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Does the Atkins Diet (controlled carbohydrate diet) Really Work?

For more than 30 years, dieters have sworn by the Atkins Diet, a low carbohydrate diet plan espoused by the late Dr. Robert Atkins.  But doctors-and the media-were skeptical and cautious.  Vindication has come this year in the form of three published clinical trials which showed that the Atkins Diet is not only safe and effective, but actually can improve cholesterol levels in some patients, at least over the short term focus of the studies. 

The first study, done by University of Cincinnati researchers, compared obese women who followed a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet to those following a very low-carbohydrate, high protein Atkins-type diet that was not calorie restricted.  They found that the Atkins group actually lost more than twice as much weight as the low-fat, calorie restricted diet group over a six month period.  Despite the fact that the Atkins group had a much higher dietary fat and cholesterol intake, this group had no negative effects on their blood cholesterol or other lipid levels, their blood pressure, blood sugar or insulin levels compared with the other group. 

Another interesting finding was that even though the Atkins group was not calorie restricted, the women studied did consume an average of 450 calories per day on this diet. . .without even thinking about it.  Why?  One suggestion is that the increased fat and protein content of this diet suppresses appetite.  A more probable suggestion is that since the food choices are limited and exclude most processed foods, "comfort foods", and desserts, that Atkins dieters can reduce caloric intake without even being aware of it. 

Two other clinical trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine supported these findings.  In one six month study of severely obese patients with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, the group following the Atkins Diet again lost more than twice as much as the low fat dieting group:  the Atkins dieters lost an average of 5.8 kg compared to a loss of only 1.9 kg in the low-fat dieting group.  The Atkins dieters in this study also had better serum triglyceride improvement than the low-fat dieting group.  The third study showed similar results, but noticed that the dramatic difference in improvement rates did not persist as long as a year. 

Created: 10/23/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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