Are low carb diets safe? How safe is the Atkins diet? Are low carb and the Atkins diets dangerous to your health? These are burning questions for dieters all over the world.
I have personally tried low carb diets and the Atkins diet and these diets made me lose weight very quickly. However not only did I lose body fat weight, I also lost muscle weight. I had very obvious muscle and fat loss because I can visually see my reduced muscle mass in the mirror.
This certainly isn’t healthy. Furthermore, the more muscle mass that you lose, the less toned your body shape is. The end result is that you will end up thin and yet looked flabby with loose skin.
The frustrating part will be that after you are off the low carb or Atkins diet, you will very probably gain back all the weight that you have loss and even more. This is because your muscles are active and they continuously burn calories. Since you have less fewer muscle mass now, your bodys metabolism or capacity to burn calories slows down tremendously.
In other words, when you put on weight again, you are putting on body fat instead of muscles if you do not exercise. You will be fatter and less healthy than before you went on the low carb or Atkins diet. To compound matters, because of lesser muscle tissues resulting in lower metabolism and thus lesser calories being burnt, you are going to get fatter.
Since then I have stayed off both low carb and the Atkins diet. Both types of diets are almost similar as they require you to cut down drastically on your consumption of carbohydrates. Atkins diet went a step further by advocating almost no carbohydrate consumption for 2 weeks before adding some carbs to your meals gradually thereafter.
Besides losing muscles, how safe are low carb diets? This is what Dr Lynn Steffen and Dr Jennifer Nettleton from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health commentated in a Lancet report, ìLow carbohydrate diets for weight management are far from healthy, given their association with ketosis, constipation or diarrhea, halitosis, headache and general fatigue to name a few.î
The doctors warned that the diet increases protein load on the kidneys and alters the balance of acid in the body. This also results in loss of minerals from the bone stores and affect bone strength. The doctors went on to say that, ìOur most important criterion should be indisputable safety and low carbohydrate diets currently fall short of this benchmark.î
Robert Atkins, the creator of the Atkins diet died in 2003 after he was alleged to have slipped on an icy road and hurt his head fatally. However his medical report stated that he had a history of heart attack, hypertension and congestive heart failure.
Critics of the Atkins diet have always questioned it’s health validity. When Dr Atkins was called before a Senate committee headed by George McGovern, he was forced to admit that pregnant women following his low carb diet would suffer fetal damage to their unborn babies.
Studies since have found that long term, Atkins dieters do not lose weight more quickly, or keep it off more, over a twelve month period as compared to people following other diets. The initial weight loss is mostly fluid, not fat as is often claimed.
And whilst the high levels of protein and fats, and extremely low level of carbohydrates, appeals to some people’s tastes, for most, it’s unappetizing and doesn’t produce a feeling of well being. As such, it becomes difficult to follow for long periods. Yet it is sold as a ‘way of life’, rather than a diet.
Most seriously, questions raised by Atkins’s death, and the state of his heart health as revealed in the medical report after his death, seemed to give credibility to his critics.
One recent study at Oxford University followed 19 people over a two week period. When they followed a diet high in fat and low in carbs, it was found that the energy stored in their heart was reduced by an average of 16%. In some people, this reduction was as high as 30%. On top of this, whilst they were on this diet, these people’s hearts were unable to relax as easily. These changes reverted back to normal two weeks after they went back to a normal diet.
Jody Goran’s experience was much worse. A 50 year old, he tried the Atkins diet and lost weight. He stayed on it for two years, but in October, 2003 he started having chest pains. He went to the doctor straight away, and they found that one of his main arteries was 99% blocked. He was not far away from having a fatal heart attack, and had to have surgery straight away.
Yet, 6 months before he’d started the Atkins diet, his check up revealed a very healthy heart. He had clean, unblocked arteries, and a 96% chance that he would NOT have a heart attack within the next 5 years. After following the Atkins diet for 2 years, not only was one of his main arteries blocked 99%, but his cholesterol had risen from 146 to 215. Just after the angioplasty, his cholesterol levels fell back to 209. But it wasn’t until he discontinued the diet completely that his cholesterol levels returned to 146.
According to a report in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Atkins even acknowledged that in as many as 30% of dieters, higher levels of the ‘bad’ cholesterol can cause potentially serious heart problems. The same article does state that in others, the ‘bad’ cholesterol levels will lower, but 30% is a significant number. And there are other, healthier ways to lower cholesterol.
Overall, the questions and potentially serious side effects, quite apart from the bad breath and constipation, make this a highly questionable long term approach to weight control.
Do you want to take the risk by going on a low carb diet? I don’t think I will. If I ever want to lose weight again, I will rather go on the proven method of healthy eating and regular exercises instead of jumping on any fad diets!