There are some health concerns creeping into the previously good news about low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets. Researchers have discovered that atherosclerosis is a problem. While these 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 a scientific team at Beth Israel Deaconess 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 heart’s arteries (and an issue that remains 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.
This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It’s very difficult to know in clinical studies how diets affect vascular health,” says senior author Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, Director of Cardiovascular Research in BIDMC’s CardioVascular Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “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 coauthors found that the increase in plaque build-up 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.
If you are like me, you know plenty of people who are on these low-carb, high-protein diets and who are losing weight. What they may not be clear on is their possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease.