Atkins dieters 'at risk of sharp rise in cholesterol'

September 4, 2003
The Daily Telegraph (London)
by Celia Hall

PEOPLE trying to lose weight on the Atkins diet are at serious risk of raised blood cholesterol levels, heart specialists have been warned.

The high-protein, low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet has soared in popularity recently because of celebrity endorsement and the reported success dieters experience in losing weight. An estimated three million people in the UK are on the diet.

The former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, the Friends star, Jennifer Aniston, and the actresses Demi Moore and Liz Hurley have all followed the diet.

But Dr Jim Mann, an endocrinologist from the University of Otago, New Zealand, told the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Vienna that he refused to recommend it to his heart disease and diabetic patients. “There is no doubt that you lose weight initially but there is a grave risk of a dramatic rise in cholesterol levels during the (weight loss) maintenance phase,” he said yesterday.

“There is no long-term data. The majority of people lose weight with the Atkins diet and initially cholesterol levels seem to be lower.

“But when weight loss is maintained - or as often happens, there is weight gain - we have observed that a lot of people experience a rise in cholesterol to levels greater than when they started the diet.”

Dr Mann stressed that the evidence was “anecdotal”, based on measurements in his clinic, and did not come from a properly designed research trial.

“We may be able to modify the Atkins diet. There would probably be modifications in the type of fat recommended,” he said. “Rather than greasy sausages and fried eggs and bacon we would look for a better balance of polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats.”

Dr Mann said that he believed that the diet could have a “powerful influence” on insulin resistance, a syndrome that can be present before people develop symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

Prof Sir Charles George, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “At the BHF we don’t like the Atkins diet. There is no short-cut to weight reduction.”