Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Don't Get Fooled By Ridiculous Atkins Diet Blood Vessel Study

Dr. Michael Miller puts his personal low-carb bias ahead of science

Despite being called out by Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, the use of sensationalism by the active players in modern health research and journalism hasn't changed a bit! Want an example of this? Just look at today's headline from Reuters to see what I mean:

"High-fat Atkins diet damages blood vessels: study"

Most people will simply read that headline and say to themselves, "Oh my God, why in the world would I ever go on the Atkins diet?" Then from there, people will infer that they shouldn't go on ANY low-carb diet at all because we all KNOW how unhealthy it is, don't we? This is the kind of sloppy science and reporting that has prevented the healthy low-carb lifestyle from ever gaining any favor in the public eye. And that's such a crying shame.

Lead researcher Dr. Michael Miller, director of preventive cardiology at the Baltimore, MD-based University of Maryland Medical Center, and his colleagues wanted to see what effect a maintenance diet has on blood fat levels, cholesterol, and other markers for inflammation. They observed 18 people over a ONE-MONTH period following one of three diets:

ATKINS--50 percent of calories from fat
SOUTH BEACH--30 percent of calories from fat
ORNISH--10 percent of calories from fat

The researchers made sure that NONE of the study participants lost weight so the results would not be skewed by weight improvements since it was about weight control and not weight loss. Each of them had their blood tested for all of the health markers checked out for the study.

What was the result?

The ATKINS group allegedly saw an increase in their cholesterol levels and inflammation which the researchers concluded would cause "long-term damage to blood vessels" and could very likely lead to heart and artery disease. On the other hand, the SOUTH BEACH and ORNISH groups saw their cholesterol levels come down and artery function was improved.

Using an ultrasound machine to measure flexibility and dilation of the blood vessels as well as proteins in the blood, the researchers found major inflammation in the ATKINS group.

"Some markers of inflammation were increased by as much as 30 to 40 percent during the Atkins phase, whereas during the South Beach and Ornish phases, the markers either were stable or went down, some by as much as 15 to 20 percent," Dr. Miller remarked.

Oh my God, oh my God, what am I gonna do now?! Oh my God, somebody hurry and call 911 for me or something because this "study" says I'm gonna blow a blood vessel or something, oh my God, oh my God! EEEEK!!! What a freakin' crock of horse manure if you ask me! I've been livin' la vida low-carb for MUCH longer than one month (nearly four years and counting!) and I have not been harmed by my high-fat Atkins diet.

What's most interesting about this grand conclusion about how dangerous the Atkins diet is for people to be on is that it is merely based on the results of SIX PEOPLE! Yep, the millions of us who are enjoying our low-carb lifestyle must now put up with a very small-scale study reported on by an overzealous anti-Atkins researcher and his willing accomplices in the press reporting on it as the gospel truth. And that's the worst part of a study like this one.

So, was this "study" actually published in some prestigious medical or science journal? Nope! Instead, it was presented as a paper at the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association help in Orlando, Florida this week. No peer review. No long-term observations. No real proof of anything except a sloppy way to compare the supposed impact of diet on blood vessels. The lack of substance in this study along with some rather suspicious and shady implications about what the Atkins diet is should have made anyone with a brain at this conference stand up and question the validity of such research.

Did it happen? Yeah right!

Was anyone else struck by the almost-exclusive focus on the dietary fat content of these diets? What was the ratio of the other two macronutrients--protein and carbohydrate? If that "Atkins" diet with 50 percent fat was matched up with say 30-40 percent carbs, then it is NOT the Atkins diet. If that's the case, then no wonder their LDL cholesterol went up. Fat consumption is only healthy when carbohydrate intake is kept to a minimum.

Most of us who are doing the Atkins plan as outlined in Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution (the only Atkins diet that REALLY counts since it is BY THE BOOK!) even in maintenance are consuming less than 10 percent of our calories in the form of carbohydrates. My personal diet ratio of fat/protein/carbohydrate is close to 60/30/10.

Obviously, Dr. Miller was no fan of the Atkins diet from the beginning.

"It really is the Atkins diet that is the worst," he told Reuters. "The Atkins diet caused the LDL levels to go up by about 7 percent, whereas in the Ornish and South Beach diets ... they went down 7 to 10 percent."

Yeah, so what? What happened to the HDL "good" cholesterol in the ATKINS group, Dr. Miller? How about the triglycerides? I would be willing to bet that there was a SIGNIFICANT difference in the increased levels of HDL and decreased triglycerides for them compared to the other two low-fat groups. Why wouldn't you talk about that data since these are tell-tale signs of health improvements on low-carb, Dr. Miller?

Describing the Atkins diet as "the worst" is merely your opinion, sir. This "study" of yours shows nothing but what happens when you fail to provide honest and trustworthy research to a world who unfortunately trusts everything people like yourself have to say about your research. They rely on you to provide quality, accurate information about health, not some sensationalist, headline-grabbing ruse of a research scam. These kind of shabby conclusions are what drives people away from listening to anything you have to say because they get tired of hearing you cry wolf when there isn't one anywhere close.

While the diets used in this study were supposed to simulate what would happen when you begin a maintenance plan on the various plans, there is something to be said for those of us who DID actually lose weight on these methods and then continued to follow them long-term after the weight has come off. When I weighed 410 pounds in 2004, my weight was bad, but my health was getting much worse. Without the Atkins diet, I never would have regained my health and become the energetic man I am today.

And my lipid profile did improve and has continued to do so four years later. But Dr. Miller believes any positive impact of livin' la vida low-carb will only reach a certain level before your health declines.

"When you lose weight everything looks good but after a while you plateau and you hit a maintenance stage," Dr. Miller contended.

That's right, you do, Dr. Miller. But that's what happens on ANY lifestyle change when you begin as an overweight or obese person and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Whether you choose low-fat, moderate-fat, or low-carb, the end result is still the same--lasting and permanent weight and health control. If one option doesn't work, then another one should be tried. That has always been my motto in trying to help people in their own journey to better health. Low-carb is definitely one of those permanent weight loss solution options that people should consider.

Sadly, you have people like Dr. Miller who insist on pushing the low-fat lie that is at the root cause of why obesity and disease still exists in America and around the world today. Pushing vegetables has forced people into choosing potatoes and other starchy choices (according to statistics from the American Diabetes Association) while shunning healthy meat selections has made the high-carb beans, tofu, and whole grains the protein source for many people to the detriment of their health. But, no, we can't be having people on that low-carb Atkins diet, Dr. Miller says.

"We don't recommend the Atkins diet," Dr. Miller concluded. "Why not start out with a diet that will be healthier for you in the long run after weight loss?"

And what kind of diet would that be, hmmmm? We have such varying definitions of what constitutes a "healthy" diet these days, Dr. Miller, that you can't possibly expect people to know what that looks like. So please tell us. I'm sincerely interested in hearing what you have to say.

But don't spout off sound bytes like a "balanced" diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (that's nothing but a big fat copout if you ask me!) because that doesn't mean a thing to most people. Give us sample menus of the foods you would recommend on your "healthy" diet and let's see how it stacks up with how real low-carbers like me eat now. I would not be surprised to find that my diet is as healthy or even healthier than what you come up with, sir. So why pigeonhole people into following YOUR definition of that kind of diet?

Drawing broad-based conclusions about a healthy nutritional approach like the Atkins diet, which was created by a world-renowned cardiologist who clearly understood the science behind eating a controlled-carbohydrate diet, looking at a very short-term study with a small sample size and trying to extrapolate long-term consequences from such limited data is both irresponsible and repugnant. Isn't the very point of research to help people BETTER understand what may happen to their health in a given circumstance?

So then why would you try to purposely manipulate the results of that research just to suit your own personal agenda? That's just plain shameful, Dr. Miller, and I cannot believe you would put your professional integrity and character on the line just to follow the template of your own biased belief system. Tsk tsk!

The general population of laymen like myself who simply want the science to speak for itself deserve better than this--MUCH BETTER! Weight loss, healthy living, and solid nutrition are too important to just be playing games. What we need and quite frankly DESERVE are researchers who can get back to doing what they were meant to do. And that's looking at problems objectively, following research protocol precisely, and then letting the results show what they show. It's the right thing to do and anything else is merely garbled and twisted chatter among ideological zealots like yourself!

The Atkins low-carb diet is absolutely sound nutrition, pure and simple. For the past three decades, we have seen excellent independent research validating every single point that the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins wrote about in his books as well as real people like Jimmy Moore who lost nearly half of his body weight and now kept it off for close to three years. Is that not long-term enough for you, Dr. Miller?

It's this kind of validation of the low-carb lifestyle that should have researchers excited about looking into this program (and there is "strong interest" behind-the-scenes) rather than seeking to annihilate and destroy it at every opportunity just because you don't like it personally. The history books will look back someday on all this vile hatred for the Atkins diet and livin' la vida low-carb as a sad time in the history of health in the world with so many people clueless to the benefits of low-carb living while people getting fatter and sicker than ever!

Want more helpful insights about Dr. Miller's ridiculous Atkins diet blood vessel study? Check out what the always-entertaining Dr. Mike Eades wrote about it at his blog today. ENJOY!

11-7-07 UPDATE: Here is the official response to Dr. Miller's study today from Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.:

A presentation at the recent meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida, comparing the maintenance stages of three diet regimens, Atkins, South Beach and Ornish, has relied on faulty research and a misunderstanding of Atkins protocols to suggest the Atkins diet may not be heart healthy.

Dr. Michael Miller, who made the presentation, apparently ignored more than 30 years of clinical experience and independent research on low carbohydrate diets, and now four years of trials looking specifically at the Atkins protocols, which have consistently demonstrated the effectiveness and safety of the Atkins diet.

Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc., Vice President of Nutrition & Education at Atkins Nutritionals, commenting on Dr. Miller’s presentation, referenced several peer reviewed studies which report opposite findings. Among the most prominent was a year-long weight loss and health study conducted by Stanford University researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed no increased risk of cardiovascular markers in more than 300 overweight subjects.

In summarizing his study, Dr. Miller acknowledged that researchers considering the effects of low carbohydrate diets have reached very different conclusions depending on sample size, research protocol and any number of other uncontrolled variables. Unfortunately, Dr. Miller's research cannot be fully evaluated since his study has not been peer reviewed or published. But, given the short duration of his study, the very small sample size, and the weak correlations, drawing conclusions about possible long term health risks tied to fat consumption in the maintenance phase of any weight control program is not good science.

According to media reports, the subjects in Dr. Miller’s study were put on what’s described as the maintenance phase of Atkins with 50% of their calories coming from fat. However, this is not the Atkins maintenance phase protocol, nor is it part of the Atkins diet protocols. The lipid response Dr. Miller reported is what one might expect from a combination of rich carbohydrates and fat, but it’s not Atkins.

When it comes to nutrition and weight control, the public deserves science based conclusions. Time and again independent research has shown the benefits of a low-carbohydrate nutritional approach to safe and healthy weight loss and weight maintenance. And that's Atkins!

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Blogger bsenka said...

I sincerely hope someone can get ahold of Dr. Miller, and get him to clarify what exactly the ratios of protein and carbs were during his "Atkins" phase, and how many calories they were ingesting.

The study is bizarre in that it was specifically designed to have the subjects NOT lose weight. How much would one have to stray from Dr. A's actual plan to achieve this? I suspect very far, especially with regards to carb intake.

11/08/2007 1:40 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

I looked for Dr. Miller's e-mail address, but couldn't find it anywhere. Sure, you could call his office at the University of Maryland Medical Center, but I doubt he'll take your call. I agree it was strange keeping them from losing weight, but they wanted to simulate "maintenance." But concealing the carb counts in that "Atkins" diet is not helping their credibility one bit!

11/08/2007 8:59 AM  
Blogger Gary J said...

Aaargghh. Saw that study yesterday and thought to myself (once again), why must everything be political? Especially when it concerns our health?!

11/08/2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger Gluttonynomore said...

I am so incredibly tired of people and their misconceptions of the Atkins diet. If anyone really would take the time to read the book all the way to the end would learn the truth. Most of us former fatties know that we ate fat, protiens and carbs and now just don't eat those dead carbs. Atkin's is not an eat all the fat (50%) you want, it is a lifestyle, a long term plan meant to be worked that way, not a one month diet. Sad to say too many people don't question the reports that they read.

11/08/2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger Pot Kettle Black said...

Few things:

Mike Eades tore this up yesterday or day before. It's an interesting look at the heirarchy of studies and the gap between what's important and what's reported.

The study is, as noted, unpublished. If it were to pass peer review, the total macronutrient breakdown would be part of the publication. Mike runs through potential breakdowns of maintenance diets with 50% fat, and none of them sound very Atkins-esque or research likely. At 2400 kcals, 10% carb is 240 kcals/4 = 60g. That's reasonable as a CCLM in Atkins phase 4. but that leaves 40% protein, which is 960 kcals, or 240g of protein, which seems unlikely to be used in a research setting, given the "panic" over protein.

Lastly, the methodology, as Eades points out from the abstract he obtained, is even more backwards than putting 6 people on each maintenance plan and watching for 12 weeks. Instead, they put them all on one plan for a month, checked their markers, and put them back on their regular diet for a month. Then plan #2 for a month, check markers, then back to normal. Finally, plan #3, check and enjoy your life. Since we are cautioned not to check lipid profile until 6 weeks into Atkins, and frequently 3 months, I don't think anyone would be surprised by an increase in LDL after 4 weeks on the diet. It may represent an improvement in lipid profile, but it doesn't really mean anything because it's too short a span for anything reliable (as if cholesterol measurement by inference is reliable anyway).

11/08/2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS Pot! I already provided a link to Dr. Mike's excellent post in response to this "study" at the end of my post for anyone who hasn't seen it.

11/08/2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger size8jeans said...

What "potkettle" said. Protein and carbs made up the other 50% of people on Atkins, and I'll bet a good 30% of that 50 was carbs. That AIN'T Atkins. That's a high fat, moderate carb diet which won't help anyone get healthy.

11/11/2007 10:30 PM  

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