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Atkins diet clogged mans arteries { May 27 2004 }

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May 27, 2004
Dieter Sues Atkins Estate and Company

A 53-year-old man sued the estate of Dr. Robert C. Atkins and the company that promotes his diet yesterday. The suit says following the Atkins diet for two years raised the man's cholesterol so much that his arteries became clogged and required a medical procedure to open them.

The suit is apparently the first to involve the diet, the most prominent and controversial low-carbohydrate regimen and the one most associated with assertions that followers could eat all the red meat and saturated fat they wanted and still lose weight.

The plaintiff, Jody Gorran, who is being assisted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that supports a vegan diet, is seeking $28,000 in damages. Mr. Gorran said he was using the suit to tell other people about the dangers of the diet and to have its promoters include warnings in books, other products and Web sites.

Mr. Gorran, of Delray Beach, Fla., said that in 2001, when his weight crept up to 148 from 140 he turned to the diet, specifically, the 1999 edition of "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution." After two months he said, his cholesterol shot from 146, well within the normal range, to 230, considered in the hazardous range.

In October 2003, after three episodes of chest pain, doctors found that Mr. Gorran had a 99 percent blockage in a major artery and performed angioplasty and inserted a stent to keep it open. Before starting the diet, he said, tests showed that his arteries were clear.

In responding to a request for comment, a representative for Atkins Nutritionals and the estate of Dr. Atkins said they stood by "the science that has repeatedly reaffirmed the safety and health benefits of Atkins."

Speaking of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Nutrition, the statement says that the organization, "a well-known vegan and animal rights group, has a long history of initiating these kinds of scare tactics that are designed to convince the American public to stop eating animal protein of any sort."

Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health who is a critic of the diet and who looked at Mr. Gorran's medical records at the request of The New York Times, said he was not surprised by the increase in cholesterol.

"It could happen in two weeks," Dr. Sacks said. "There are definitely people that happens to, though it is not a majority."

The American Heart Association said it would not comment on the suit, but issued a statement saying, "Eating large amounts of high-fat foods for a sustained period raises the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer."

Mr. Gorran said in his suit that after his cholesterol had increased he was encouraged to continue the plan by a passage in the book that acknowledged that cholesterol would increase for about one in three dieters. The book says those people should "eat only the lean proteins - turkey roll, skinless chicken breast, fish, farmer cheese, lean cuts of meat and so on - but do not increase your carbohydrate intake more than 5 grams. However, if you are not happy on the low-fat version of the diet or get hungry, or don't feel well on it, then don't bother with it; go back to the regular Atkins diet that you enjoyed more."

"I contend there ought to be a warning on this diet," Mr. Gorran said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he filed the suit. "I'm seeking an injunction to prevent them from selling their products, books, or having their Web site without a warning, because they know one-third of the people on the diet will have what Atkins referred to as 'less favorable cholesterol.' "

Within two months after going off the Atkins diet, where his favorite foods were cheese every day and cheesecake three times a week, his cholesterol dropped to 146.

Mr. Gorran, a wealthy owner of a manufacturer of solar panels for swimming pools, said he enlisted the physicians' organization "because they are familiar with publicity.''

"The whole thing is based on getting the word out,'' he said. "Even if the suit never gets anywhere, we'll be out there and people will start to think."

A law professor who read the complaint said he did not think that it would get anywhere.

"The lawsuit has two serious shortcomings from the legal point of view," said the professor, Benjamin Zipursky, who teaches torts and product liability law, said. "Tort law generally does not permit a cause of action or lawsuit based on bad theories put out in a book, and most courts would recognize a valid First Amendment defense here. I would be surprised if the case were not eventually dismissed before getting to a jury."

Professor Zipursky said that the suit was "chock-full of information about criticism of the Atkins diet.''

"So it really reads as if it were done by someone who is doing it for reasons of publicity rather than private gain,'' he added. "Not only is each claim for relief less than $15,000, it does not ask for punitive damages, which I think is appropriate and a sign of their seriousness."

The suit is not the first against a diet book. In 1989, a suit against the publisher of "The Last Chance Diet," by Robert Linn, a doctor of osteopathy, said someone died following the liquid protein diet in the book. A judge threw out the suit.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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