Atkins’ followers also risk kidney damage. Like his advice for pregnant women, Atkins once wrote “The diet is safe for people even if there is a mild kidney malfunction.” We now know this to be false.
In a press release entitled “American Kidney Fund Warns About Impact of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health,” Chair of Medical Affairs, Paul W. Crawford, M.D., wrote, “We have long suspected that high-protein weight loss diets could have a negative impact on the kidneys, and now we have research to support our suspicions.” Dr. Crawford is worried that the strain put on the kidneys could result in irreversible “scarring in the kidneys.”
Three months later, the newest edition of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution was released in which Dr. Atkins stated: “Too many people believe this untruth [that too much protein is bad for your kidneys] simply because it is repeated so often that even intelligent health professionals assume it must have been reported somewhere. But the fact is that it has never been reported anywhere. I have yet to see someone produce a study for me to review…”
Although evidence that such diets could be risky for one’s kidneys existed years before he made that statement, the definitive study showing just how dangerous his diet could be to a dieter’s kidneys was published a month before Atkins died. The Harvard Nurse’s Health Study proved that high meat protein intake was associated with an accelerated decline in kidney function in women with mild kidney insufficiency. The problem is that millions of Americans–as many as one in four adults in the United States–seem to already have reduced kidney function, but may not know it, and would potentially be harmed by high meat diets such as Atkins. And the “excessive” amount of protein which furthered kidney damage in the women in the Nurse’s Study is only about half of what one might expect to get on the Atkins Diet.
The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is also largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States. Kidney stones can cause severe pain, urinary obstruction, and kidney damage. Plant protein does not seem to have a harmful effect. “If we were smart,” says Dr. Theodore Steinman, a kidney specialist and senior physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “we would all be vegetarians.”
High cholesterol, which may be exacerbated by the Atkins Diet, has also been linked to a worsening of kidney function in both diabetics and nondiabetics.
The American Kidney Fund’s Dr. Crawford concluded, “Chronic kidney disease is not to be taken lightly, and there is no cure for kidney failure. The only treatments are kidney dialysis and kidney transplantation. This research shows that even in healthy athletes, kidney function was impacted and that ought to send a message to anyone who is on a high-protein weight loss diet.”