You may have decided to start Atkins because you wanted to lose weight, but did you know that research has shown that a low-carb diet like Atkins has demonstrated to have many more “off label” benefits that just losing weight? Just to name a few, they include: epilepsy and related illnesses, acid reflux (GERD), acne, headaches, heart disease, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), diabetes/metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance, dementia and narcolepsy.
Here’s what the research says about a low-carb diet’s role in each of these conditions:
Epilepsy and Related Diseases
More than thirty studies from ranging from 2004 to 2014 support the use of a Modified Atkins Diet in helping ease the symptoms of epilepsy and related seizure disorders in adults and children . This was especially encouraging for children diagnosed with childhood epilepsy who are not responding to the seizure control medications.
Preliminary findings based on five case studies show that a low-carb diet may help alleviate acid reflux. Typically foods with caffeine or that are high in fat have been shown to contribute to acid reflux, but this study shows that a low-carb diet may help prevent symptoms usually brought on by those foods. These initial studies suggests more research needs to be done examining the effect of low-carbohydrate diets on GERD.
There has been growing research on the effect nutrition has on skin health. In a 2012 review published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, the role of carbohydrates was examined on the development of acne, with the hypothesis that a very low carb diet could have a positive impact on the treatment of acne.
In a 2013 study in Functional Neurology, researchers report on the case of twin sisters who were following a high-fat, low-carb diet in order to lose weight. While they were on the diet, they noticed that their migraines improved as well, leading to the theory that this type of diet could help improve headache symptoms.
Twenty-one studies conducted between 2002 and 2014 examine the role of low-carb diets and how they may help decrease heart disease risk factors, as well as risks for hypertension and stroke. The use of a low-carb diet has been shown to not only help with weight loss, but also improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglycerides, as well as decrease inflammation—all factors associated with heart disease.
Obesity is a factor associated with the increased risk for some cancers, so naturally if a low-carb diet is shown to help people lose weight and maintain their weight loss, the impact on decreasing the risk of some cancers is positive. Examples include findings from a 2012 study in the Journal of National Cancer Institute that show that a higher total carbohydrate intake and higher dietary glycemic load were associated with an increased risk of recurrence and mortality in stage III colon cancer, meaning that a low-carb diet (which is naturally low glycemic) could help in improving the survival rates in colon cancer. Another study in Nutrition and Cancer (2010) showed that a low-carb diet helped overweight women breast cancer survivors lose weight—decreasing their risk for heart disease and other obesity-related diseases, as well as a recurrence of breast cancer.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age and is associated with obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and insulin resistance. Because low carbohydrate diets have been shown to reduce insulin resistance, a pilot study (Nutrition and Metabolism, 2005) investigated the six-month metabolic and endocrine effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) on overweight and obese women with PCOS. In this pilot study, a LCKD led to significant improvement in weight, percent free testosterone, LH/FSH ratio, and fasting insulin in women with obesity and PCOS over a 24-week period. Another 2004 pilot study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed similar positive results.
Diabetes/Metabolic Syndrome/Insulin Resistance
Twenty-nine studies, dating as far back as 1998, show the positive impact low-carb diets have in decreasing symptoms and risks of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
A high-calorie diet is associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment. In a 2012 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, it was shown that the risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia was elevated in people who consumed a high-carb diet, leading to the conclusion that low-carb diet has a role in lowering the risk.
Last, but not least—In a 2004 study in Neurology, patients with narcolepsy experienced modest improvements in daytime sleepiness while on a low-carb diet
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