I came accross this on ABC news site, I thought I would share it with you all.
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Missouri doctors describe the case of an apparently healthy 16-year-old girl who collapsed suddenly and died after spending one to two weeks on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
Electrolyte imbalances due to the diet, and the resulting damage to her heart function, were likely responsible, the physicians who cared for her report in a recent issue of the Southern Medical Journal. The girl had no known illnesses or medical conditions.
The teen had low potassium and calcium levels when she arrived at the University of Missouri Health Sciences Center, most likely as a consequence of the diet, the doctors state in their report. This disrupted the normal electrical function of her heart, leading it to stop and causing her to collapse, they write.
Dietitians and proponents of the Atkins diet, one example of a low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet, say that other weight-loss measures including eating disorders like bulimia or the use of diuretics were far more likely to have contributed to the low electrolyte levels found in the teen's blood.
Dr. D. Paul Robinson, a co-author of the paper, said in an interview that while there might be other explanations for the teen's death, including an abnormal heart rhythm, interviews with her parents did not suggest that she had a history of bulimia or diuretic use. Robinson is an assistant professor of child health in the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
"Most kids with eating disorders, even if they're able to hide the bulimia, they're constantly talking about being fat or needing to lose weight and exercise," Robinson said. "My indication, from what I understand of the interview with this girl's family, is that none of these things were the case."
Colette Heimowitz, director of education and research at Atkins Health and Medical Information Services, told Reuters Health that the Atkins approach has been used by millions of Americans for 30 years now, and there have been no documented cases of serious reactions or fatalities.
"The actual dietary approaches or practices that this particular teenager followed for days or weeks couldn't possibly account for what (the physicians are) attributing it to," said Heimowitz. She noted that the irregular chemical levels detected during the autopsy could be associated with drugs emergency medical personnel and doctors administered to resuscitate the teen, or with other weight-loss efforts.
Robinson disagrees. "I don't think there is any way the resuscitative drugs would have affected (the teen's electrolytic balance)," he said, noting that when the teen came in, she had low potassium levels.
Very high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets result in a condition called ketosis. In ketosis, the body has used up its preferred fuel reserves, glycogen derived from carbohydrates, and instead burns fat. This generates substances called ketone bodies, which can be smelled in the breath.
Wahida Karmally, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told Reuters Health that these diets can cause muscle breakdown, weakness, nausea and dehydration. They limit the intake of entire categories of food that provide certain nutrients, such as potassium, she explained. "These effects can happen right away," she said.
"It is a worrying set of circumstances when kids die suddenly," Robinson said. "The whole point of writing the paper is to ask clinicians to keep their eyes open. If kids come in with sudden death and they're on this kind of diet, we really have to start paying more attention to it."