Is the Atkins diet safe?

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Friday March 17, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Thursday March 16, 2006.

The low-carbohydrate high-protein Atkins diet is not safe and should not be recommended for weight loss, state researchers in this week's issue of The Lancet.

In a Case Report Klaus-Dieter Lessnau (New York School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA) and colleagues describe a life-threatening complication of the Atkins diet in a 40-year-old obese woman. The patient, who had strictly followed the Atkins diet, was admitted to hospital for a condition called ketoacidosis. The condition occurs when dangerously high levels of acids called ketones build up in the blood. Ketones are produced in the liver during starvation. A low carbohydrate diet such as Atkins can lead to ketone production, state the authors.

Professor Lessnau concludes: "Our patient had an underlying ketosis caused by the Atkins diet and developed severe ketoacidosis, possibly when her oral intake was compromised from mild pancreatitis or gastroenteritis. This problem may become more recognised because this diet is becoming increasingly popular worldwide."

In an accompanying Comment Lyn Steffen (University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, MN, USA) states: "Low-carbohydrate diets for weight management are far from healthy, given their association with ketosis, constipation or diarrhoea, halitosis, headache, and general fatigue to name a few side-effects…As researchers and clinicians, our most important criterion should be indisputable safety, and low-carbohydrate diets currently fall short of this benchmark. Professional dietetic associations in the US, Australia, and Europe, emphasize eating healthy foods and being physically active." (Quote by e-mail; does not appear in published paper)

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Contact: Professor Klaus-Dieter Lessnau, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, 300 East 93rd Street #18B, New York NY 10128, USA. T) +1 212 434 2000 klessnau@pol.net

Comment: Dr Lyn Steffen, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454, USA. T) +1 (612)625-9307 steffen@epi.umn.edu


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