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Atkins diet studies { May 22 2003 }

Original Source Link: (May no longer be active),0,2771911.story?coll=ny-health-headlines,0,2771911.story?coll=ny-health-headlines

Studies: Atkins Diet Has Weight

By Delthia Ricks
Staff Writer

May 22, 2003

Low-carbohydrate diets, like the popular Atkins plan, can produce moderately more weight loss than low-fat diets, researchers have found in the first scientific comparison of the two regimens.

Doctors also found for the first time that low-carbohydrate regimens improve some cardiovascular risk factors that can reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.

For years many doctors have derided low-carbohydrate diets as dangerous because of their high-fat, low-fiber content, telling patients the best way to lose weight is to restrict fats.

But two studies in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine have found that fat restriction may not be best for severely overweight people who are trying to shed pounds.

In the largest of the two studies, which examined the fates of 132 severely overweight volunteers, those on the low-carbohydrate diet lost three times the weight of their counterparts who restricted fats. Carbohydrates include foods like potatoes and bread.

Though the weight loss was modest -- low-carb dieters lost about 13 pounds compared with 4 pounds for those on the low-fat plan -- the low-carbohydrate diet helped reduce certain risks that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. This benefit was not achieved among the low-fat dieters.

However, in the second study of 63 participants, researchers found the low-carb dieters regained much of their weight by the end of the yearlong project. Low-carbohydrate dieters in that study were following the book by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, who first sang the virtues of low-carb, high-protein dieting in the early 1970s.

"The remarkable thing here is not the weight loss but the reduction in cardiovascular risk factors. That's what is most important," said Dr. Gary Foster of the University of Pennsylvania and the lead investigator of the smaller of the two studies.

"We found a 28 percent decrease in triglyceride levels in people on the Atkins diet compared to only a 1 percent decrease for those on the low-fat diet." Triglycerides are a form of fat in the blood.

Foster said the reduction in dietary carbohydrates apparently contributed to the overall decrease in triglyceride levels. He and his team also found that low-carb dieters bolstered levels of high-density lipoprotein -- HDL -- in their blood, the so-called good form of cholesterol. For them, the diet produced an 18 percent increase in HDL compared with only a 3 percent increase for those following a low-fat plan.

"The take-home message is that these results are exciting and they need to be followed up and investigated further and not dismissed summarily," added Foster, who has been asked by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to conduct a more rigorous study of low-carbohydrate dieting.

After accounting for weight regained, dieters on the Atkins plan lost 7.3 pounds in the yearlong study; low-fat dieters lost 4.5 pounds.

Dr. Frederick Samaha of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, who headed the larger of the two studies, said low-carbohydrate diets have merit, despite the modest weight loss.

"There were many anecdotal reports of people losing a lot of weight on these kinds of diets, but there was no scientific data about these programs," said Samaha, whose low-carb dieters did not follow the Atkins plan. "That's why we designed this trial."

Participants in Samaha's study had type 2 diabetes or the metabolic syndrome that suggests diabetes may be imminent. On average, the volunteers weighed about 290 pounds.

But epidemiologist James Ware in a New England Journal editorial underscored that both studies were flawed by high attrition rates and so the low-carb approach cannot be widely recommended.
Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.

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