Rethinking Healthcare

Atkins does not extend your life -- more to come

Atkins does not extend your life -- more to come

Posting in Cancer

We will soon know, pretty conclusively, what factors extend life and which reduce it.

A close friend of mine recently lost over 100 pounds on the Atkins diet.

That's the after picture, taken in March. He's kept the weight off.

I know because I visited his home last month. He took me to Whole Foods, bought some ground buffalo and hamburger, then proceeded to make us some dinner. He had two burgers, with no buns.

He's a professional baker, so I was impressed with his self-discipline. He's really a great one. (Try the scones.) He's missing some wondrous eating by not eating what he makes.

He may also miss some years of retirement, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study group was led by Teresa Fung of Simmons University in Boston. She combined two studies, of doctors and nurses, going back up to 30 years, and matched diets to health outcomes over time.

Here is her conclusion:

A low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources was associated with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women, whereas a vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates.

In other words, Double Down and you're going down hard.

Dean Ornish felt vindicated, saying he had recommended for years that if you're going low-carb, you need to do it with veggies, not meat. CBS emphasized the higher risk from cancer (although heart-related deaths were also higher in the meat-eating group). Meat is the issue, wrote HealthDay.

Maybe. I wish my friend well. He's a great guy. Would he have been better off fat? I don't know -- the Fung study doesn't tell us.

And that's the real news here. Because future Fung studies may indeed tell us.

Dr. Fung, who holds a Doctor of Science degree, specializes in analyzing firehoses of data for health patterns. A study she had published in February of last year showed a link between regular consumption of sweetened sodas and heart disease.

Until now her work has mainly involved looking at data stores like the Nurses Health Study. These are good studies, but the numbers are limited, especially when you look at narrow risk factors, and the cohort you're studying may be fairly uniform -- the nurses' study studied nurses.

As the use of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) expands, and EMRs carry more detail, researchers like Dr. Fung will have a much broader field of data on which to work. Studies like this will have bigger numbers, from broader populations, and they will become more reliable.

We will soon know, pretty conclusively, what factors extend life and what factors reduce it. There remains an enormous amount of noise, and some strange conclusions, in this field, like the recent study showing drinkers live longer than teetotalers. That particular study covered 1,800 people. What happens when you look at 180,000, or 18 million?

What happens is trends become clearer, conclusions become firmer. And people like Dr. Teresa Fung become more important.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure