Accusation 12: Makes “Unsupported” Arguments About Bone Risk

A number of objectionable statements appear on the website regarding Atkins…

  • Bone Loss and Kidney Function. Your arguments at page 21 that the ANA [Atkins Diet] can adversely affect bones and kidney function are similarly unsupported. Urinary calcium loss is not an inevitable result of a low-carbohydrate dietary regimen.

This claim is similar to the one made in “Talking About Atkins to Your Doctor,” a section of your website which explains that “you may have to educate your health-care provider a bit about exactly what’s involved with Atkins.” If, for example, a dieter’s doctor is concerned that eating too much meat may leach calcium from their bones, you recommend they tell their doctor “This is another myth that has been disproved.”[957] Before anyone confronts their doctor, though, they may want to know the whole story.

Atkins Ignores the Studies that Actually Measure Fracture Risk

Although some short-term studies reveal a net urinary calcium loss, long-term studies directly examining bone loss via DEXA scan (a superior indicator of bone health relative to urinary calcium) reveal no bone loss.

It is evident that you focus on indicators rather than endpoints. Your website, for example, discusses cardiac risk factors while failing to reference the one study that actually measured blood flow in the hearts of Atkins dieters–and showed a significant worsening of their heart disease. Although DEXA scans may be superior to urinary calcium measurements, arguably the best indicator would be assessing the risk of actually suffering a bone fracture. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed over 85,000 nurses for a dozen years, found that those eating just a serving of red meat a day had a significantly increased fracture risk.[961]

While plant-based proteins did not show a deleterious effect, women in the Nurses’ Study eating more animal protein had a significantly increased risk of forearm fracture.[962] Another study following a thousand women linked meat consumption to hip fracture risk as well. “This suggests that an increase in vegetable protein intake” concluded the investigators, “and a decrease in animal protein intake may decrease bone loss and the risk of hip fracture.”[963] The only other study which looked at a large group of the general population over time found that those consuming as much meat and egg protein and as little calcium as do Atkins dieters doubled their risk of hip fracture.[964]

You list 15 “selected” studies, though, that claim to show that the Atkins Diet doesn’t adversely affect calcium and bone metabolism.[965] Many of the conflicting results are based on what’s called the “biphasic” effect of protein on bone health. Too much protein can increase fracture risk, but too little protein can as well, as protein makes up about 50% of bone tissue.[966] So some studies involving elderly subjects who might be suffering from “protein undernutrition” have shown less bone loss[967] or fracture risk[968] with higher protein intakes, but low protein intake alone may be a marker of frailty or poor nutritional status in general. In fact studies show that protein malnutrition in the elderly may increase hip fracture rate just by increasing their propensity to fall.[969]

Studies not restricted to the elderly, though, have more clearly found that those who eat the most animal protein may be putting their bones at risk.[962-964]

Atkins Falsely Claims Followers are Getting Enough Calcium

Atkins offers a variety of foods rich in calcium in all phases of the program, including Induction…

Animal protein causes calcium loss, but studies have shown that if someone consumes enough calcium, they may be able to mediate the effects of that protein.[970] The problem is that the Atkins Diet can also be seriously deficient in calcium.[971] The Atkins “Debunking the Myths” webpage, though, calls such a charge just another “fallacy.”[972] The “Fact” your website counters with is that “While you’re doing Atkins you will get 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Intake of calcium…”[973]

According to independent nutritional analyses, this is incorrect. The estimated calcium content on the Atkins Diet during Induction in one analysis is 373mg,[974] less than 40% the Recommended Daily Intake.[975] Tufts calls the calcium content of the Atkins Diet (even after Induction) one of its “serious dietary shortfalls.”[976]