Report of Health Problems on Low Carb Diets

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1. Introduction and Methods

Extract from "Updated Analysis of Health Problems Associated with High-Protein, High-Fat, Carbohydrate-Restricted Diets Reported via an Online Registry" by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) (Dec, 2003)

Note: Numbers in brackets refer to research references. See Low Carb Eating References

While a few recent studies have noted that high-protein, carbohydrate-restricted diets facilitate modest short-term weight loss,(1-3) no studies to date have investigated the long-term health consequences of consuming such diets for weight-loss purposes.

Diets high in fat, especially saturated fat, are associated with increased risk of cancer,(4-6) diabetes, (7) and heart disease.(7) Diets high in animal protein have been shown to increase the risk of kidney problems, (8,9) osteoporosis, (10,11) and some types of cancer.(12,13) Because fiber is found only in plant foods, and high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets tend to be low in plant foods, these diets are also typically low in fiber. Low fiber intake is associated with increased risk of colon cancer and other malignancies, (4) heart disease, (7) diabetes, (14,15) and constipation. (16)

Some high-protein, very-low-carbohydrate, weight-loss diets are designed to induce ketosis, a state that also occurs in uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and starvation. When carbohydrate intake or utilization is insufficient to provide glucose to the cells that rely on it as an energy source, ketone bodies are formed from fatty acids. An increase in circulating ketones can disturb the body’s acid-base balance, causing metabolic acidosis. Even mild acidosis can have potentially deleterious consequences over the long run, including hypophosphatemia (low blood phosphate levels), loss of calcium from bone, increased risk of osteoporosis, and an increased propensity to form kidney stones. (17)

For these reasons, high-protein, high-fat, low-fiber, carbohydrate-restricted diets, such as the Atkins Diet, especially when used for prolonged periods, are expected to increase the risk of multiple chronic diseases and other health problems, despite the weight loss that may accompany their use. Herein, we summarize the reports of individuals who have experienced health problems while on a high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diet who have offered their information through an online registry (www.atkinsdietalert.org/registry.html). The seriousness of the reported health problems highlights the importance of tracking the impact of the use of these potentially risky diets and the need for research into the long-term health consequences of using these diets for weight loss and maintenance.

Methods

In the fall of 2002, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine began a pilot program testing the feasibility of an online registry for identifying people who may have suffered health complications related to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. A modest Internet advertising campaign was used to notify consumers about the availability of this registry. In November of 2003, PCRM held a news conference highlighting the health problems suffered by some individuals using these diets and drawing attention to the registry.

To report problems with high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets, individuals voluntarily visited www.atkinsdietalert.org and filled out a form available on the site. The registry specifically inquires about the following problems: heart attack, other heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, gout, gallbladder, colorectal cancer, other cancers, osteoporosis, reduced kidney function, kidney stones, constipation, difficulty concentrating, bad breath, and loss of energy. In addition, many registrants related other problems they had experienced while on Atkins-like diets in an “other problems” box offered on the registry. Many registrants reported more than one health concern. Through this online form, most registrants also provided contact information, age, sex, previous health concerns, length of time on the diet, reasons for choosing the diet, and other information.

To help clarify the possible biological mechanisms by which a high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diet might lead to these problems, PCRM dietitians conducted nutrient analysis of the sample menus for the three stages of the Atkins Diet as described in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (Avon; 2001; pp. 257–259), using Nutritionist V, Version 2.0, for Windows 98 (First DataBank Inc., Hearst Corporation, San Bruno, Calif.)

INDEX to PCRM Low Carb Health Problems Report

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The PCRM Report:

Carbohydrates Definition
Carbohydrates Information
Complex Carbs Guide
Simple Carbs Guide
Starch/Starchy Carbohydrates
Sugars Carbohydrates
Carb Counting Guide
Facts About Carbohydrates
Diabetes, Carbs and Diet

Fiber in Diet
Dietary Fiber
Types of Fiber
Best Sources of Fiber
Benefits of Fiber
Daily Fiber Needs

Nutrition & Carbohydrate
Nutrition in Carbs
Minerals in Carbohydrates
Vitamins in Carbohydrates
Phytochemicals in Carbs

Carbs and Glycemic Index
Digestion of Carbs
Blood Glucose Levels
Glucose into Energy
What is Glycogen?
How is GI Measured?
What Affects Glycemic Value?
Glycemic Index Food Chart
Glycemic Index Food Pyramid
Glycemic Value of a Meal
GI Values in Carbohydrates
GI Value For Beans
GI Value For Bread
GI Value For Cereal
GI Value For Dairy Food
GI Value For Drinks
GI Value For Fruit
GI Value For Meat/Fish
GI Value For Nuts
GI Value For Snacks
GI Value For Starchy Carbs
GI Value For Sugar
GI Value For Vegetables
GI Value For Whole Grains

Carbohydrate in Foods
Atkins Diet Foods
Bagels
Beans/Legumes
Beer
Bread
Cereal
Cake
Candy/Chocolate
Chips
Cookies/Biscuits
Crackers
Donut
Dressings
Energy Bars
Flour/Baking Foods
Fruit
Grains
Ice Cream
Milk, Cream,Yogurt
Muffins
Noodles
Nuts/Seeds
Pancakes/Waffles

Carbs in Food cont/
Pasta
Pies
Pizza
Popcorn
Potatoes
Pretzels
Rice
Sauces
Soda
Soup
Soy Food
Sugars
Syrups
Vegetables
Zone Diet Foods

Diet Recipes
GI Diet Recipes
Low Carb Recipes

Carb-Controlled Diets
Atkins Diet
South Beach Diet
Zone Diet
Low Carb Dieting
Benefits of Low Carb Diets
Low Carb Diets Health Risks
Ketosis - High Ketones in Blood
Gluconeogenesis Guide
Free Low Carb Diet Advice
Low Carb Weight Loss Diet

Diabetes, Insulin, Obesity
Diabetes Information
Hyperglycemia - High Blood Glucose
Hypoglycemia - Low Blood Glucose
Obesity Information
Diabesity, Diabetes and Obesity
Insulin Information
Insulin and Obesity
Types of Insulin
Hyperinsulimia - High Insulin Levels
Insulin Resistance Syndrome


Carbs-Information.com provides general information about different types of carbohydrate, like monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, polysaccharides, as well as nutritional value of carbohydrates, carb-content of foods, plus details of GI values of all food groups, plus advice about diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. But no information is intended as a substitute for medical advice. Copyright 2003-2021.