diets, but the Atkins Diet presents a double whammy; it restricts the healthiest foods like fruit and unrestricts some of the unhealthiest.  The American Heart Association states: "Individuals who follow these diets are therefore at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake..." [Circulation 104 (2001): p.1869]

Diets such as Atkins' maximize the consumption of disease-promoting substances like the cholesterol and saturated fat, and industrial pollutants and carcinogens in meat, yet restrict one's intake of fiber and the literally thousands of antioxidants and phytochemicals found exclusively in the plant kingdom (like the carotenoids, lycopenes, bioflavonoids, phytic acid, indoles, isothiocyanates, and so on) that have "anti-aging, anti-cancer and anti-heart disease properties" [Obesity Research 9 (2001): p.1S].  As a 2004 medical review concluded, the Atkins Diet is so "seriously deficient" in nutrition that "there is real danger of malnutrition in the long term." [Journal of the American College of Cardiology 43 (2004): p.725]

Realizing that this diet is so deficient in nutrients, Atkins prescribes no fewer than 65 nutritional supplements to help fill the nutritional gaps created by this diet – available on the Atkins web site.  "Who needs orange juice," Atkins wrote, "when a Vitamin C tablet is so handy?"  [Atkins, RC. Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. David McKay Company, Inc., 1972]

Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

The concern with bone health arises from the fact that muscle ("meat") protein has a high sulfur content.  When people eat too much of this protein, the sulfur forms acid within our bodies which must somehow be neutralized to maintain proper internal pH balance.  One way our body can buffer the sulfuric acid load caused by the meat is with calcium borrowed from our bones.  People on high meat diets can lose so much calcium in the urine that it can actually solidify into kidney stones. [Journal of Pediatrics 117 (1990): p.743]  Over time, high animal protein intakes may leach enough calcium from the bones to increase one's risk of osteoporosis.  People may be literally peeing their bones into the toilet.

In the Harvard Nurse's study, which followed over 85,000 nurses for a dozen years, found that those who ate more animal protein had a significantly increased risk of forearm fracture.  While plant-based (vegan) proteins did not show a deleterious effect, women eating just a serving of red meat a day seemed to have significantly increased fracture risk. [American Journal Epidemiology 143 (1996): p.472]  Other studies have linked meat consumption to hip fracture risk as well. [American Journal of Clinical Nutr. 73 (2001): p.118]

In 2002, researchers from the Universities of Chicago and Texas published a study that put people on the Atkins Diet and measured 1) how acidic their urine got and 2) just how much calcium they were urinating out.  They reported that the Atkins Diet resulted in a "striking increase in net acid excretion."  After just two weeks on the Atkins Diet, the subjects were already losing 258mg of calcium in their urine every day.  They concluded that the Atkins Diet "provides an exaggerated acid load, increasing risks for renal calculi [kidney stone] formation and bone loss." [American Journal of Kidney Diseases 40 (2002): p.265]  In addition, the Atkins Diet is actually deficient in calcium in the first place.

Potassium Need

According to Dr. Atkins himself, some people lose so much potassium they may need professional help.  According to Atkins, sales of potassium supplements "of anywhere near the proper amount of potassium you may need are illegal over the counter; therefore you may need a doctor to write you the proper prescription." [Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution 3rd edition. M. Evans and Company, Inc. 2002]

Pregnancy-Related Issues

Acetone and other ketones (part of being in a state of ketosis brought on by following a low-carbohydrate diet) seems to cause brain damage in the fetus which may result in the baby being born mentally retarded. [Maryland State Medical Journal 1974: p.70]

Despite the fact that ketones seemed to cause "significant neurological impairment" and an average loss of about 10 IQ points was well known and arousing "considerable concern" years before Atkins published his Diet Revolution [Clinics in Endocrinology and Metabolism 12(1983): p.413], Atkins nonetheless wrote "I recommend this diet to all my pregnant patients." [Atkins, RC. Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. David McKay Company, Inc., 1972]

After enough pressure from the AMA, Atkins finally relented.  "There's one other point I'm really sorry about."  Atkins finally admitted, "I now understand that ketosis during pregnancy could result in fetal damage.  My pregnant patients have never had this problem, but I realize I didn't study enough cases to validate my recommendation.  If anyone wants a retraction, I'll be glad to give one." [New York magazine March 1973.]

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