Through the years, this Editor, as well as numerous other health advocates, have warned of the dangers inherent in high protein and low carbohydrate diets. Diets similar to the Atkins' Diet. And so it came as no surprise this week when the Associated Press ran an article titled "Atkins Died Obese." Following are the beginning paragraphs of that AP article dated Tuesday, February 10, 2004:

"Dr. Robert Atkins, whose popular diet stresses protein-rich meat and cheese over carbohydrates, weighed 258 pounds at his death and had a history of heart disease, a newspaper reported Tuesday. Atkins died last April at age72 after being injured in a fall on an icy street. Beforehis death, he had suffered a heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a report by the city medical examiner. At 258pounds, the 6-foot-tall Atkins would have qualified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's body-mass index calculator. . . ."

Upon reading the article, I started pulling books off my library shelves where the authors had written on the dangers of the Atkins Diet. The first book I looked at was a book titled: "The Food Revolution" written by John Robbins, and written in 2001. On page 61 of his book, under the heading "Dr. Atkins' Diet -- Good Advice or CarboPhobia?" John Robbins writes:


"On the cover of Dr. Robert Atkin's 'New Diet Revolution', we are told that with this 'amazing weight-loss plan' you can 'enjoy a cheeseburger when you're hungry.' We are told 'eating rich foods can be your path to weight-loss.' We are told you will 'see amazing results in 14 days.' And we are told there are more than 6 million copies in print.

"This is the classic profile of a fad diet scam. Promise people they can eat whatever they want, tell them this is a new and amazing revolution, promise them that it won't take any effort, tell them the results will be nearly instantaneous, and make sure they think that everybody else is doing it. Who could resist such hype? If only it were true.

"In actuality, the primary mechanisms by which the Atkins diet causes weight loss are caloric restriction and ketosis. KETOSIS occurs when there is an imbalance in fat metabolism, such as occurs in diabetes or starvation. In ketosis, the body begins to metabolize muscle tissue instead of fat. Authors of these diets advocate 'taking advantage' of ketosis to lose weight. Dr. Atkins bases his entire program on ketosis. He says, "Ketosis is an indicator used at the Atkins Center as a marker for whether a person is staying on the diet . . . The Atkins' diet is a lifelong nutritional philosophy . . . . The important thing is you are in ketosis.' He doesn't say, however, that the consequences of extended ketosis include muscle breakdown, nausea, dehydration, headaches, light-headedness, irritability, bad breath, kidney problems, and increased risk of heart disease. Nor does he mention that a potential consequence of extended ketosis in pregnancy is fetal abnormality or death. Nor that a danger of extended ketosis for diabetics is death. 

"When the prestigious American Institute for Cancer Research evaluated Atkins' diet, they didn't mince words.

'Atkins' diet,' they wrote, 'can lead to the kind of rapid weight fluctuations that adversely affect the heart. Moreover, the breakdown of fatty acids that occurs during ketosis may also increase the risk of heart disease. One of the basic tenets of Atkins' diet is that sugar causes cancer. Such misleading pronouncements are essentially scare tactics, meant to direct the dieter towards foods on the Atkins' plan. Finally, nothing about this plan encourages the dieter to learn some very basic weight management strategies like portion control and serving sizes, let alone develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of balanced nutrition.' 

"Atkins says, 'My diet will correct most of the risk factors for heart disease.' But a study published in the 'Journal of the American Dietetic Association' found quite the opposite. People who followed the Atkins diet for 12 weeks showed significant increases in LDL ('bad' cholesterol), and substantial reductions in HDL ('good' cholesterol), indicating markedly increased risk for heart attacks. For 30 years, Atkins has been claiming his diet reverses heart disease. During that entire time, not a single study has been published that substantiates his claim. In fact, in all these years Atkins has never published a single study in any medical journal. He has, however, funded one study. Unfortunately, the study found that on the Atkins diet, 70 percent of people become constipated, and 65 percent develop bad breath.

"Two foods that appear regularly in Atkins' recipes and recommendations are pork rinds and sausage. Dean Ornish, M.D., a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute is the physician who developed an astoundingly successful heart disease prevention and treatment program. He is appalled by Atkins' promises that such foods will help people's hearts. 'Telling people that pork rinds and sausage are good for you is an appealing way to sell books,' he says, 'but it's irresponsible and it's dangerous for people who follow this advice.'

"Other foods that are encouraged on the Atkins' diet are bacon, pork, steak, seafood, eggs, butter, cream, and artificial sweeteners. As Atkins says, 'The Atkins' Diet is heavily weighted on eggs, meat, chicken and fish.' A typical Atkins breakfast is a cheese/broccoli omelet, with bacon and/or sausage. People who don't want to alter the eating habits that are endangering their health flock to regimens like this. But the scientific reality, published in thousands of peer-reviewed medical journal articles, is clear. The foods on which the Atkins' diet is based are the very foods that contribute to our most common diseases, disability, and death.

"People do often lose weight on the Atkins diet, at least for a while. But they do so at great cost to themselves and to their long-term health. James Anderson, M.D., is Professor of Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine. He has studied the Atkins' Diet, and his evaluation is forthright: 'People lose weight, at least in the short term. But this is absolutely the worst diet you could imagine for long-term obesity, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. If you wanted to find one diet to ruin your health, you couldn't find one worse than Atkins. We have 18 million diabetics in the country, 50 million people with high blood pressure.

They can have kidney problems, and high protein intake will bring them on faster. The diet is thrombogenic, meaning the fat will tend to form lipid particles in your blood after meals, which could lead to blood clots, meaning heart attack or stroke. We worry about this, because many of the people who love these diets are men aged 40 to 50, who like their meat. They may be 5 years from their first heart attack. This couldn't be worse for them. Did you know that for 50 percent of men who die from heart attacks, the fatal attack is their first symptom? They will never know what this diet is doing to them.'

"In 2003, doctors at the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, New York, published a study on the Atkins' diet and weight loss. They found that when people lose weight on the Atkins' diet, it is only because they are consuming fewer calories. In fact, in the Atkins' ongoing weight-loss phase, dieters eat an average of only 1,500 calories a day, and even less during its more restrictive phases. The studies lead author, Dr. Bernard Miller, said patient's felt tired and were nauseated on the plan. Allen Green, director of the Institute, noted, 'Weight loss is still calories in and calories out. . . . We're not recommending this diet to anyone.'

"Dean Ornish's opinion of weight-loss results of Atkins' diet is equally direct: 'You can lose weight in lots of ways that aren't healthy. You can take chemotherapy or get cancer or AIDS or be an alcoholic and lose weight. . . .The problem with high animal protein diets is that even if you can lose weight, you're mortgaging your health in the process.'