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Low carb, high protein diets linked to women's heart disease
June 27th, 2012
07:13 AM ET

Low carb, high protein diets linked to women's heart disease

Women who regularly cut back on carbohydrates and eat high amounts of protein are at increased risk of heart disease, concludes a study published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

To gauge the impact of the popular Atkins-style diets on women's hearts, researchers in Greece turned to a food survey completed by more than 43,000 women in Sweden. The women, who were between 30 and 49 years old, recorded the frequency and quantities of food they ate over six months in 1991 and 1992.

Using the survey, researchers calculated which women were eating the least amount of carbohydrates and the most amount of protein. The women were then followed for 15 years on average to see who became diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. The women's food habits were not tracked long-term but did provide researchers a snapshot in time.

The study found 1,270 women developed heart problems. The incidence of cardiovascular disease was 62% higher among women who consumed the least carbohydrates and the most protein, when compared to women who weren’t regularly eating a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. By eating such a diet, the researchers conclude an additional four to five women out of 10,000 develop cardiovascular disease each year.

The study found regularly eating just 20 fewer grams of carbohydrates and 5 more grams of protein a day increased the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease in women by 5%. That’s roughly the amount of carbohydrates in a small roll of whole grain bread and the amount of protein in one boiled egg.

Several large studies have had somewhat different conclusions.

In a statement, Atkins Nutritionals Inc. said the diet tested in the study was not the Atkins diet, and that the women in the study ate more carbohydrates and less protein than prescribed in the Atkins diet. The company said, "Studies done to date measuring the Atkins Diets' effect on heart health have shown diminished risk."

Nutrition experts who did not work on the study said its findings were in no way definitive.

"It's provocative," said Dr. Laurence Sperling, director of the Center for Heart Disease Prevention at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Yes, in this study there's an association, but you need to be careful about taking that information and walking away with it and changing how you eat for the rest of your life."


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.