November 2002    Vol. 1   No. 11

Atkins Diet Is As Good as Chemotherapy for Weight Loss

Research released Monday, November 18, 2002, at the annual scientific meeting of the American Heart Association, showed that people on the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight and had better cholesterol and triglyceride counts than people on a traditional Heart Association-approved low-fat diet. The study was funded by the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that funds research on carbohydrates and was founded by the author of the Atkins diet.  The study was conducted by Dr. Eric Westman, an internist at Duke University's diet and fitness center.

Studied were 120 overweight volunteers, who were randomly assigned to the Atkins diet or the Heart Association's Step 1 diet. The Atkins diet limits carbohydrates to less than 20 grams a day, and has no limit on intake of fats or cholesterol.  The diet is mostly meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese.   The Step 1 AHA diet is about 30% of energy (calories) from fat, 50 to 60% of energy from carbohydrate, 10 to 20% of energy from protein, and less than 300 mg cholesterol per day.  This is considered a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet, and is not really intended for weight loss.

Here Are the Results (after six months):

� Thirty-one pounds lost on Atkins versus 20 pounds on an AHA low-fat diet.

� HDL (good cholesterol), up 6 mg/dl with the Atkins, down 2 mg/dl with the AHA diet.

� LDL (bad cholesterol) � little change with either diet.

� Triglycerides: down 49 % with the Atkins, down 22% with the AHA.

So What Does This Prove?

The results of the new study by Dr. Westman are not published yet, so all I have is the newspaper report.  But Dr. Westman did publish results of subjects who had been 6 months on the Atkins diet in the July 2002 issue of the American Journal of Medicine (This study was also funded by Atkins).1  These results show:


Down 11 mg/dl

LDL Cholesterol:

            Down 10 mg/dl

HDL cholesterol:

            Up 10 mg/dl


            Down 56 mg/dl

Urinary Calcium:

            Up 86 mg/24 hours (a contributor to kidney stones and osteoporosis)

Symptomatic Adverse Effects:

            68% reported constipation

            63% reported bad breath

            51% reported headaches


The AHA Diet Is Almost Useless:

The American Heart Association Diet is only slightly better than the American diet and would not be expected to show impressive results.  For example, 22 physician practices from communities in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia treated a total of 450 adults with cholesterol levels in the 250 � 270 mg/dl range with the Step 1 AHA diet for 18 months.2  They showed a 5.4 mg/dl reduction in cholesterol levels in patients given usual care on the AHA diet.

Comparing a useless diet (the AHA diet) to the Atkins diet proves nothing.  What they need to compare the Atkins diet with is a very healthy, very-low fat, diet like ours.  In 11 days we have shown an average decrease of 29 mg/dl in subjects starting from similar levels of cholesterol.

What an Independent Study Shows on Atkins:

The only study on adults ever performed which was independent of Atkins� financial influence was published in September of 1980 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.3  This study of 24 men and women for 12-weeks (4 weeks on the strict Atkins diet) showed the following after 2 to 4 weeks on the diet:


            Up 12.3 mg/dl in both men and women

            Up 27.3 mg/dl in women

            Up 1.6 mg/dl in men

LDL (bad) Cholesterol:

            Up 23 mg/dl for both men and women

            Up 37.8 mg/dl for women

            Up 11.6 mg/dl for men

HDL (good) cholesterol:

            Down 2.9 mg/dl for both men and women

            Down 6.7 mg/dl for women

            Down 0.21 for men

Uric acid (kidney stones and gout):

            Up 1.8 mg/dl

Free Fatty Acids (can cause arrhythmias):

            Up 426 mEq/ml (nearly doubled)


            Down 45 mg/dl in both men and women

After 8 weeks the average weight loss was nearly 17 pounds.

Therefore, in independent research supported from a grant from the Washington Heart Association, cholesterol levels become worse with the meat, cheese, and egg-laden Atkins diet � big surprise.

How Could Cholesterol Levels Improve by Eating Cholesterol?

How did Westman get the results all your friends are talking about?  The Atkins diet works by making people so sick that they eat less of all foods.  The primary mechanism for this approach is to produce a condition called ketosis.  In this state the appetite is suppressed and people eat less � including less cholesterol and fat � than they were eating before going on the diet. 

Ketosis is a condition that occurs naturally when people become seriously ill.  It is an adaptive mechanism that allows the body to recuperate during times of illness rather than being overwhelmed by a strong hunger drive, forcing them to gather and prepare food.  Because the Atkins diet takes advantage of a state found with illness, I call this diet �the make yourself sick diet.�

Similar changes in body weight, cholesterol and triglyceride levels also occur when people become ill for other reasons. A classic example is cancer chemotherapy.  Typically people on these toxic medications become ill, lose their appetite, eat much less food, lose weight and lower their cholesterol, blood sugars, and triglycerides.  Therefore, next time, in addition to testing Atkins� diet against a healthy plant based diet; there should also be a control group on chemotherapy for a realistic comparison.

Atkins Is the Saddam Hussein of the Diet Industry

How could anyone take seriously a diet program that served all that cholesterol and fat-laden food and caused side effects like calcium loss, constipation, bad breath, and headaches?  Is it because people are so desperate to lose weight they would do anything?  Even sacrifice their health?  Look closely at people on the Atkins diet.  They may lose a few pounds but they look like �death warmed over.�  They have sallow complexions, look tired and sickly.  Would you expect otherwise?  They are sick from serious malnutrition.

And speaking of sick-looking people, before April of 2002 the founder of the Atkins� diet, Robert C. Atkins, appeared grossly overweight.  I would estimate 60 pounds overweight � but it was hard to tell because he always covered his protruding abdomen with a large coat.  Since April of 2002, when he suffered a cardiac arrest and nearly died from cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and heart failure, he has been conspicuously absent from public view. I call for an inspection of Dr. Atkins� health � this is not an unreasonable request.  Such a public figure is obliged to make a public appearance � especially since recent reports of his diet proclaim it is heart healthy.  Unfortunately, he has become the �Saddam Hussein of the diet world� � keeping potentially deadly secrets � the consequences on his own health of following his own diet � from the public.  (See the June 2002 McDougall Newsletter to learn why I believe his own diet contributed to his heart failure.)

So What Works for Losing Weight and Gaining Health?

There is only one way to lose weight, to lower cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides, uric acid and to become healthier (looking and feeling healthy too) and that is by means of a low-fat, plant-based diet (and some clean habits and exercise).  I would put the results of our diet up against any of the high protein gurus� recommendations, as well as the recommendations of the Heart Association.  Those of you who follow such a program as ours should have no doubt about the results of such a contest.  Until such direct testing is done you can rely upon thousands of research papers that show without any argument that high protein diets are hazardous and a low-fat high carbohydrate diet is the road to super health and lifelong weight loss.


1)  Westman E.  Effect of 6-month adherence to a very low carbohydrate diet program.
Am J Med. 2002 Jul;113(1):30-6.

2)  Caggiula AW.  Cholesterol-lowering intervention program. Effect of the step I diet in community office practices.  Arch Intern Med. 1996 Jun 10;156(11):1205-13.

3)  Larosa JC.   Effects of high-protein, low-carbohydrate dieting on plasma lipoproteins and body weight.  J Am Diet Assoc. 1980 Sep;77(3):264-70.

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