The Popular High Protein Diets
By Albert Grazia, M.S.,
Many people have turned to the high protein, low carbohydrate diet in
a desperate attempt to lose weight. This diet is promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins and is often referred to as the Atkins Diet.
Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Atkins was not the inventor of this diet. In fact, an obese undertaker named Banting originally
discovered it in 1837. Mr. Banting noticed that when he just ate protein foods, he lost weight. His diet quickly became popular
and those on this diet were said to be Banting. He soon attracted many followers, they became known as Bantings Knights. Later,
medical doctors prescribed this diet and it was termed the high uremic diet. It received this name because those on this diet
generally lose large amounts of water. In reality, most of the weight lost experienced is a result of water loss.
The reason for the water loss is simple. Protein in the form of amino acids contains nitrogen in addition to carbon, oxygen
and hydrogen. When the nitrogen splits off the amino acid, it binds to three hydrogen atoms forming NH3 (ammonia). Urea is
also another waste product from protein metabolism. Both these substances are toxic in the body and a large amount of water
is required for their excretion. If insufficient water is consumed, then that water comes out of the bodys intercellular fluid.
Since the body is composed of about 75% water, it is evident that most of the weight loss is water rather than fat.
Its true, that carbohydrates can be replaced as a source of energy (not brain needed glucose) by protein or fat. However,
a series of undesirable events occur when carbohydrate intake is consistently below fifty grams per day. These symptoms are
remarkably similar to those that develop during starvation. First, there is a large loss of both sodium and water. The loss
of sodium is then followed by a loss of potassium, which usually leads to weakness. Unless dietary caloric intake remains
high, body protein begins to breakdown, causing muscle wasting, fatigue and increased weakness. As these conditions persist,
the metabolic rate will actually slow down. This is deleterious for intentional weight loss efforts, because this reduced
metabolic rate may not return to normal for several weeks or months after this diet is stopped. That accounts for the rapid
resumption of weight gain once this diet is discontinued. It is important to note that extra amino acids are not stored
in the body as protein. The nitrogen splits off, and only the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen remains intact. This basically a
carbohydrate that is eventually converted into glucose. It can then either be used as an energy source, or converted into
fatty acids and stored in the body as fat in the form of triglycerides. The high phenylalanine content of meat
and diary can compete with tryptophan for absorption into the brain. Without tryptophan, the neurotransmitter serotonin can
not be produced. Decreased serotonin levels leading to depression, is another common side effect of consuming too much protein.
This diet is also known as the ketogenic (ketone-forming) diet. Fats can not be properly oxidized without carbohydrates. This
results in a build up of the intermediates of fat oxidation called ketone bodies. As ketones continue to accumulate, they
become abnormal components of blood and urine. In addition, there is an increased production of lactic acid, which is normally
found as a by-product of anaerobic metabolism. Both ketones and lactic acid change the hydrogen ion (acid/base) balance of
the body towards a lower serum pH (more acid). Acidity can interfere with normal body functions. For optimum health, the body
prefers to be slightly alkaline. Calcium can actually be dissolved out of the bones by acidic blood in the bodys attempt to
restore the proper pH level. The abnormal build up of ketones is known as ketosis, while a build up of lactic acid is called
lactic acidosis. Both these conditions are considered serious and are associated with fatigue, dehydration and severe loss
of stamina. This can also be life-threatening for those with poor kidney function. Furthermore, an acidic environment is favorable
to viruses, bacteria and tumor cells. In addition, excessive amounts of the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine,
commonly found in animal products, can degrade into cresol, phenols and nitrosamines such as cadaverine and putromaine. These
are substances implicated with the promotion of skin and colon cancers. Animal protein is also high in methionine that can
contribute to elevated homocysteine levels, an important risk factor for heart disease. Excess protein can lead
to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. In this case, proteins are absorbed into the blood stream before they are properly
broken down. This absorbed protein is treated as a foreign invader and it invokes an immune response. This can lead to allergic
reactions or hypersensitivity with symptoms commonly manifested as sinusitis, runny nose, sneezing, asthma, skin rashes, headaches,
dizziness, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This can overwork the immune system, eventually leading to immune dysfunction.
In addition, this diet can place an unnecessary strain on both the liver and the kidneys. Anyone with liver or kidney disease
should not attempt a high protein diet. Everyone on this weight-loss diet should be monitored by a physician. Restoring
enough carbohydrates to the diet can reverse all of these conditions. That is a good indication that carbohydrates, in the
form of complex carbohydrates, are essential to the diet. A nutritionist can help provide the proper guidance for a safe and
efficient weight loss program. On the other hand, given all the complications of the high protein diet, it can be concluded
that it may not be prudent to follow nutritional advice from an undertaker.