Does an Atkins-Type Diet Increase Heart Disease Risk?

by Leigh on July 10, 2012

atkins type diet increase heart disease risk factors

The Atkins Diet turns most nutrition guidelines upside down – does that increase your risk of heart disease?

An Atkins-type diet could raise the risk of heart disease, according to a new study in Swedish women. This new study adds to a growing body of evidence showing adverse effects on the heart when adopting a long-term very low-carbohydrate and very low-fat diet that is high in protein.

The latest study, published on June 26th in the British Medical Journal, looked at data from over 40,000 Swedish women and concluded that the risk of cardiovascular disease increased significantly in the women when looking at three measures of reduced carbohydrate intake or increased protein intake. Is an Atkins-type diet bad for a naturally healthy heart?

Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Atkins-Type Diet

The women in the study were between 30-49 years old and completed dietary questionnaires with an average follow-up of 15.7 years. A relative risk ratio of 1.04 was found when carbohydrate intake was cut by a tenth or when protein intake increased by a tenth. When the low-carbohydrate/high-protein score increased by two units the RR was 1.05. What these figures actually indicate is that an extra four to five cases of cardiovascular disease per 10,000 women per year would occur in those whose diets were low-carbohydrate and high-protein compared to those women not regularly eating such an Atkins-style diet.

How Low is a Low-Carb Diet?

This decrease in carbohydrates could simply be the equivalent of a single small bread roll (around 20g of carbohydrate) and the increase in protein that of a single boiled egg (around 5g of protein). Such changes may seem insignificant to those whose diets follow the Atkins diet to the letter and strive for drastic reductions in carbohydrate consumption. Such excessively high-protein diets and low-carbohydrate diets have been found in some short-term studies to aid weight-loss but long-term studies like this recent one have shown that Atkins-type diets increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Is Atkins Really that Bad?

This new study has had its critics, however, with comments made regarding the single examination of patients’ diet and the staggering assumption that the diet did not change over the subsequent fifteen years. Also, potential confounders had not been properly controlled for and the increases in risk were very small. In the meantime, those looking to lose weight, improve their cardiovascular health, and keep their diet free of excessive measuring and calculations would likely do well to simply see a qualified nutritionist for some basic guidance on nutrition for heart health rather than following a complicated high-protein diet that could increase cardiovascular disease risk.

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