Low-carb diets may help you drop pounds quickly, but at what risk? Whether you follow the ketogenic diet, paleo diet or Atkins diet, the common thread running through them all is limiting the amount of fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, legumes and sugars that you eat. This cuts calories, and can make you lose weight, but you may also be putting yourself at risk for a dangerous heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation or AFib, according to new research.
The heart flutters or beats irregularly — an arrhythmia — in atrial fibrillation; and this can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. People may experience heart palpitations, dizziness and fatigue.
Chinese researchers used data collected in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study between 1985 and 2016. About 14,000 people took part in the study, and none of them had atrial fibrillation at the time they enrolled, but almost 1,900 were diagnosed with the heart condition over the course of the study.
Low-carb diets have been controversial since their inception and for good reason.
Participants were then divided into three groups based on the amount of carbohydrates they ate: low, representing a diet with less than 44.8 percent of calories from carbohydrates; moderate, 44.8 to 52.4 percent; and high, over 52.4 percent of calories.
People who were on a low-carb diet were 18 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those who ate carbs moderately; when their likelihood for AFib was compared to those who had high carbohydrate consumption, their risk was higher by 16 percent.
There are several possible reasons why low-carb diets raise the risk of AFib, researcher Xiaodong Zhuang, a cardiologist at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, believes. AFib has been linked to inflammation. The lack of inflammation-reducing foods like fruits, vegetables and grains in the diets of those on a low-carb diet could lead to a greater inflammatory response. It also could be that the higher amount of protein and fat in low-carb diets may increase oxidative stress, as well as other types of cardiovascular diseases that are associated with atrial fibrillation. Or the higher risk of atrial fibrillation among those eating fewer carbohydrates could be the result of a combination of all these influences.
The study found a clear association, but does not prove low-carb diets cause AFib. Other studies are needed to definitively determine cause and effect.
So if you're struggling with a low-carb diet, reconsider; it’s probably just not worth the effort.
The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 68th Annual Scientific Session.