Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Atkins Diet Doesn't Lack Butyrate, Increase Bowel Cancer Risk As Study Asserts

Harry Flint from Rowett looks at what happens in the gut on low-carb

There's been BIG NEWS about low-carb diets out of the research community over the past week or so--well, let's just say the media has trumpeted it loud and proud as earth-shattering damnation of livin' la vida low-carb.

Perhaps you've seen some of these dismal headlines:

- Atkins Diet Linked to Bowel Cancer Risk
- Atkins-type Diets “Could Raise Risk of Bowel Cancer”
- Boffins Link Atkins Diet with Bowel Cancer
- Diets Low in Carbohydrates “Could be Dangerous for Gut”
- Low-Carb Diet “Bowel Cancer Risk”
- Low-Carb Diet “Cancer Risk” Claim
- Low-Carb Diet “May Raise Risk of Bowel Cancer”
- Low-Carb Diets May Increase the Risk for Bowel Cancer
- Scientists Link Atkins Diet with Bowel Cancer
- Do fad diets cause bowel cancer?
- Very Low Carbohydrate Diets May Disrupt Long-Term Gut Health
- Atkins Diet Could Increase Risk of Bowel Cancer
- Atkins-type Diets ‘Could Raise Risk of Bowel Cancer’ Study Finds Deficiency of Bacteria in Gut
- Atkins Diet Increases Bowel Cancer Risk?
- Low Carb Big C Risk

Oh WOW! Why would ANYBODY in their right mind go on the Atkins diet?! Man, that low-carb must be really bad news if it can cause cancer. Who would even risk doing THAT diet ever again after this research proves it? I'm so glad I read that headline.

You may laugh at that, but I'm telling you that's the exact conclusion and reaction that most uninformed people will make to this news about livin' la vida low-carb. It's just too bad nobody in the media has the courage to do their due diligence and tell the truth about this so-called study.

I've held off long enough on this, so get ready to hear the FACTS about whether the Atkins low-carb diet actually leads to colon cancer. This is the information you just won't get in any of those columns I linked above. If you can't handle the truth, then don't bother reading any further. Let's get started!

First, let's look at the study itself.

Lead researcher Harry Flint, professor in the Gut Health Programme at the UK-based Rowett Research Institute, and his fellow researchers observed a mere 19 "healthy but obese men" who had a BMI ranging from between 30-42 and placed them on intermittent diets consisting of various amounts of carbohydrates over three distinct phases of the study.

Here are those three phases in the order they were done:

PHASE 1--The men ate a very high-carb diet consisting of 400g carbs daily for three days in a row at the beginning of the study. This was the number of carbohydrates that is supposedly "needed to maintain their weight" (don't even get me started on that asinine statement--if I ate that many carbs today, I'd gained 15 pounds by tomorrow morning! EEEK!).

PHASE 2--Then, for the next month the men cut their carb intake down by 60 percent to 160g daily. This was still a high-carb diet, but a little closer to what is deemed "healthy" by most of the government dietary recommendations.

PHASE 3--Finally, the men had their dietary carb intake slashed again for the next four weeks to 85 percent of the PHASE 2 carb allowance and just 6 percent of the original number of carbs consumed by the study participants in PHASE 1. This level of carbs most closely resembles the Induction phase of the Atkins diet of the three phases.

During this 9-week experiment, Flint and his researchers took stool samples from the study participants to measure for bacteria and the level of butyrate, a fatty acid chemical prevalent in the gut that has been found to reduce cancer in rats. What they supposedly found in this research is what precipitated all the news headlines.

According to the researchers, there was a FOUR-FOLD decrease in the amount of butyrate in the study participants after their four-week stint on PHASE 3, or the "Atkins" stage of the research.

Flint was shocked because this change in butyrate was "the largest ever reported in a human dietary trial." This was the first such study on the impact of livin' la vida low-carb on bacteria in the gut.

"The results provide strong evidence that butyrate production is largely determined by the content of a particular type of carbohydrate in the diet that the bacteria in our guts can utilize," Flint explained. "But this doesn't automatically lead to the conclusion that reduced butyrate production causes colon cancer."

Even still, Flint believes his study confirms what previous research has already found.

"Studies in cell culture have also suggested a link between butyrate and colon cancer," he said. "This study is part of a general inquiry into how to prevent obesity in humans."

The researchers acknowledge that the Atkins low-carb diet is "highly effective" for weight loss, BUT...

"In the long run, it is possible that such diets could contribute to colorectal cancer," Flint warned. "It is a preventable disease, and there is evidence that poor diet can increase your risk."

We can only assume Flint believes low-carb fits the description of a "poor diet" since he calls it "extreme" and not good for the long-term.

Sigh. Here we go again with the "low-carb is only good for weight loss in the short-term" argument that has been bantered around by people like Dr. James Hill from the National Weight Control Registry did earlier this year in a teleconference call about the Atkins diet I aired on my podcast show in March. That is such an extraneous and overused point that I'm surprised anyone falls for it anymore.

Flint said his as-yet-unpublished (this is key, by the way!) study is going to render even more surprising results to "give a fuller picture" when it finally appears in a medical journal.

"We would like people to get the best of both worlds," he contended. "That means knowing in greater detail what goes on in the gut when on a low-carb diet."

Go ahead and go on the Atkins diet for "short-term bursts" to boost your weight loss efforts, but don't you dare do it over the long-term unless you want some rather severe health issues to deal with, Flint concluded.

"It should be possible to lose weight by taking out sugar and starch and maintaining some of the fiber that supports bacterial activity in the intestine," he stated.

Flint is convinced that "long-term deprivation of carbohydrate...causes damage to the gut" and that he intends on doing more research on the butyrate/colon cancer connection in humans.

Okay, so there you have it! That's the bad news that is supposed to be making low-carb very unappealing to the casual observer. And if I wasn't really paying attention to all the research coming out about livin' la vida low-carb, then I'm sure I would be scared half to death to even try it, too.

But let's share a few facts that were missing about Flint's "study":

1. It is a small, unpublished, NON-clinical trial study.

This is a vital point. It's one thing to talk about your study, but yet another to have the results of that study examined by your peers to look at the veracity of the results based on other research. Perhaps Flint is working on that, but it's disingenuous for him to take this to the media talking about 19 fat guys who were fed a high-carb diet for over a month before putting them on low-carb. I wonder if the results would have been different if PHASE 3 would have been FIRST! Hmmm?

2. We have no idea what foods the men ate on their "Atkins-like" diet.

As we know, the "Atkins diet" has simply become synonymous with a low-carb diet. This has become all-too-common with people like this woman who appeared in Good Housekeeping talking about being on the Atkins diet when she obviously never cracked open the book by the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins. It would be good to know what kind of carbs were consumed among the 24g that were allotted each day. At this point, it's a mystery!

3. Low-carb INCREASES fatty acids in the blood, not decrease them.

This is a metabolic truth that was completely missed by the "experts" featured in the news stories about this study. The higher the fatty acids in the blood, the less need there is for having them in the colon. Livin' la vida low-carb saturates the body with healthy fatty acids.

4. Ketogenic diets (like PHASE 3) use ketones for nutrition.

Once again, we have another basic metabolic truth that was overlooked (was it purposeful or did they just forget to mention it?). Have they even once told people about how the body can make its own carbs through a process known as gluconeogenesis? Nope, they can't do that because it would blow the lid off of their "the body needs carbs" nonsensical ruse. Ketone bodies are what kept our early ancestors fueled up eating a very low-carb diet.

5. Low-carb diets reduce weight, lower insulin, and increase ketones.

The proof is in the pudding (low-carb, of course!). You lose weight when you go on a low-carb diet and your insulin production is significantly reduced which is why low-carb is an excellent treatment option for diabetics (unlike the ADA-recommended high-carb, low-fat diet!). Those increased ketones energize your body and allow you to burn stored fat while remaining active.

6. Leap of faith to speculate based on only one measure of study.

If I wanted to duplicate this study in the same manner or even in a slightly different manner than Professor Flint did it, then I can't help but wonder if I would come up with a different result (especially if the low-carb diet came FIRST!). It's stretching the imagination to think one unpublished study of 19 men warrants as much ink in the press as this study did, but unfortunately this is part and parcel of what the anti-Atkins media does. If the new sucks for low-carb, then screw what's true and run with it! We've seen it happen before with this study that claimed one saturated fat meal causes damage to the heart. It's DISGUSTING how they pervert the facts like they do on a singular study!

7. Diets that are very low in carbs actually TREAT cancer.

Yep, the more we look at cancer, there's a trend beginning to grow--remove the sugar and excess carbohydrate from the diet so the cancer can't feed off of it and you can reduce your risk of getting a variety of cancers. I've highlighted studies showing the benefits of livin' la vida low-carb for treating and preventing brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer among others. To assert that a low-carb diet comes anywhere close to causing bowel cancer is utterly absurd!

8. High-carb diets may be linked to all kinds of cancers.

Using deductive reasoning, if low-carb diets starve cancer cells and keep them from spreading throughout the body, then it's safe and accurate to say that high-carb diets do just the opposite--they FEED cancer cells and allow them to grow at will to do their damage to the human body. If you want to have a REAL health headline that is both shocking and backed up by growing scientific evidence, then run with that one!

9. Foods on the Atkins diet have LOTS of butyrate in them.

This is the irony of all ironies. While Flint and his gang bemoan the lack of butyrate on this "Atkins-like" plan they fed their study participants, check out the following acceptable low-carb foods consumed on the REAL Atkins diet along with their very high butyrate content:

Butter: 3,230mg
Parmesan Cheese: 1510mg
Swiss Cheese: 1100mg
Cream: 1080mg
Cheddar Cheese: 1050mg
Gruyere Cheese: 1050mg
Edam Cheese: 1000mg
Gouda Cheese: 1000mg
Feta Cheese: 775mg

Nuff said!

10. Gut bacteria reduction only happens in the absence of vegetables.

If you are consuming the recommended levels of vegetable fiber in your diet as required on the Atkins diet, then gut bacteria should not be reduced. It's when people attempt to do "Atkins" on their own assuming they know what that means that gets them in trouble. Do yourself a favor and READ THE BOOK! When you're done with it, perhaps you could mail your copy to Professor Flint so he can get with the program!

Speaking of, why not share your feedback with Professor Harry Flint about his study? You can e-mail him directly at

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Blogger Kevin said...

This is an exceptionally good post at refuting this threadbare study with a boatload of plain, straightforward, common sense facts, and as good a post as you have ever written, Jimmy.

Any diet that reverses ALL known symptoms of metabolic syndrome within days, as demonstrated about low carb rather conclusively by Volek and Feinman in 2005, is no health risk, but rather our only true health solution. Low carb is the ONLY diet to achieve such radical improvement on all markers of disease. After 40 years of practice, no actual health risks of low carb have ever been demonstrated or recorded.

The conclusion is undeniably clear, excess carb consumption is THE single, primary chemical cause for the entire 20th century syndrome of disease, a syndrome which, after 70 years of study, otherwise remains a baffling mystery to science.

We are surrounded and overwhelmed by evidence supporting low carb, yet we continue to ignore it. Clearly our medical system is failed and unworthy of public trust.

6/28/2007 1:35 AM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Ah, another one of these so-called studies that really isn't one. The very fact that this "researcher" is already convinced that carbohydrate "deprivation" causes colon cancer doesn't leave much doubt regarding the outcome, doesn't it? Clearly he's another one of these "essential carbohydrates" believers. Not based on any science known to man, mind you.

Arguments like this keep popping up all over the place - most of them from poorly informed health "professionals" and quasi-scientific studies like this. I've heard it all before. It is always the same lame arguments, these same simplistic reasoning, and the same total absence of hard, irrifutable, controlled clinical data.

It's the same story as the "calcium washing out the bones" bogus from a few years back. That was repeated over and over again by our misinformed friends in the media - even after the REAL scientists and researchers had disproven it - in fact it was proven that bone health improved on low-carb: the exact opposite.

The same applies to this nonsense. In fact science has proven that it is high-fiber, low-fat diets that cause colon cancer. The famous independant UK researcher dr Barry Groves got colon cancer, many years ago, on the recommended low-fat, high-fiber diet. He subsequently switched, against all doctors advice, to a high-fat, low-carb diet and overcame the cancer. His flabbergasted doctors couldn't believe it.

When I have some time this weekend I will do some research and post some real scientific data regarding colon health on low-carb - just to show that this "study" is complete hogwash.

6/28/2007 8:39 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

>>>7. Diets that are very low in carbs actually TREAT cancer.<<<

Purely anecdotal, of course, but when my dog was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen I did some research on diet and cancer and promptly switched her to a very low-carb homemade diet.

The prognosis for this type of cancer is very poor, the vet estimated 6-8 weeks for her. However, she lived for 3 1/2 months post-diagnosis,and was in good shape up 'till the last few days. When I brought her in to be euthanized, the vet commented on how she still had good weight and muscle mass and a shiny coat, not what you usually see with a dog in the last stages of cancer. I am convinced that her diet played a part in how long she lasted and how otherwise healthy she was during that time.

6/28/2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Morgan MacLeoid said...

I suppose what the researches are saying is that before the advent of processed flours and sugar, i.e. white bread and candy bars, everyone had colon cancer?

That's just ridiculous.

With the amount of fresh vegetables that I eat on a daily basis, I get better nutrition now than I have ever had in my life! 20 grams of carbs a day from veggies is a LOT of fiber and nutrients! Why don't they get that?

The presumption that Atkins = eating bacon all day long is getting old!

6/28/2007 12:24 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

My reading has led me to believe that not only does going low-carb reduce your chances of dying from cancer but that some of the OTHER things the "experts" tell us about dietary cancer prevention are hogwash. Not only have medical researchers known for decades that cancer cells need more glucose than normal cells, they have also noticed that cancer cells suffer more from oxidative stress. That's right: It looks like cancer cells both create more free radicals AND suffer more free radical damage. Glucose seems to work together with certain antioxidant chemicals, which would make it attractive to cancer cells as a means of staying alive longer.

Here's news about the relevant ongoing study:

This really makes me wonder about the study that came out years ago about smokers getting lung cancer more often when they supplemented vitamin A. Since A is also an antioxidant, what if it's protective of lung cancer cells? Sure, we need it in our diet, but an awful lot of supplement formulas out there provide it in overly large amounts.

Someone on a low-carb diet who also supplements is probably more OK than someone on a high-carb diet doing the same thing. That said, I think it is long past time for the natural health industry to undergo a serious overhaul. And the first thing they can do is start relying on empirical data rather than making assumptions based on "everybody knows" and "common sense" and your random sprinkling of non-clinical trial studies.

6/28/2007 4:28 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Oh, and speaking of cancer treatment, one of my LJ friends is suffering from late-stage breast cancer that has spread to her brain. She's still up and around and fairly active and very optimistic about her chances (deliberately so, determined to do everything she can to fight the disease), and she's seen me post about glucose and cancer cells. Found it all very interesting. What's she doing on the natural side of things to help treat her cancer? Macrobiotic diet.


Yeah, "it's based on whole grains and it's SO GOOD for you," blah blah... well, guess what, brown rice has a high glycemic index too!

It's kinda like the naysayers who say it's OK to eat things like honey because "it's a natural sugar." Well, no, not if you're trying to avoid glucose-related health problems. Glucose is glucose, whether it starts as a "natural" sugar, a processed one, or a starch.

I don't like to think what her chances are. Even the macrobiotic movement has to admit that people have died of cancer on that diet. But I don't want to preach at her either. She really needs to feel supported right now.

6/28/2007 4:36 PM  
Blogger renegadediabetic said...

Little do we know that the Masai and Inuit are almost extict from cancer. NOT :-) lol

6/28/2007 5:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

IIRC, the study about smokers was with beta carotene supplements - not the same as natural source Vitamin A, like from liver and such.

The really sad thing is that people WILL just read or hear the headlines and think they've learned something valuable. And why are they assuming that particular gut bacterias are protective against cancer?

6/28/2007 6:11 PM  
Blogger Regina Wilshire said...

It is a small, unpublished, NON-clinical trial study.

The work is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 73:1073-8.

7/01/2007 10:52 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS for the update, Regina! :)

7/01/2007 12:42 PM  

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