Why Does Atkins Work So Fast? A Study Of Obese Diabetics

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It is generally recognized that people who choose weight-loss approaches based on lowering carbohydrate consumption can lose weight remarkably quickly. It’s not so generally clear why. Speculation has centered on the possibility that lower carbohydrates lead to less water retention, to a higher metabolism rate, or simply to boredom with eating due to the food restrictions.

A group of medical researchers from Temple University set out to answer this question by studying a group of obese Type 2 diabetic patients who were placed on the Atkins diet—one of the best-known low-carbohydrate regimes.

Patients On Atkins Dropped Easily 1000 Calories A Day - The Study

The Temple study focused on diabetic subjects for several reasons. Obesity is extremely prevalent among diabetics, which increases their risks of developing cardiovascular diseases. And weight loss is actually one of the best means of treating diabetes, since it can improve blood sugar levels markedly, often eliminating the need for insulin and other medications. Indeed, the patients in the Temple study showed great improvements, reducing their cholesterol and triglyceride levels while blood sugar and insulin sensitivity improved.

Patients remained in the hospital for the length of the study, with their meals and activities closely monitored, making this the first strictly controlled clinical study of the Atkins program.

The diet was straightforward: the ten volunteer patients in the study stayed in a research center of the hospital. They were allowed their usual diet for seven days, after which they followed the Atkins diet strictly for two weeks, reducing their carbohydrate intake to 21 grams per day. Protein and fat were not restricted. This automatically reduced the patients’ calorie intake by 1,000 calories per day.

Before, during, and after each diet, the researchers measured body weight, body water, calorie energy intake, appetite hormone levels, and several measures of blood sugar control, and other factors.

“They loved the diet”

The study’s findings were clear. When patients cut back strictly on carbohydrate consumption, they actually felt no need or desire to compensate by eating more protein or fat. They simply lost weight. “Excessive overeating had been fueled by carbohydrates,” concludes Guenther Boden, M.D., head of the research team.

Remarkably, though patients were free to eat as much protein and fat as they wished, they did not notably increase their consumption to offset the lost carbs. They also were not bored or unhappy with the diet. Noted Dr. Boden, “They loved the diet. The carbohydrates were clearly stimulating their excessive appetites.”

On average, patients reduced their calorie intake from 3111 to 2164 calories per day and lost about 3.5 pounds after 14 days on the diet. Reduction in calorie intake alone explained the weight loss; it was not due to loss of body water. Blood sugar and cholesterol levels improved during the diet.

Boden warns that this study does not answer all the questions or concerns about low-carbohydrate diets. Results based on the Atkins diet may not apply equally to other types of low-carb programs. And long-term effects have yet to be seen.

The results are encouraging however, both for the treatment of overweight among Type 2 diabetics, and for anyone beginning a weight-loss program with a low-carb focus.

"Effect of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Appetite, Blood Glucose Levels, and Insulin Resistance in Obese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes" was published in the 15 March 2005 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 142, pages 403-411). The authors are G. Boden, K. Sargrad, C. Homko, M. Mozzoli, and T.P. Stein..

For more information, see http://www.annals.org/content/142/6/I-44.full

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