Low-carb weight loss diet almost killed woman

OKEECHOBEE — Low-carb/high-fat diets have always been controversial, with one side claiming no harmful side effects and miraculous results and the other claiming the diets are deadly. The first and most well-known low-carb diet to come on the scene was brought to us in the early 1970s by Dr. Robert Atkins, and even then controversy surrounded the diet, because there was no limit to the amount of calories the dieter could consume and he was encouraged to eat huge quantities of fat, which was normally discouraged by doctors. Since then, other low carb diets have joined the ranks.

The Atkins diet suggests you start off by eating between 20 and 30 grams of carbohydrates a day — most of those from vegetables — and then eating all the protein and fat your little heart desires. Gradually, as you lose weight, you can begin adding in some carbohydrates in the form of fruits and nuts until you reach about 40g of carbohydrates a day, and once you have reached your goal weight, you can move to 60g of carbohydrates a day as a maintenance level. There is, of course, more to it. After all, there is an entire book to read, but those are the basics.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Rhonda Townsend and her husband, Shawn.

Dr. John Fuhrman, author of “Dangers of the Atkins Diet,” explains “Americans already eat almost 50 percent of calories from animal products, and as a result of such nutritional extravagance, we have seen a tragic skyrocketing in cancer rates and heart disease rates in the last 50 years.” He says despite what all these different diet books try to tell us, there is a very clear link between consuming such large amounts of animal protein and various cancers such as colon, stomach or esophageal. He concedes there may be some benefits to the diets in the areas of blood pressure and cholesterol just because those things naturally improve when you lose weight, but says the risks associated with the diet are not worth those small benefits. He actually calls it insanity, stating they utilize the exact foods known to cause cancer and forbid fruits, which are known to prevent it.

Dr. Fuhrman explains the low-carb diets work because, when your body cannot find enough carbohydrates to operate the body, it will produce ketones — something that normally only happens during crises or fasting. Ketones rise in the bloodstream, and the body begins to lose fat. This may sound good, he says but, it causes chronic ketosis, which along with increasing the cancer risk also damages the kidneys and causes insulin resistance.

All diets begin by recommending you visit your doctor before starting the diet, and Rhonda Townsend, who until recently worked as a nurse at the local VA clinic, wishes she had done just that. Instead, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the Ketogenic Diet as if she didn’t have a care in the world, but Mrs. Townsend did have a care. She has Type II diabetes and takes two medications to control it.

One medication, Farxiga, is a carbohydrate and sugar blocker, and when Mrs. Townsend drastically lowered her carb intake on a Monday, she almost immediately began to feel sick. She said she thought she had what is commonly called by dieters the carb flu, but as the days went on, she began to feel worse and worse, and by Thursday, she was miserable. Her muscles ached, and she couldn’t sit still. She finally went to bed around 9 p.m. only to awaken two hours later in screaming agony. She said her niece took her to the emergency room where they did lab work and found some of her levels to be at life-threatening numbers and determined she was in ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition resulting from high levels of ketones in the blood. Normally, this is seen in Type I diabetics, but as in Mrs. Townsend’s case, it can happen in Type II diabetes as well.

They immediately started her on an IV and gave her morphine for the pain. She spent two full days sleeping and finally began feeling a little bit better on the third day. She said the doctors were shocked the diet had caused her system to crash so swiftly, but blamed the combination of the diet and her medications. “You’re taking me back to first year bio-chem,” one of them said.

Mrs. Townsend said, “I’m always consulting a doctor from now on!”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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