High Carb Link to Heart Attacks

A landmark research study by Dr. Michael Shechter of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and the Heart Institute of Sheba Medical Center, with collaboration of the Endocrinology Institute, shows exactly how high carbohydrate foods increase the risk for heart problems.

Researchers looked at four groups of volunteers. One group ate a cornflake mush mixed with milk – not unlike the typical American breakfast. The second group was given a pure sugar mixture, the third bran flakes, and the last group was given a placebo (water).

Over four weeks, Dr. Shechter applied a test that allows researchers to visualize how the arteries are functioning. It’s called "brachial reactive testing" and it uses a cuff on the arm, like those used to measure blood pressure, which can visualize arterial function in real time.

The results were dramatic. Before any of the patients ate, arterial function was essentially the same. After eating, except for the placebo group, all had reduced functioning. Enormous peaks indicating arterial stress were found in the groups of patients consuming the high glycemic-index breakfast: the cornflakes and sugar groups.

"We knew high glycemic foods were bad for the heart. Now we have a mechanism that shows how," says Dr. Shechter. "Foods like cornflakes, white bread, French fries, and sweetened soda all put undue stress on our arteries. We've explained for the first time how high glycemic carbs can affect the progression of heart disease."

During the consumption of foods high in sugar, there appears to be a temporary and sudden dysfunction in the endothelial walls of the arteries.

Endothelial health can be traced back to almost every disorder and disease in the body. It is "the riskiest of the risk factors," says Dr. Shechter.

Dr. Shechter recommends sticking to foods like oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, which have a low glycemic index. Exercising every day for at least 30 minutes, he adds, is an extra heart-smart action to take.

Schechter pointed out that high glycemic foods rapidly increase blood sugar and those who binge on them have a greater chance of sudden death from a heart attack. “Our research connects the dots”, he said, “showing the link between diet and what’s happening in real time in the arteries”.

This study comes on the heels of a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine(1) which showed that even a modest reduction in carbs (26% of total calories) in the context of a reduced calorie diet can have striking benefits. The diet used in that study, which the researchers termed the “Eco-Atkins” diet (and which was reported on in the Atkins newsletter), was an essentially vegan diet that still incorporated the principles of the Atkins Advantage program: low sugar, adequate protein and fat, no trans-fats, and whole foods with plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fats.

Taken together, the studies make a strong case for the dangers of a high-glycemic diet and support the principles of the Atkins Advantage for both weight loss and overall health.

1) The Effect of a Plant-Based Low-Carbohydrate ("Eco-Atkins") Diet on Body Weight and Blood Lipid Concentrations in Hyperlipidemic Subjects
David J. A. Jenkins, Julia M. W. Wong, Cyril W. C. Kendall, Amin Esfahani, Vivian W. Y. Ng, Tracy C. K. Leong, Dorothea A. Faulkner, Ed Vidgen, Kathryn A. Greaves, Gregory Paul, and William Singer 
Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(11):1046-1054.

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