Atkins Diet Doesn't Lack Butyrate, Increase Bowel Cancer Risk As Study Asserts
Posted Oct 01 2008 8:32pm
Harry Flint from Rowett looks at what happens in the gut on low-carb
There's been BIG NEWS about low-carb diets out of the research community over the past week or so--well, let's just say the media has trumpeted it loud and proud as earth-shattering damnation of livin' la vida low-carb.
Perhaps you've seen some of these dismal headlines:
Oh WOW! Why would ANYBODY in their right mind go on the Atkins diet?! Man, that low-carb must be really bad news if it can cause cancer. Who would even risk doing THAT diet ever again after this research proves it? I'm so glad I read that headline.
You may laugh at that, but I'm telling you that's the exact conclusion and reaction that most uninformed people will make to this news about livin' la vida low-carb. It's just too bad nobody in the media has the courage to do their due diligence and tell the truth about this so-called study.
I've held off long enough on this, so get ready to hear the FACTS about whether the Atkins low-carb diet actually leads to colon cancer. This is the information you just won't get in any of those columns I linked above. If you can't handle the truth, then don't bother reading any further. Let's get started!
First, let's look at the study itself.
Lead researcher Harry Flint, professor in the Gut Health Programme at the UK-based Rowett Research Institute, and his fellow researchers observed a mere 19 "healthy but obese men" who had a BMI ranging from between 30-42 and placed them on intermittent diets consisting of various amounts of carbohydrates over three distinct phases of the study.
Here are those three phases in the order they were done:
PHASE 1 --The men ate a very high-carb diet consisting of 400g carbs daily for three days in a row at the beginning of the study. This was the number of carbohydrates that is supposedly "needed to maintain their weight" (don't even get me started on that asinine statement--if I ate that many carbs today, I'd gained 15 pounds by tomorrow morning! EEEK!).
PHASE 2 --Then, for the next month the men cut their carb intake down by 60 percent to 160g daily. This was still a high-carb diet, but a little closer to what is deemed "healthy" by most of the government dietary recommendations.
PHASE 3 --Finally, the men had their dietary carb intake slashed again for the next four weeks to 85 percent of the PHASE 2 carb allowance and just 6 percent of the original number of carbs consumed by the study participants in PHASE 1. This level of carbs most closely resembles the Induction phase of the Atkins diet of the three phases.
During this 9-week experiment, Flint and his researchers took stool samples from the study participants to measure for bacteria and the level of butyrate, a fatty acid chemical prevalent in the gut that has been found to reduce cancer in rats. What they supposedly found in this research is what precipitated all the news headlines.
According to the researchers, there was a FOUR-FOLD decrease in the amount of butyrate in the study participants after their four-week stint on PHASE 3, or the "Atkins" stage of the research.
Flint was shocked because this change in butyrate was "the largest ever reported in a human dietary trial." This was the first such study on the impact of livin' la vida low-carb on bacteria in the gut.
"The results provide strong evidence that butyrate production is largely determined by the content of a particular type of carbohydrate in the diet that the bacteria in our guts can utilize," Flint explained. "But this doesn't automatically lead to the conclusion that reduced butyrate production causes colon cancer."
Even still, Flint believes his study confirms what previous research has already found.
"Studies in cell culture have also suggested a link between butyrate and colon cancer," he said. "This study is part of a general inquiry into how to prevent obesity in humans."
The researchers acknowledge that the Atkins low-carb diet is "highly effective" for weight loss, BUT...
"In the long run, it is possible that such diets could contribute to colorectal cancer," Flint warned. "It is a preventable disease, and there is evidence that poor diet can increase your risk."
We can only assume Flint believes low-carb fits the description of a "poor diet" since he calls it "extreme" and not good for the long-term.
Sigh. Here we go again with the "low-carb is only good for weight loss in the short-term" argument that has been bantered around by people like Dr. James Hill from the National Weight Control Registry did earlier this year in a teleconference call about the Atkins diet I aired on my podcast show in March. That is such an extraneous and overused point that I'm surprised anyone falls for it anymore.
Flint said his as-yet-unpublished (this is key, by the way!) study is going to render even more surprising results to "give a fuller picture" when it finally appears in a medical journal.
"We would like people to get the best of both worlds," he contended. "That means knowing in greater detail what goes on in the gut when on a low-carb diet."
Go ahead and go on the Atkins diet for "short-term bursts" to boost your weight loss efforts, but don't you dare do it over the long-term unless you want some rather severe health issues to deal with, Flint concluded.
"It should be possible to lose weight by taking out sugar and starch and maintaining some of the fiber that supports bacterial activity in the intestine," he stated.
Flint is convinced that "long-term deprivation of carbohydrate...causes damage to the gut" and that he intends on doing more research on the butyrate/colon cancer connection in humans.
Okay, so there you have it! That's the bad news that is supposed to be making low-carb very unappealing to the casual observer. And if I wasn't really paying attention to all the research coming out about livin' la vida low-carb, then I'm sure I would be scared half to death to even try it, too.
But let's share a few facts that were missing about Flint's "study":
1. It is a small, unpublished, NON-clinical trial study.
This is a vital point. It's one thing to talk about your study, but yet another to have the results of that study examined by your peers to look at the veracity of the results based on other research. Perhaps Flint is working on that, but it's disingenuous for him to take this to the media talking about 19 fat guys who were fed a high-carb diet for over a month before putting them on low-carb. I wonder if the results would have been different if PHASE 3 would have been FIRST! Hmmm?
2. We have no idea what foods the men ate on their "Atkins-like" diet.
As we know, the "Atkins diet" has simply become synonymous with a low-carb diet. This has become all-too-common with people like this woman who appeared in Good Housekeeping talking about being on the Atkins diet when she obviously never cracked open the book by the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins. It would be good to know what kind of carbs were consumed among the 24g that were allotted each day. At this point, it's a mystery!
3. Low-carb INCREASES fatty acids in the blood, not decrease them.
This is a metabolic truth that was completely missed by the "experts" featured in the news stories about this study. The higher the fatty acids in the blood, the less need there is for having them in the colon. Livin' la vida low-carb saturates the body with healthy fatty acids.
4. Ketogenic diets (like PHASE 3 ) use ketones for nutrition.
Once again, we have another basic metabolic truth that was overlooked (was it purposeful or did they just forget to mention it?). Have they even once told people about how the body can make its own carbs through a process known as gluconeogenesis? Nope, they can't do that because it would blow the lid off of their "the body needs carbs" nonsensical ruse. Ketone bodies are what kept our early ancestors fueled up eating a very low-carb diet.
5. Low-carb diets reduce weight, lower insulin, and increase ketones.
The proof is in the pudding (low-carb, of course!). You lose weight when you go on a low-carb diet and your insulin production is significantly reduced which is why low-carb is an excellent treatment option for diabetics (unlike the ADA-recommended high-carb, low-fat diet!). Those increased ketones energize your body and allow you to burn stored fat while remaining active.
6. Leap of faith to speculate based on only one measure of study.
If I wanted to duplicate this study in the same manner or even in a slightly different manner than Professor Flint did it, then I can't help but wonder if I would come up with a different result (especially if the low-carb diet came FIRST!). It's stretching the imagination to think one unpublished study of 19 men warrants as much ink in the press as this study did, but unfortunately this is part and parcel of what the anti-Atkins media does. If the new sucks for low-carb, then screw what's true and run with it! We've seen it happen before with this study that claimed one saturated fat meal causes damage to the heart. It's DISGUSTING how they pervert the facts like they do on a singular study!
7. Diets that are very low in carbs actually TREAT cancer.
Yep, the more we look at cancer, there's a trend beginning to grow--remove the sugar and excess carbohydrate from the diet so the cancer can't feed off of it and you can reduce your risk of getting a variety of cancers. I've highlighted studies showing the benefits of livin' la vida low-carb for treating and preventing brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer among others. To assert that a low-carb diet comes anywhere close to causing bowel cancer is utterly absurd!
8. High-carb diets may be linked to all kinds of cancers.
Using deductive reasoning, if low-carb diets starve cancer cells and keep them from spreading throughout the body, then it's safe and accurate to say that high-carb diets do just the opposite--they FEED cancer cells and allow them to grow at will to do their damage to the human body. If you want to have a REAL health headline that is both shocking and backed up by growing scientific evidence, then run with that one!
9. Foods on the Atkins diet have LOTS of butyrate in them.
This is the irony of all ironies. While Flint and his gang bemoan the lack of butyrate on this "Atkins-like" plan they fed their study participants, check out the following acceptable low-carb foods consumed on the REAL Atkins diet along with their very high butyrate content:
10. Gut bacteria reduction only happens in the absence of vegetables.
If you are consuming the recommended levels of vegetable fiber in your diet as required on the Atkins diet, then gut bacteria should not be reduced. It's when people attempt to do "Atkins" on their own assuming they know what that means that gets them in trouble. Do yourself a favor and READ THE BOOK! When you're done with it, perhaps you could mail your copy to Professor Flint so he can get with the program!
Speaking of, why not share your feedback with Professor Harry Flint about his study? You can e-mail him directly at H.Flint@rowett.ac.uk.