The Atkins diet is a popular diet that promises weight loss through carbohydrate restriction. According to a CBS News report from Sept. 2, 2004, dieters may lose similar amounts of weight through the Atkins diet low-carb approach as they do on low-fat regimens. However, low-carb diets pose numerous side effects, some of which are serious. Diarrhea associated with the Atkins diet may occur in response to carbohydrate deficiency or laxative use, and may pose additional complications.
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Though additional research is needed, diarrhea is considered a common side effect of the Atkins diet. In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Arne Astrup, a director of research at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark, named constipation and headaches as the most common side effects of the Atkins diet. He also explained that foul-smelling breath, muscle cramps, lethargy, skin rashes and diarrhea are reported more frequently by low-carb dieters than by people who follow low-fat diets.
People following the Atkins diet may develop diarrhea for numerous reasons. According to Dr. Astrup, reported side effects of low-carb diets, including diarrhea, are consistent with symptoms of carbohydrate deficiency. When the brain and muscles fail to reap appropriate amounts of glucose, or sugar, from carbohydrates, Astrup explained, the body may begin to malfunction. Excessive laxative use may also cause digestive dysfunction and diarrhea. Since the Atkins diet lacks fiber-rich carbohydrates, and constipation is frequently reported, people may depend on regular use of laxatives in order to attain bowel movements.
Diarrhea associated with the Atkins diet may lead to further complications. Dieters who fail to replenish lost fluids are at risk for dehydration. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, severe dehydration can cause electrolyte imbalances. Electrolyte imbalances can pose harmful effects on the kidneys and heart; in serious cases, they result in death. Diarrhea may also cause loss of important nutrients. If left untreated, nutrient deficiencies may increase risk for iron-deficient anemia and osteoporosis.
Diarrhea may occur for a brief period and resolve itself, or become chronic. According to Dr. Astrup, side effects of the Atkins diet are generally remedied once fruits, vegetables and whole grains are reintroduced to the diet. Dehydration caused by diarrhea may resolve when fluids are replenished. People with weakened immune systems and elderly individuals who become dehydrated may require medical care.
The numerous risks involved with the Atkins diet and other low-carbohydrate diets may outweigh the potential benefits. Though weight loss may occur, it is often temporary and due to water weight loss and reduced calorie intake. Dr. Astrup considers the negative side effects of low-carbohydrate diets signs that should point dieters in the opposite direction. A healthy diet that includes a variety of healthy foods and nutrients is a proven method of enhancing wellness and weight management.