A review of 17 different studies that followed a total of 1,141 obese patients on low-carb eating plans — some were similar to the Atkins diet — found that dieters lost an average of almost 18 pounds in six months to a year.
Overall, participants had improvements in their waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides (blood fats), fasting blood sugar, C-reactive protein (another heart disease risk factor) as well as an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. LDL (bad) cholesterol did not change significantly
"These improvements occurred during weight loss which is known to lead to some of these changes," says William Yancy, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and a researcher who worked on the analysis. It's being published in the journal Obesity Reviews.
Yancy has done several previous studies on the Atkins diet, including some that were funded by the Atkins Foundation. A low-carb diet is a reasonable one to follow to lose weight and improve heart disease risk factors, he says.
Low-carb eating plans slash the consumption of breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, cakes, cookies and some fruits and starchy vegetables while beefing up intake of fish, chicken, beef, eggs, butter, cheese and some vegetables and fruits.
Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia, echoed Yancy's observation. "A lot of these favorable effects are due to the weight loss itself, not to the specific diet, with the exception of HDL, which does seem to have more favorable improvements on the low-carb diet."
He wasn't involved in this analysis but did research comparing a low-carb diet and a low-calorie, reduced-fat diet and found both produce similar weight loss and improvements in health measures.
"We have passed the time where we would say the Atkins diet is bad for you. That's an outdated position," Foster says. "This is a viable alternative for weight loss."
Robert Atkins, a cardiologist, published his first book on the diet in 1972. The revised version, called Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, was a best seller two decades later. He died in April 2003 after a fall.
Nutrition experts have long favored a more conventional diet, which reduces the overall amount of calories and fat while allowing a wide variety of foods.
One small study published recently found that dieters who were trying to maintain their weight loss burned significantly more calories — about 300 more a day — eating a low-carb diet than they did eating a low-fat diet.
About two-thirds of people in this country are overweight or obese, which increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer and other chronic illnesses.