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June 23, 2003

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NEJM Studies Support Atkins Diet Claims


Two studies out of Philadelphia, among the first toexamine the health effects of a low-carb/high-protein diet for longer than 90days, found patients on the diet lost more weight and kept it off compared toindividuals on a more traditional low-fat weight-loss plan. Published in the May22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) (http://content.nejm.org),the studies provide a measure of credibility for the diet popularized by thelate Robert C. Atkins, M.D., and dismissed as unhealthy by many mainstreamnutrition organizations.

In the first study (348:2074-81), researchers led by Frederick F. Samaha,M.D., from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, assigned 132severely obese subjects to a carbohydrate-restricted diet or a calorie- andfat-restricted diet. Seventy-nine subjects completed the six-month study; thoseon the low-carb diet lost more weight than those on the low-fat diet and hadgreater decreases in triglyceride levels. Insulin sensitivity also improved moreamong patients on the low-carb diet.

The second study (348:2082-90), led by Gary D. Foster, Ph.D., of theUniversity of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was a one-year, multicenter,controlled trial involving 63 obese men and women. Subjects assigned to a low-carbdiet lost more weight than those on a low-fat diet, though the differences werenot significant at one year. The low-carb diet was associated with greaterimprovement in some risk factors for coronary heart disease, including increasedHDL cholesterol and decreased triglyceride levels.

Foster told The New York Times (www.nytimes.com)he was surprised by the results. I went into this skeptical about the claimsthat the Atkins diet was safe, and now Im more open-minded, he said. Low-carbohydratediets are a potentially viable option that needs more testing. Foster andcolleagues currently are enrolling participants for a large, National Institutesof Health-funded, five-year study comparing low-carb and low-fat diets in 360participants.

The study results did not come as a surprise to proponents of the Atkinsdiet. Im thrilled that serious researchers are taking a hard look at theprogram, so that health care professionals and physicians would find comfort inoffering Atkins as an alternative to the one-size-fits-all hypothesis oflow-fat, low-calorie, Collette Heimowitz, director of education and researchat Atkins Health & Medical Information Services (www.atkins.com),told the Times. The diet has proven extremely popular in recent years. Onthe Times book lists, Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution was topson the paperback advice list, while Atkins For Life has been thetop seller on the hardcover advice list.

However, other organizations cautioned consumers not to give up their carbs.The American Dietetic Association (ADA) issued a release stating the two studiesshow there is no magic bullet for weight loss and, in the long-term,success rates were similar among diets. ADA (www.eatright.org)noted the results show individuals can move toward a higher protein intake forweight management, maintaining lower fat intakes and ingesting complexcarbohydrates.

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