What Happens When You Tell The Truth About Atkins

This is part of a weeklong review of the popular Dr. Atkins high-protein low-carbohydrate diet-style. See Monday's post for an overview.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, international speaker, and author of the book Carbophobia: The Scary Truth Behind America's Low Carb Craze. Dr. Greger is also one of the many medical professionals opposing the Atkins Diet Revolution. In 2004 Dr. Gerger received this threatening letter from Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. for comments made on his website AtkinsExposed.org, formerly AtkinsFacts.org.

Dr. Greger is exceptionally knowledgeable of the risks associated with the Atkins diet-style. So he wasn't deterred by this corporate intimidation. Instead he mailed this comprehensive rebuttal of the accusations levied upon him to the Atkins Corporation. His retort is supported by a tremendous amount of scientific data.

The corporate letter makes seventeen claims against Dr. Greger. He and his staff handle each one with methodical precision.

The first accusation insists Dr. Greger is overlooking the overwhelming amount of evidence claiming the Atkins Diet presents no serious health risks. The Atkins Corporation cites no fewer than thirty-four studies demonstrating weight loss and other health benefits and that these studies show an absence of adverse health effects of a low-carbohydrate diet. Dr. Greger's response:

Thirty-four studies is your "overwhelming weight of evidence"? There are literally hundreds of published reports on low-carbohydrate diets,[545] and you can only find 34 that support your position?

There are also, for example, "no fewer than thirty-four studies demonstrating weight-loss and other health benefits" of cigarette smoking.[546-579] There are also 34 studies showing benefits from thalidomide.[580-613]

Just because the Philip Morris Corporation can wave around more than a hundred[614] studies showing health benefits from smoking, this doesn't mean that smoking is good for you. What it means is that one can cherry-pick data to argue almost any position. This is a classic tobacco corporation tactic.[615]

On your website one can indeed find a list of 34 studies downplaying the risks of the Atkins Diet. But if you go to the website of the Asbestos Institute you can find 34 studies downplaying the risks of asbestos.[616]

Dr. Greger also criticizes references to studies appearing in journals founded by an Atkins spokesman and studies funded by Atkins-Funded researchers. Dr. Greger implies this is a foolish strategy for illustrating unbiased research support.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. claims that the Atkins Diet can prevent colon and breast cancer. Dr. Greger points out that the American Cancer Society condemns both the products of tobacco industry and the Atkins Corporation for their potential to cause cancer. They write, "A low-carb diet can be a high-risk option when it comes to health." [873] Here is Dr. Greger's response to both claims of cancer prevention:

You seem to disagree with the American Cancer Society's assessment. Dr. Atkins was asked, for example, if "a lot of red meat could cause colon cancer." He replied that there was "very little evidence to support the viewpoint." [878] On your official website, an Atkins co-author even states that "a controlled carbohydrate eating plan could be a valuable way to help prevent colorectal cancer."[879]

Why then does the American Cancer Society say that "consumption of meat--especially red meats--has been linked to cancers at several sites, most notably colon and prostate"?[880] Is the American Cancer Society merely omitting studies that "contradict" their conclusion?

Your website also claims that "doing Atkins is the ideal way"[888] to control breast cancer risk. "A controlled carb way of eating almost automatically lowers your risk of breast cancer."[889] Eating over a half cup of lard's worth of saturated fat[890,891] every day is an "ideal way" to prevent breast cancer?

Your website claims "Saturated fat, the kind found in meat, butter, cheese and other animal foods as well as tropical oils, hasn't been shown to have any effect on your risk of breast cancer--whether positive or negative."[892] To support this surprising claim the Atkins website cites an article published in 1997 which, upon review, doesn't address the topic at all.[893]

Considering the subtlety of the data in their favor and weight of evidence opposing the Atkins diet-style, it is ponderous why Atkins Nutritionals, Inc would make such claims. Although in many corporate structures information flows from the top down. Therefore this next excerpt should explain the Atkins Corporation's foolishness:

Dr. Atkins was asked "Isn't the consumption of fat related to cancer?" He replied "According to the multitude of studies published, fat per se was not linked to cancer, with the exception of trans fats, which are not included in the Atkins Nutritional Approach."[902] This is incorrect on two counts. First of all, trans fats are not the only exception; saturated animal fat has been linked to cancers of the breast,[903] prostate,[904] endometrium,[905] lung,[906] and pancreas.[907] And second, trans fats are included throughout the Atkins Diet.

It seems logical that Dr. Atkins' employees would be left misinformed if he himself wasn't reviewing the necessary scientific data. This is the sustained theme of Dr. Greger's critique; a painstaking approach that refutes each of the Atkins Corporation's claims with real-world unbiased scientific data.

[545] Journal of the American Medical Association 289(2003):1837.
[546] Journal of Comparative Psychology 2(1922):371.
[547] Psychopharmacology 83(1984):93.
[548] Life Sciences 46(1990):1523.
[549] Life Sciences 43(1988):277.
[550] Behavioral and Neural Biology 53(1990):269.
[551] Lancet 8670(1989):1046.
[552] Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy 43(1989):19.
[553] Life Sciences 44(1989):1521.
[554] Digestive Diseases and Sciences 35(1990):827.
[555] British Journal of Psychiatry 154(1989):797.
[556] Progress in Clinical and Biological Research 317(1989):189.
[557] Chest 87(1985):11.
[558] Psychopharmacology 108(1992):393.
[559] Psychopharmacology 108(1992):437.
[560] Addiction 88(1993):589.
[561] Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 38(1991):281.
[562] Progress in Drug Research 33(1989):9.
[563] Addictive Behaviors 9(1984):265.
[564] Psychopharmacology 108(1992):432.
[565] Psychopharmacology 104(1991):113.
[566] Psychopharmacology 108(1992):485.
[567] Psychopharmacology 108(1992):443.
[568] British Journal of Addiction 87(1992):1313,
[569] Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 42(1992):301.
[570] British Journal of Addiction 86(1991):571.
[571] Journal of Smoking Related Disorders 3(1992):43.
[572] Medical Hypotheses 52(1999):101.
[573] Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100(2003):8182.
[574] Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2(2004):41.
[575] Journal of Family Practice 46(1998):460.
[576] Warburton, DM and AC Walters Attentional Processing, in Ney, T and A Gale (Eds) Smoking and Human Behavior (New York, Wiley), 1989.
[577] British Medical Journal 293(1986):359.
[578] International Journal of Gynecology 27(1988):57.
[579] American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 144(1982):655.
[580] Chest 122(2002):227.
[581] Journal of Pediatrics 140(2002):125.
[582] Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 45(2001):965.
[583] Archives of Internal Medicine 161(2001):2502.
[584] Arthritis & Rheumatism 44(2001):2456.
[585] Drugs 61(2001):777.
[586] Archives of Dermatology 136(2000):1442.
[587] Journal of Clinical Oncology 18(2000):3453.
[588] AIDS 14(2000):1859.
[589] Drugs 60(2000):273.
[590] British Medical Journal 307(1993):939.
[591] Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 15(1996):465.
[592] British Medical Journal 313(1996):377.
[593] Archives of Dermatology 132(1996):1392.
[594] Journal of the American Medical Association 278(1997):1135.
[595] Archives of Dermatology 134(1998):1045.
[596] New England Journal of Medicine 341(1999):1606.
[597] Journal of Clinical Oncology 22(2004):2477.
[598] Mayo Clinic Proceedings 79(2004):875.
[599] British Journal of Haematology 125(2004):149.
[600] Gut 53(2004):609.
[601] Archives of Dermatology 140(2004):277.
[602] Journal of Pediatrics 143(2003):692.
[603] British Journal of Haematology 123(2003):436.
[604] Journal of Clinical Oncology 21(2003):3770.
[605] Archives of Internal Medicine 163(2003):1487.
[606] Journal of Clinical Oncology 21(2003):2211.
[607] British Journal of Haematology 121(2003):191.
[608] Mayo Clinic Proceedings 78(2003):34.
[609] Circulation Research 91(2002):988.
[610] American Heart Journal 144(2002):847.
[611] Neurology 60(2003):130.
[612] Journal of Clinical Oncology 21(2003):16.
[613] Journal of Infectious Diseases 180(1999):61.
615] Tobacco Industry Research Committee. "A Scientific Perspective on the Cigarette Controversy." http://tobaccodocuments.org/ctr/CTRMN003338-3357.html
[61 6] http://www.asbestos-institute.ca/main.html
[873] American Cancer Society. Weighing In on Low-carb Diets. 2004. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/SPC/content/SPC_1_A_Low_Carb_D iet_to_Prevent_Cancer.asp
[878] "Live Chat - Dr. Atkins on Diet and Cancer" 2 August 2001 http://atkins.com/Archive/2001/12/27-219167.html
[879] "New Thinking on Colorectal Cancer Part 2" http://atkins.com/Archive/2002/3/19-622090.html
[880] American Cancer Society Guidelines on Diet and Cancer Prevention 9 October 1997.
[888] ]"Food and Breast Cancer: What's the Connection? Part 2" http://atkins.com/Archive/2002/2/14-761333.html
[890] U.S Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service 2004 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17 Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp
[891] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 19(2000):578.
[892] "Food and Breast Cancer: What's the Connection?" http://atkins.com/Archive/2002/2/7-197330.html
[902] "Live Chat - Dr. Atkins on Diet and Cancer" 2 August 2001 http://atkins.com/Archive/2001/12/27-219167.html
[903] The Lancet 362(2003):212.
[904] Journal of Urology 159(1998):1271.
[905] Cancer Causes & Control 4(1993):239.
[906] Journal Of The National Cancer Institute 85(1993):1906.
[907] American Journal of Epidemiology 155(2002):783.

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Robin K - April 7, 2006 10:22 PM

Amazing! I really wish all my friends on the Atkins and South Beach Diets would take the time to read articles like this, on this website. Thank you.

anet - April 9, 2006 6:27 PM

I really wish I could advise the Atkins Nutritionals, Inc people.

I would tell them they really should NOT waste resources on fighting their detractors. The inevitable exchange that follows only further exposes the paucity of evidence supporting the "Atkin's way" and also invites the detractors to reveal the funding of Atkin's research which further erodes its credibility.

There are always going to be people that are desperate to lose weight, people that will trade anything, even their health, for weight loss.

mike starks - July 16, 2008 8:54 AM

Gerry, why don't you simply accept my wager.

Regarding proof...I lost 60lbs in 2003 and have kept it off. I simply walk 20 minutes each day. I eat meats, dairy & veggies. rarely fruits, whole grains, starches. My body fat is around 8-9%. I am 45 years old and I have more energy than any 20 year old.

Gerry, please...you know credentials these days often mean nothing. But since you asked I have researched about 3000 hours on this subject.

Instead of opinions from so-called experts like yourself I like to follow facts. You need to read Weston Price's findings.

Let's be very clear...natural carbs through veggies, dairy, whole grains are great. HOWEVER...anytime they become man-altered in any way..they become 'refined' even though FDA allows the word 'whole wheat'....very bad.

Look at the top 10 unhealthiest countries in the world (USA is 9th, while islands near micronesia are remaining 9!). Their main staples are....white flour, sugar, beer, tobacco. Hmmmm? yet in 1930 they lived off of fish, veggies, coconuts and were considered some of the healthiest folks in the world....Hmmm?

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