Atkins Diet Dangerous? Experts Weigh In

ByABC News
November 19, 2003, 6:54 PM

Nov. 20 -- Many physicians and nutritionists still have concerns that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may have adverse long-term health effects. However, scientific data to support these concerns is lacking.

"I don't believe that there is enough data to determine whether a link exists between [heart disease and] low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets in otherwise healthy persons, " said Dr. Peter Schulman of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

The Atkins Diet, one of the most popular diets in the United States, has been shown to both reduce weight and lower cholesterol. Yet physicians have been hesitant to recommend Atkins-type diets because of concerns that high fat content may lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

"In my experience, unless you're willing to throw out decades of research, you cannot ignore that diets chronically high in saturated fats are linked to heart disease," said Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Ayoob is also a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

The Missing Link

The latest controversy involving Atkins-type diets arose today as the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine held a news conference calling for an investigation of the potential harmful effects and deaths that may be associated with these diets. The organization compiled the results of an online survey of Atkins-type diet participants who complained of adverse effects they attribute to the diet.

However, many experts say that conclusion about Atkins-type diets and possible adverse reactions cannot be drawn from the data presented by the PCRM.

"The study does not appear to be randomized. Theoretically, if the people who elected to go on a low-carb diet were different somehow sicker, for example, and more willing to try something else that could explain the results," said Dr. Donald Hensrud, professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn.