WebMD gets low-carb wrong... again.

matthew's picture

I guess it's really not a news flash, but yet another uninformed article confusing cause and effect has become popular in low-carb circles, and I need to post my response.

Here's the so-called "informative" article, concluding that low-carb diets are unsafe:
http://women.webmd.com/guide/high-protein-low-carbohydrate-diets

From the article:

[quote]* Kidney failure. Consuming too much protein puts a strain on the kidneys, which can make a person susceptible to kidney disease.[/quote]

I've debunked this time and time again, but this [b]myth[/b] keeps rearing its ugly head. High protein in the bloodstream is only a risk factor if your kidneys have already failed. Regardless, [b]high levels of uric acid are a symptom of kidney failure, not a cause[/b]. The number one risk factor for mortality in the US, aside from accidental death, is [b]obesity[/b]. Insofar as you find an eating regimen that makes you not be obese, you're taking a step in the right direction.

[quote]High cholesterol. It is well known that high protein diets (consisting of red meat, whole dairy products, and other high fat foods) are linked to high cholesterol. Studies have linked high cholesterol levels to an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke and cancer.[/quote]

Wow. Just... wow. It's 2009, and someone is still parroting the "high cholesterol is bad for you" line? "High protein" diets (I would say HIGH FAT) are only linked to high cholesterol [b]in combination with high carbohydrates[/b]. WebMD should really read "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. If you eat a [b]high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet[/b] like MANS, your [b]lipid profiles will look great[/b]. There is some small possibility your overall cholesterol may be high at first as your body dumps fat into the bloodstream, but after three months or so on low-carb your lipid profile will look great, particularly if you are overweight.

For reference, here are the results of my recent blood test after living a low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein lifestyle for several months:
Reference: I'm thirty-six, overweight, non-smoker, male, and was seriously OBESE with HORRIBLE blood profiles and health risks a year ago. All my statistics on what is "normal" is based upon a male, not a female. I'm currently around 20% body fat, not where I want to be but moving in the right direction.

* Cholesterol: 177 (Anything below 200 is healthy)
* Triglycerides: 93 (Less than 150 is "normal". You should read the number to the left as "holy shit, that's good.")
* HDL: 54 (less than 40 is very bad, 40-50 is normal, above 50 is optimal, I'm working on adjusting my diet to reach above 60.)
* LDL (calculated): 110 (100 or below is "optimal", 100-129 is "near optimal"; I'm adjusting my diet to include a bit more flax seed to see if I can drop this a few points.)

[quote]Osteoporosis and kidney stones. High protein diets have also been shown to cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine. Over a prolonged period of time, this can increase a person's risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.[/quote]

The studies alleging this are wrong about the cause. The extra calcium in the urine of low-carbers comes not from depleting bone calcium, but [b]because we're ingesting more calcium[/b]. Once again some members of the medical community with an axe to grind are confusing symptom and cause, just like with kidney failure. Low-carbers excrete more calcium because [b]we're eating more calcium[/b].

Kidney stones occur in the same proportion amongst low-carbers as among the general population, and the solution is simple: if you have a family history of kidney stones, drink even more water. And to prevent them from ever occurring, drink more water.

Why do you think just about every diet plan encourages you to drink more water? Well, this is one reason.

Additional reading: [url=http://livinlavidalocarb.blogspot.com/2005/07/high-protein-low-carb-diet-promotes.html]High protein consumption increases bone density[/url].

[quote]Cancer. One of the reasons high protein diets increase the risks of certain health problems is because of the avoidance of carbohydrate-containing foods and the vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants they contain. It is therefore important to obtain your protein from a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Not only are your needs for protein being met, but you are also helping to reduce your risk of developing cancer.[/quote]

This is a richly contested area, and the jury is still out. Anti-oxidants may not be needed at all if you aren't ingesting inflammation-producing foods in the first place. What are your inflammatory foods? Grains top the list.

That said, I do have some small concern about this. [url=http://www.vvv.com/healthnews/milk.html]IGF-1 has been linked to cancer risk[/url]. But natural bodybuilders attempt to create an optimum hormonal environment for muscular hypertropy, including elevation of IGF-1 levels through exercise and eating correctly. Will lifting heavy weights give you cancer?

So far, people are only making the connection to cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone and elevated levels of IGF-1 in humans. However, simply lifting heavy weights also elevates IGF-1. It will be interesting what the studies will show in ten years. My advice for any adult male is to get annual blood and physical exams. Normally insurance will pay for it, as a basic physical will often find conditions you wouldn't expect (and men who get annual physicals live longer, too.)

[quote]Unhealthy metabolic state (ketosis). Low carb diets can cause your body to go into a dangerous metabolic state called ketosis since your body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. During ketosis, the body forms substances known as ketones, which can cause organs to fail and result in gout, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Ketones can also dull a person's appetite, cause nausea and bad breath. Ketosis can be prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.[/quote]

This is a richly disputed area, and attempting to characterize ketosis/lipolysis as a "dangerous metabolic state" is a political move, not a scientific one. I'm going to refer to this as "lipolysis" from this point on, rather than "ketosis", but the two are similar.

Your body already goes into lipolysis every single day while you're sleeping. It is the natural state when your body is burning body or dietary fat rather than carbohydrates or protein for fuel. It's why most of us aren't hungry first thing in the morning. It's why most of us don't wake up ravenous in the middle of the night. It's why we over-eat a little during the waking hours: our fat stores naturally give us energy back while we're sleeping through lipolysis.

Low-carbers simply keep this process going the other 16 hours of the day.

Please go buy yourself a copy of "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. Read it all the way through; I know it's a long read, but it's worth it. Debunk the junk science that passes for nutrition science today and learn what really can help you to live a healthy lifestyle.

--Matt B.