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Atkins Diet: Trouble Keeping It Up

A case report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly Journal of the American Dietetic Association) of a man who went on the Atkins diet, lost his ability to have an erection, and nearly lost his life.

February 1, 2012 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



Remember the Atkins Diet? I wrote a book about it a few years ago.  The Atkins Corporation threatened to sue me, but I kind of won by default, because they declared bankruptcy six months later. You can read the whole book and my rather amusing back-and-forth with Atkins' lawyers at

Here's an illustrative case report of what can happen when you go on such a diet, reported recently in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association: "Development of symptomatic cardiovascular disease after self-reported adherence to the Atkins diet".

Started out healthy, 51-year-old man; pretty good cholesterol, no chest pain, and a working penis. He was gaining a few pounds, though, so he decided to go on a low-carb diet. One month in, his cholesterol shot through the roof, but hey, he lost five pounds, so, he kept it up. And after two years more on the diet, he lost three pounds, but he also lost the ability to have an erection.  And he started having chest pains. But hey, that's what drugs are for, so he started taking Viagra, one of the wonders of modern medicine, which also came in handy when he landed in the emergency room with crushing chest pain.

He got a cardiac catheterization which found a 99% blockage of one of his coronary arteries supplying blood to his heart. Luckily, they found it in time. He got a drug-eluding stent placed.

He was eventually discharged from the hospital and finally decided, maybe this Atkins thing isn't such a great idea, so he switched to a low-fat diet with greens, whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and even (gasp!) the inclusion of vegetarian entrees. Two months on the new diet, his weight was down, his cholesterol was down, and he stopped taking the Viagra.

Now, a skeptic might suggest that he had clogged arteries before he even started the low-carb diet. But no, he actually got a coronary artery scan right before starting on Atkins and there was no measurable plaque in his coronary arteries. And then just 29 months later, after the initiation of the low-card diet, 99% blockage. Now they were able to open that surgically with a stent, but it took his changing to a more healthy diet to open up blood flow to other parts of his body.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the other videos on the Atkins diet and don't miss the other videos on erectile dysfunction. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog posts: The Most Anti-Inflammatory Mushroom, Watermelon for Erectile Dysfunction, Atkins Diet and Erectile Dysfunction, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk, Plant-Based Workplace Intervention The Real Paleo Diet, and Do Vegans Get More Cavities?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the other videos on the Atkins diet and don’t miss the other videos on erectile dysfunction. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • Toxins

    I know some people will comment that support the paleolithic diet/atkins diet and try to tout the benefits and “science” behind it. So before someone does, please read Dr. Greger’s free e-book ‘Atkin’s Exposed’ with over 1,100 references.

    • meat man

      utter nonsense

      atkins was correct. we have two digestive behaviours

      this site is obviously vegan propaganda and that’s sad because your skewed view could cost lives.

      we are OMNIVORES, we have CANINE teeth.. GET OVER IT!

      • Thea

        meat man: Since so many people report how Dr. Greger’s diet has made them healthier and in some cases saved their lives, there is not need to be sad.

        re: canine teeth
        This is a common misunderstanding. The thing is, humans have canine teeth *in name only*. To see what real canine teeth look like, check out the following page and scroll down to the section, “Humans have canine teeth. End of story.” Look at the picture on the right.

        While you are on that page, I highly recommend taking a look at the rest of the information. You will find it quite the eye opener if you decide you are interested in the scientific facts (no propaganda!) about your body.

      • Toxins

        References please? The atkins has been well established to promote athlerosclerotic lesions, promote cancer and other degenerative disease.

  • Tan Truong

    If you don’t care about your health, think of the blood flow to other parts of your body. :)

  • BPC

    I am having trouble teasing apart some of the differences between the Atkins diet and the whole foods plant-based approach that you advocate.

    Specifically, it seems possible to be both vegan and follow a low carbohydrate (Atkins-like approach)…isn’t that what the eco-Atkins diet is all about?

    For example, one could eat a whole foods plant-based (vegan) diet emphasizing low carbohydrate and high fat foods like nuts, seeds and avocado. Thus, one would gain the advantages of high antioxidants present in these foods while ingesting relatively low quantities of toxins, cholesterol and saturated fats. By emphasizing these high fat foods (which are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated “good fats”), one could ensure that very few calories come from carbohydrate sources, thus leading to the ketotic state … so what? … is that necessarily bad?

    • Toxins

      check out Dr. Greger’s video

      It address just that and a plant based low carb diet is indeed health.

      • BPC

        Thanks for the link; though even after watching that video on plant-based-atkins-diet, I would be concerned about potential side effects of the eco-Atkins diet, including ketoacidosis, where pH drops to extremely low levels…not sure what the latest data is on this.

        • Toxins

          I agree, ketosis is definitely an issue when carbs are restricted. I would be interested on Dr. Greger’s take on that.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please also check out my associated blog post Watermelon for Erectile Dysfunction!

  • Gremmin

    Follow the money, all studies funded by food companies cannot be submitted as science. Sometimes there’s money to made by encouraging certain results.

  • Julia Finn

    Dr Greger– have you read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories? I find his arguement compelling but I am open minded…Could you post a critique?

    • Don Forrester MD

      It is not based on the best current science. While it is true that processed carbohydrates contribute to today’s high incidence of chronic diseases the consumption of animal products and high fat foods are a much larger problem not only in due to health issues with cholesterol and saturated fats but due to all the chemicals (e.g. dioxins, mercury, other persistent organic pollutants) not to mention environmental degradation, animal suffering and worker safety issues.

    • Dan Lundeen

      People new to Dr. Greger’s extensive writings frequently ask him to shoot down or rebut the latest broscience or truthy rehash of the low carb/paleolithic diet/atkins diet. He’s already done it a thousand times so it’s really a ridiculous request — please read Dr. Greger’s free e-book ‘Atkin’s Exposed’ with over 1,100 references. (Tip o’ the hat to Toxins)

  • Choderus

    Has never affected me this way. Keep up the grudge-work.

  • Matthew

    If you look at his triglycerides, which are reflective of eating sugar and carbohydrates, they TRIPLE in that third period where he lost his mojo and the heart blockage. I think the most likely scenario is that he got tired of Atkins and started cheating a bit. Eating sugar/refined carbs will inflame your arteries. Eating all the fat of the Atkins diet with inflamed arteries gets the cholesterol and fat deposited inside the arteries to wall off whatever is inflaming them, thus causing the blockages and the erectile dysfunction.
    Eskimos and Masi had healthy lives getting 80% of their calories from animal fat with no appreciable carbs. Add western high carb food together with the fat, and their life span sheds a few decades.

    • Dan Lundeen

      Wrong on so many levels. Please read Dr. Greger’s free e-book ‘Atkin’s Exposed’ with over 1,100 references.

    • lucidvu

      The massive increase of triglycerides was the first significant negative change I noticed too, coincident with the reported symptoms. Dr. Greger made no mention of it.

      As for the total cholesterol level, it didn’t look “pretty good” in the beginning. He started and then returned to a low total cholesterol which is associated with various risks such as increased severity of stroke, increased mortality (e.g. suicide, injury, cancer), depression and criminal violence etc.

  • Artur Denysenko

    How about this study “The Battle of the Diets: Is Anyone Winning (At Losing?)”

  • Calvin Leman

    Four months of whole-food plant-based food only reversed my erectile dysfunction in about 4 months.

  • Kekin Shah

    What are the dietary recommendations for treating erectile dysfunction???

  • Heretic

    Re: Dr. Greger’s free e-book ‘Atkin’s Exposed’ with over 1,100 references.

    I took a trouble some time ago to go through 1 page of Dr. Greger’s thousand references and found that every single one I looked was irrelevant to the place it was quoted! Then I gave up reading, what is the point? Please feel free to add another thousand.

    It takes one evidence to the contrary to invalidate a theory. That applies to Atkins but that also applies equally to your speculations!

    Re: ED

    This is a completely unwarranted generalisation! I am stating it based on my personal experience! In fact, I think, the opposite is true!

    I am on a high animal fat (60% calories) low carb low protein diet continuously since 1999.

    I think people have much more chance of developing ED due to metabolic syndrome or diabetes t2 induced by high starch high fructose plant based exclusive diet (with some polyunsaturated vegetable oils and deficient in essential fats), and due to thyroid disruptors from crucierous vegetables and beans, than from eating all inclusive animal based variety diets.

    Stan (Heretic)

  • NutritionMan

    I am always warning my friends of the dangers of doing an Atkins style diet. I am sick of people saying that it is working for them when a heart attack could be the first and only symptom that they get.That is surely something you don’t want to take a risk on. I believe people don’t really know what healthy is until they try a WFVD with short boughts of exercise.