Atkins Diet Continues to Stir Controversy as New Report Again Raises Safety Issues

From the time Dr. Robert Atkins first opened his weight loss clinic on Manhattan’s Upper East Side over 30 years ago, until his death in 2003 following injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell on ice, his high protein, low carbohydrate diet has been a lightning rod for controversy.

Atkins claimed his diet was a revolutionary step forward in the concept of dieting, while his critics, of which there are many, continued to see it as a potentially dangerous way of eating that can produce serious long-term health problems.

Although some unpleasant side effects like constipation, diarrhea, headaches, and bad breath are common, it is the long-term, and more serious consequences that worry experts.

The diet also produces a condition known as ketosis, which causes increased levels of ketones (acids) in the blood.

When ketone levels in the blood become dangerously high, a condition known as ketoacidosis can develop. Ketoacidosis is a  potentially life-threatening illness, which can lead to coma and death if left untreated.

Loose adherence to the diet rarely produces the extreme imbalance of ketones required to bring on ketoacidosis. In some cases, however, people follow the plan too strictly and eliminate virtually all carbohydrates from their diet while eating excessive amounts of proteins like meat and cheese.

While some experts say that this can lead to severe ketoacidosis, the position taken by the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation — a medical research charity run by Atkins’ widow – is that ketoacidosis is not triggered by diet and can only occur if a person has an abnormal clinical metabolic condition.

In the latest case report published in the The Lancet doctors from New York University School of Medicine describe the history of a 40-year-old obese woman who developed severe ketoacidosis. The unidentified patient was admitted to intensive care for four days after becoming short of breath.

Before her hospitalization in 2004, she had lost her appetite, felt nauseous, and experienced periods of vomiting four to six times a day. Tests confirmed ketoacidosis.

The authors stated that: “Our patient had an underlying ketosis caused by the Atkins diet … This problem may become more recognized because this diet is becoming increasingly popular worldwide.” The lead author, Dr. Klaus-Dieter Lessnau expressed surprised that this problem with the Atkins diet has not been reported before.

According to Lessnau, “This is something that is not well-diagnosed or may be underreported. The Atkins diet is not a safe diet in everybody. It can cause potentially life-threatening problems.”

In addition to the possibility of developing ketoacidosis, experts are concerned with the strain that high protein diets put on the kidneys and the risk of renal failure. Some, like Dr. Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale Prevention ResearchCenter at Yale University School of Medicine, and author of The Flavor Point Diet, believes that “diets at odds with conventional dietary wisdom must prove themselves healthful. In my opinion, the Atkins diet never did, and never will, meet this test.”

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