Atkins dieters 'face greater diabetes risk'

September 4, 2003
Daily Mail (London)
by Jenny Hope

DOCTORS yesterday issued another warning about the Atkins diet, saying it might increase a slimmer’s chances of developing diabetes.

There was a grave risk that following the weight loss regime for a prolonged period could lead to higher blood cholesterol, which might then bring on the potentially life-threatening condition, they said.

Hormone specialist Dr Jim Mann said he had some evidence that the high-protein diet creates a resistance to insulin which could spark diabetes.

He said doctors should not recommend it because of the lack of long-term data. ‘I tell my patients under no circumstances do I recommend it.’ Speaking at a heart specialists’ conference in Vienna, Dr Mann admitted: ‘The majority of people lose weight on the Atkins diet and initially their cholesterol levels seem lower.

‘But when the weight loss is maintained, we have observed that a lot of people experience a rise in their cholesterol levels to greater than when they started.’ Dr Mann, of the University of Otago, New Zealand, specialises in treating people with diabetes and insulin resistance. This is a condition in which people develop an impaired tolerance to glucose, which can lead to diabetes unless they change their diet and exercise more.

Dr Mann said: ‘We advise people strongly against the Atkins diet. We believe it may have a powerful effect on increasing insulin resistance.’ A multimillion-pound book industry has burgeoned on the back of claims that extreme eating patterns work. Sales of Atkins books are currently challenging Harry Potter.

Among celebrities who have tried it are Geri Halliwell, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Renee Zellweger and Minnie Driver.

Invented 30 years ago by Dr Robert Atkins, it recommends eating vast amounts of protein and fat, and severely restricting carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and starchy vegetables.

The theory is that diets which are high in carbohydrate increase the body’s production of insulin, and that encourages the cells to store fat, resulting in hunger and weight gain.

Cutting carbohydrates right down, Dr Atkins asserted, switches the body’s chemistry from a carbohydrate-burning machine to one that burns fat.

But the American Heart Association has warned that diets rich in animal protein and saturated fat raise levels of so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, and that the effect is compounded by limiting high- carbohydrate, highfibre plant foods.

Dr Mann said his university was carrying out long-term studies to see what happened to people on a range of diets.

‘We may be able to modify the Atkins diet to produce a healthier version,’ he said. ‘In particular, there are probably going to have to be modifications to the type of fat recommended - rather than greasy sausages, fried eggs and bacon, to a better mix of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

‘It’s also important to have the right kind of carbohydrates - whole grain cereals, legumes and some types of pasta, as well as an exercise programme.’ Professor Sir Charles George, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We don’t like the Atkins diet because it is primarily about reducing calorie intake and we want to see a combination of a better balanced approach with exercise.

‘Maintenance of weight loss is much more important than quick weight reduction.’