Alkali Diet: Unwrapping the Problem with Atkins Diet

April 06, 2008

Alkali!  That’s What’s Wrong with Atkins 

 Competency #2: DASH, OMNI and Other Evidence Based Diets ReferenceAmerican Journal Clinical Nutrition: 87:662 Dawson-Hughes “Alkaline Diet Favors Lean Tissue Mass in Older Adults” 

 I got it!  We want to age gracefully and hang on to muscle mass.  It’s crucial to maintain your muscle mass to maintain long-term health and wellness.  As we age, all of our organs gradually lose the ability to operate in the fashion they did when we were young and vigorous.  That includes our kidneys.  As we age, the amount of acid that our kidneys have to get rid of doesn’t necessarily change, but the ability of our kidneys to do so does.  When you eat extra nutrients your body doesn’t need, you convert them all into fats and store them, or you get rid of the extra right away.  Extra vitamins, you excrete right away.  Extra fat and sugar, you store.  

Extra protein is a different issue.  In breaking protein down, your liver has to remove the ammonia group on each amino acid and excrete it.  And the sulfur in animal proteins also makes for more acid.  The more protein you eat, the more acid you have to get rid of.  If your kidneys can’t keep up with the acid, your blood gets slightly more acidic. It might be too small to measure with current methods but the change in your buffers certainly occurs.     And that is known to be true.  Elderly folks have a slightly more acidic blood. Here is the rub.  Some foods are intrinsically “acidic” and some are intrinsically “alkali” or basic.  The core difference between the two is the amount of extra protein you eat (acidic) which correlates with more meat in your diet (Atkins), and the amount of potassium in your diet (basic), which correlates with more fruit and vegetables. 

 Dr. Dawson-Hughes followed 384 men and women over 65 for 3 years and measured their lean muscle mass and potassium excretion.  The more potassium they excreted, the more fruits and vegetables they were eating, the less muscle mass they lost.  We Americans are only eating about half the potassium the Institute of Medicine says we should be eating.  We could get more by taking potassium salts (yuck), or by eating a good DASH Diet with 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  Long-range planning is my thing.  I want to be there down the road.  The Atkins Diet works to lose weight. I can accept short-term gain. Part of how Atkins works is that it makes you feel full faster, so you eat less.  But all that protein may, paradoxically NOT protect you from muscle mass loss in the long term.  There are no long-term studies on Atkins and muscle mass.  What I did notice was that nowhere in the equation was there mention of white carbohydrates.  A quality, muscle-preserving diet is full of fruits and vegetables, not unprocessed carbs, and not fructose.  Hurrah.  I had grapes and pears for lunch.

The column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)