Atkins high-fat-low-carbohydrate diet may have caused severe heart disease

A Florida businessman filed suit today against Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., and the Estate of Dr. Robert C. Atkins, claiming that the late diet author’s controversial high-fat, low-carbohydrate regimen caused severe heart disease, necessitating angioplasty and a stent. He is seeking a court injunction banning Atkins Nutritionals from marketing its products without a warning of potential health risks and asks for compensatory damages.

Jody Gorran, 53, of Delray Beach, filed his complaint in the County Court for Palm Beach County, Florida, charging that Atkins and Atkins Nutritionals—the corporate empire based on the Atkins diet and related food products—misrepresented the diet’s dangers.

Before Gorran went on the Atkins diet, his cholesterol level was a healthy 146 and a heart scan showed he was free of coronary artery disease. After he went on the diet, Gorran’s cholesterol jumped to 230. He continued on the diet because of the assurances in the Atkins diet books and Web site. But in October 2003, Gorran developed severe chest pain. A cardiac evaluation revealed a 99 percent blockage in one of his coronary arteries, necessitating angioplasty to open the blocked artery and a drug-coated stent to keep it open. His doctors advised him to stop the diet.

The lawsuit is not about money, said Gorran. He is seeking less than $15,000 for personal injury, plus damages under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act in the amount of $40.45, and intends to donate any money received to charity. “I hope this lawsuit exposes the Atkins diet for what it is: a threat to American public health,” Gorran said. “More than 20 million people are following some version of this diet. It is my belief and hope that by coming forward, I can encourage others whose health has been damaged by Atkins to come forward as well.”

About 30 percent of individuals on an Atkins diet experienced increases in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol of at least 10 percent in a study published May 18, 2004, in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Two study participants dropped out because of elevated cholesterol levels and a third developed chest pain and was subsequently diagnosed with coronary heart disease. The investigators reported, “Perhaps the biggest concern about the low-carbohydrate diet is that the increase in fat intake will have detrimental effects on serum lipid [i.e., cholesterol] levels.”

Their experience parallels Gorran’s. “I feel victimized by Atkins. I feel angry and betrayed because even though this diet has been around for years, the Atkins people have not done the long-term studies to prove it is safe,” he said. “I am living proof that it is not.”

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has received more than 560 complaints of illnesses and fatalities allegedly related to Atkins-type diets through an on-line registry (www.AtkinsDietAlert.org), including more than two dozen reports of potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and the reported death of a 16-year-old girl in Missouri who was following a low-carbohydrate diet. After learning about the registry, Gorran sought the help of PCRM, which is providing legal counsel.

Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets have been criticized by major health organizations including the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Kidney Fund.

“Low-carbohydrate diets push dieters to avoid healthy foods, like rice, beans, and pasta, while ignoring the risks of high-cholesterol, high-fat meat and cheese,” said PCRM President Neal Barnard, M.D. “The idea that cholesterol and saturated fat don’t matter is a dangerous myth.” PCRM is encouraging dieters who may have had health problems while on a low-carbohydrate diet to register on www.AtkinsDietAlert.org.

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