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Low Carb Diets Can Cause Athersclerosis


Senior Member
A lot of PWC's are advised to eat a low carb /high protein diet by their doctors and this study may be of interest to them.


Low-carb diets linked to atherosclerosis and impaired blood vessel growth

Study suggests that popular diet regimen may have adverse effect on bodys restorative capacity

August 24, 2009
Bonnie Prescott
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Even as low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets have proven successful at helping individuals rapidly lose weight, little is known about the diets long-term effects on vascular health.

Now, a study led by team of Harvard researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) provides some of the first data on this subject, demonstrating that mice placed on a 12-week low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet showed a significant increase in atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the hearts arteries and a leading cause of heart attack and stroke. The findings also showed that the diet led to an impaired ability to form new blood vessels in tissues deprived of blood flow, as might occur during a heart attack.

Described in today's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study also found that standard markers of cardiovascular risk, including cholesterol, were not changed in the animals fed the low-carb diet, despite the clear evidence of increased vascular disease.

"Its very difficult to know in clinical studies how diets affect vascular health, said senior author Anthony Rosenzweig, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of cardiovascular research in BIDMCs CardioVascular Institute. We, therefore, tend to rely on easily measured serum markers [such as cholesterol], which have been surprisingly reassuring in individuals on low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets, who do typically lose weight. But our research suggests that, at least in animals, these diets could be having adverse cardiovascular effects that are not reflected in simple serum markers.

Rosenzweig and his co-authors found that the increase in plaque buildup in the blood vessels and the impaired ability to form new vessels were associated with a reduction in vascular progenitor cells, which some hypothesize could play a protective role in maintaining vascular health.

"A causal role for these cells has not yet been proven, but this new data is consistent with the idea that injurious stimuli may be counterbalanced by the bodys restorative capacity, he explained. This may be the mechanism behind the adverse vascular effects we found in mice that were fed the low-carb diets.

The studys first author Shi Yin Foo, an HMS instructor in medicine and a clinical cardiologist in the Rosenzweig laboratory at BIDMC, first embarked on this investigation after seeing heart-attack patients who were on these diets and after observing Rosenzweig himself following a low-carbohydrate regimen.

Over lunch, Id ask Tony how he could eat that food and would tell him about the last low-carb patient Id admitted to the hospital, said Foo. Tony would counter by noting that there were no controls for my observations.

Finally, said Rosenzweig, I asked Shi Yin to do the mouse experiment so that we could know what happens in the blood vessels and so that I could eat in peace.

The investigators proceeded to study a mouse model of atherosclerosis. These ApoE mice were fed one of three diets: a standard diet of mouse chow (65 percent carbohydrate; 15 percent fat; 20 percent protein); a Western diet in keeping with the average human diet (43 percent carbohydrate; 42 percent fat; 15 percent protein; and 0.15 percent cholesterol); or a low-carb/high-protein diet (12 percent carbohydrate; 43 percent fat; 45 percent protein; and 0.15 percent cholesterol).

We had a diet specially made that would mimic a typical low-carb diet, explained Foo. In order to keep the calorie count the same in all three diets, we had to substitute a nutrient to replace the carbohydrates. We decided to substitute protein because that is what people typically do when they are on these diets.

The scientists then observed the mice after six weeks, and again at 12 weeks. Consistent with experience in humans, the mice fed the low-carb diet gained 28 percent less weight than the mice fed the Western diet. However, further probing revealed that the animals blood vessels exhibited a significantly greater degree of atherosclerosis, as measured by plaque accumulation: 15.3 percent compared with 8.8 percent among the Western diet group. (As expected, the mice on the chow diet showed minimal evidence of atherosclerosis compared with either of the other two groups.)

Our next question was, Why do the low-carb mice have such an increase in atherosclerosis? said Foo. Searching for an explanation, she and her co-authors proceeded to measure the usual markers thought to contribute to vascular disease, including the animals cholesterol and triglyceride levels, oxidative stress, insulin and glucose, as well as levels of some inflammatory cytokines.

In each case, there was either no difference in measurements compared with the mice on the Western diet [which contains the same amount of fat and cholesterol] or the numbers slightly favored the low-carb cohort, she added. None of these results explained why the animals blood had more atherosclerotic blockages and looked so bad.

Since there was no difference in the noxious or inflammatory stimuli that the animals blood vessels were exposed to, Foo wondered whether the restorative capacity of the animals might be contributing to the difference. The investigators, therefore, looked at the animals endothelial or vascular progenitor cell (EPC) counts. Derived from bone marrow, the EPC cells may play a role in vessel regrowth and repair following injury.

Examinations of the animals bone marrow and peripheral blood showed that the measures of EPC cells dropped fully 40 percent among the mice on the low-carb diet after only two weeks, said Rosenzweig. Although the precise nature and role of these cells is still being worked out and caution is always warranted in extrapolating from effects in mice to a clinical situation these results succeeded in getting me off the low-carb diet.

Even more important, he noted, the findings point out that there can be a disconnect between weight loss or serum markers and vascular health, and that vascular health can be affected by macronutrients other than fat and cholesterol in this case, protein and carbohydrates.

Understanding the mechanisms responsible for these effects, as well as the potential restorative capacity that may counteract vascular disease, could ultimately help guide doctors in advising their patients, added Rosenzweig. This issue is particularly important given the growing epidemic of obesity and its adverse consequences. For now, it appears that a moderate and balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise, is probably best for most people.


work in progress
N. California
doesn't it figure

Oh those contradictions! :p Don't you just love 'em.

I would like to research the research and find out EXACTLY WHAT KIND of PROTEIN and CARBS they are referring to. Are they using all ORGANIC GRASS FED beef and lamb? All ORGANIC FREE RANGE poultry and eggs? All ORGANIC fat sources. According to research on Mercola that does make a big difference.

Also.. are they doing metabolic typing on the "test subjects," by giving the lab animals a questionnaire regarding their dietary habits and preferences, to find out what foods leave them the most satisfied after a meal, and aid in stabilizing their appetite, mood, and energy... ;) That would be interesting.

I wouldn't go back to my high carb macrobiotic diet. It was a disaster for me. But my partner thrives on carbs, and feels sluggish and heavy on animal protein. When it comes to diet, we all have to find what works best for our individual metabolism.


Senior Member

Your right not all people react the same to high protein diets it depends to a large extent on your genes and enzymes.

High protein is bad for the arteries of some people(not all), it depends on your having a good eNOS gene and a good available level of an essential co factor for eNOS called Tetrahydrobiopterin(BH4). eNOs is generated in the arteries and is a major player in artery health.

High protein diets generate a lot of ammonia that has to be got rid of by the body through the liver and BH4 is used up in this process and less is available to generate endothelial nitric oxide(eNOS). High levels of eNOS keep the arteries nice and supple and free from plaque thus lowering BP as well as helping other with heart problems.

Lowered levels of BH4 cause eNOS 'uncoupling' which can cause superoxide generation,which can cause increased BP as well as other circulation problems.

FIR saunas are recommended for people with heart failure, coronary artery disease and high blood pressure because among other reasons, they sweat out high levels of ammonia, which means BH4 is spared by not being needed by the liver to detoxify ammonia and instead is available to patients who deperately need it to create higher levels of eNOS and help with their heart problems.

People on high protein diets should take adequate levels of vitC and folic acid (as Metafolin) which help with BH4 levels.


work in progress
N. California
Hi Liverock--

Thanks for the explanation. I'm not scientifically oriented and just go by what works for me.

Good info about the saunas. No wonder they are so popular in the northern latitudes!


Senior Member
Victoria, BC
carbs, proteins, hearts...

Hi, all; I would think that the work of Dean Ornish, "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease," and Caldwell Esselstyn, "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," is basic to this discussion--they are the only two docs of whom I know that have demonstrated actual reversal of atherosclerosis, via mostly diet (Ornish also uses meditation and exercise, Esselstyn uses low dose statins.)

Both use a pretty strict low fat, relatively low vegetarian protein, and high carb diet, an approach supported by Colin Campbell, "The China Study," a major document by someone who has studied diet and health for 40 years (Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry, Cornell). John McDougall is another great doc supporting this approach.

Just how this fits in with CFS I am not sure, but since I do have some demonstrated atherosclerosis, I am not taking any chances--I stick with what seems to actually work!
Best to all, Chris


Senior Member
Melbourne, Australia
Firstly to message to all - I AM CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET AT HOME!!!!!!!!!!!


(of course, because I have more time at home, you are all going to be bombarded with lengthy posts:eek: - I am not know for being concise & to the point!).


while I do think there is a genetic link to many health problems, I also think you can overcome some of these predispositions. Atherslclerosis being just one of them.

I have a family history of premature deaths from heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

1. Despite different diets, lifestyles & of course, age, my Mother, myself & both brothers have had their gall bladders removed. And I might add that my parents who grow their own vegetables & for the most part eat minimal processed food (including drinks or alcohol) and myself (who has had a very healthy diet for some 20-25 years) have had the same gall bladder disease as has my younger brother (who loves his junk food & a drink).

So I would suggest here that gall bladder disease has a genetic link.

2. My paternal Grandmother died prematurely, blind & bed ridden from Diabetes. My paternal Aunt died from renal failure associated with diabetes. My Mother has high blood sugar (pre-diabetic). I have (or should I say had) high blood sugar for the last 3 years, since it was first tested. I was classified as pre-diabetic also. My blood sugar has gone up & down a little, since regular testing every 3 months.

But, a serious re-design of my already healthy diet earlier this year has brought my blood sugar reading down so that I am now only 1 point outside the normal blood sugar range! (I'm still working on this one - I will get it down to normal without drugs).

3. I have (or should I say had) high cholesterol, high triglycerides for years & despite juggling & changing a few things in my diet, could only get my cholesterol down a small amount.

But this year's redesign of my diet brought my cholesterol down dramatically in the space of eactly 2 months - my GP was astonished & rather incredulous but he had the results on paper (& I've had another test 2 months on - with positive results a second time). I have halved my triclyceride readings, and brought my total cholesterol down to well within normal limits. I think I've mentioned this in several posts.

4. Recent heart arrythmia & heart problems necessitated a stress cardiogram which showed positive for mitral valve blockage & myocardial ischaemia. This resulted in a referral for an angio cardiagram which I had 8 days ago. The result - not only did I have normal heart blood vessels, but the Cardiologist said I had excellent heart blood vessels. In fact I have the picture in from of me & can see for myself.

I saw my GP yesterday who had a copy of the angiogram written report & copy of the pictures & his remarks were just as positive. He said exactly the same thing, my veins & arteries were in excellent shape, especially significant & very positive, with my family history of angina, heart attack & stroke.

The Cardiologist suggested that my mitral valve problem could have been there since birth (although it was odd that it didn't show up on the 2000 & 2002 stress echocardiograms if I had really had it since birth - I had angina like pain walking to work in those 2 years also).

So when I see the Cardiologist (for the follow up appointment) in the near future, we'll see what the overall diagnosis & prognosis is, in regards to my heart symptoms (perhaps the chest & left shoulder pain is FM related, although it is weird in that it happens only when I walk briskly to work or some sort of vigorous activity).

After reading some recent articles/research on Magnesium & mitral valve prolapse, perhaps I might need to just increase my Magnesium intake (especially as I have had bad leg cramps during the night recently - magnesium may cure these also).

In the meantime, I will start regularly take Schuessler Tissue Salts for Insommnia (Comb A) which does have Magnesium in it's combination. I tried these a year or so ago with no appreciable improvement in my sleep, but started taking them again this week & have slept much better & had no muscle cramps in the last 2-3 days. I don't think I took enough throughout the day when I first tried them. I think I just took them in the evening - I really can't remember (Anyway, I had the bottle in my kitchen cupboard so didn't need to go out & buy any).

After years of pain, fatigue, compromised immune system, IBS, cognitive problems & several other symptoms of Fibromyalgia (& I suspect CFS even though that wasn't officially diagnosed), this year my immune system is 100%. Despite coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy bugs, the flu (& we suspect the Swine Flu) in my work place, I was the only person in my work area well for the whole winter this year.

Apart from severe lumbar disc disease, this year has been very, very positive. I have had something like 6-7 severe attacks of debilitating pain & fatigue, but rest & careful pacing & self treatment have meant that I recovered in resonably short spaces of time.

So in regard to Low Carb Diets & Athersclerosis, my diet (which is relatively low carb & high protein) seems to have had extremely positive results this year.

But one must realise it has to be the right Low Carb Diet (for you & your health problems). It has to be a careful balance of high protein. Not too much red meat. I try to eat a combination of 1-2 small steak meals (smaller than the palm of my hand), one small lean lamb backstrap meal, turkey breast (& I've finally learnt to cook this so it's not dry), usually 2 fresh salmon, I other white fish & maybe an egg meal. I do vary it, but this seems to me to be a good balance for evening meals (of course, I am lucky to be able to work & afford lean, organic protein meals - my IBS has prohibited lentils, beans & so on in recent years which would be much cheaper for those without a regular income).

In fact, my whole diet & supplement regime would be totally impossible without a regular monthly income.

A high protein diet is much, much more expensive than pasta, bread, beans, lentils & the like. And organic fruit & vegetables are more expensive, but my theory is that if you buy no processed foods, you may find you can afford organic fresh produce. If possible, and you have a yard or live in the country, try growing your own.

If you can manage to get a strong, healthy family member or friend to do the initial physical set-up with raised vegetable plots so you don't have to lean over & do serious digging, you might find you have the strength to grow a few vegetables of your own. And the fresh air would do wonders for your breathing (lungs) & lymphatic system (which needs movement to assist in the drainage and removal of toxic wastes from all parts of the body, and in the body's response to infection).

I know many of you are house bound (or even bed bound for the most part) & this is one of the most important challenges your body faces - expelling toxins when you are unable to move. Even a slow walk around your bedroom is enough to get the lymph circulation going.

In my case, and we are all different, diet has payed a signigicant role in improving my health. Together with some vitamin/herb supplements, a few alternative therapies (such as Aromatherapy essential oils) & intermittent applications of Bach Rescue Remedy & now some Schuessler Tissue Salts, I am well on the way to a very positive health future.

I truly believe that if you can find the right combination of diet & alternative therapies for your health problems (with minimal drug & surgical intervention), it is posibble for your health to improve (if not actually be cured of ME, CFS & FM).

I wrote an article for ProHealth on 19th March 2007 (which won letter of the week which I was really thrilled about at that time) titled "Finding the Right Key".

(Note: Now that I have the internet connection at home, I can refer to my notes & books and be more accurate in dates & information instead of having to rely on my memory, while posting at work).

And I'll include the final paragraph of that article:

"Hope - the most important thing is not to lose hope! I believe I will get much better. I just have to find the 'key to unlock the door.' One day I will get my life back to the way I want it - not necessarily in the same form as years ago - but I will get my life back on track. Believe in this and it will happen! - Victoria"