Group cites evidence that Atkins diet dangerous

November 26, 2003 in Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Group cites evidence that Atkins diet dangerous

A nutrition advocacy group said last week that the popular Atkins low carbohydrate diet has caused heart disease and could have killed a teen-age dieter and urged the U.S. government to monitor the high-fat weight loss approach.

The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine stressed it could not prove the diet hurt or killed anyone, but one dieter said he was convinced the approach clogged his arteries and the parents of a teen-ager who died while on the diet also blame her meat-heavy regimen.

The PCRM called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor diet approaches and check for evidence that the Atkins and other high-fat, high-protein diets may be harming people's health. The CDC had no immediate comment.

But Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. said its diet was safe. The Atkins diet has made headlines around the world with a radical approach that flies in the face of most medical advice. First published in 1972 by Dr. Robert Atkins, who died after a fall last April, it is based on the theory that carbohydrates make people fat. It encourages dieters to shun bread, pasta, fruit and many vegetables in favor of meats and other fatty foods.

Paul and Lisa Huskey of Columbia, Missouri, say their 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, died of a heart arrhythmia in 2000 while on the diet. Dr. Paul Robinson, a pediatrician at the hospital where Rachel died, said the diet could have caused her death by leaching calcium and potassium from her body.

Many doctors and the American Heart Association have warned that the diet could be dangerous. The Heart Association advocates a diet based on whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

It warned that over time the Atkins diet and similar approaches could raise cholesterol. Other experts have said it might also increase the risk of kidney disease and the PCRM adds osteoporosis and colon cancer to the list of risks.

The PCRM, which advocates a vegetarian diet, set up an online registry at for people to offer complaints about the diet. So far 188 people have logged on and complained of minor issues such as bad breath, constipation and a lack of energy. But then the complaints became more serious and included kidney, heart and gallbladder problems.

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