Atkins Exaggerates the Benefit of Raising HDL Cholesterol
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Atkins Exaggerates the Benefit of Raising HDL Cholesterol
Saturated fat can raise HDL (Hickey 2003, Westman 2002). High HDL levels have shown to be protective against coronary heart disease. Therefore, even if LDL is slightly increased, the LDL/HDL ratio and total cholesterol/HDL ratio are still improved after following a low-carbohydrate, high saturated fat diet (Volek 2003).

This claim is similar to the one on your website that low HDL is a more important risk factor than elevated LDL.[1044]

The Expert Panel that writes the federal U.S. heart disease prevention guidelines, representing a coalition of over 30 major medical organizations,[1045] could not even find "sufficient evidence to make HDL a target of treatment."[1046] They felt the centerpiece of the guidelines, aggressive lowering of the "bad cholesterol" LDL, should negate any increased risk associated with low "good cholesterol" HDL levels. "Thus, ATPIII [the Expert Panel] recommends that the first step in treating patients who are found to have a low HDL level is to lower the LDL level to goal,"[1047] something the Atkins Diet can't do.[1048]

"Whether raising HDL per se will reduce risk for coronary heart disease," the panel concludes, "has not been resolved."[1049] "In all persons with low HDL cholesterol, the primary therapy is [to lower] LDL cholesterol."[1050]

The available evidence shows that the most important number is not HDL, not total cholesterol, not triglycerides and not the size of the LDL, but the amount of LDL you have in your blood, the amount of this "bad" cholesterol you have circulating in your arteries. The Expert Panel recognized that high triglycerides, small LDL particles, and low HDL cholesterol are a "secondary target of risk-reduction therapy," but only "after the primary target--LDL cholesterol."[1051]

You claim that the Atkins Diet significantly raises the level of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, on a consistent basis,[1052] but this does not seem to be true. The majority of controlled studies on Atkins-like diets do not show such an effect.[1053-1066] It is also important to note that even in the minority of studies that do show increases in HDL, this elevation is not necessarily healthful.[1067]

HDL transports cholesterol out of one's arteries to the liver for disposal or recycling. When one eats more garbage (saturated fat and cholesterol) one may need more metabolic garbage trucks (like HDL) to get rid of it. Eating a stick of butter may raise one's HDL, but that doesn't mean this is good for one's heart.[1068]

In any case, significantly lowering one's LDL is more important than significantly raising one's HDL,[1069] though the studies done on low-carb diets typically show neither. It should come as no surprise, then, that in the only study to directly measure the effects of the Atkins Diet on the heart, the Atkins Diet was shown to seriously weaken coronary artery blood flow to the heart.[1070]

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Atkins Facts:
> What the Experts Think of Atkins
> Faulty Science
> Short-Term Side Effects
> All Long-Term Studies on Atkins a Wash
> Long-Term Side Effects
> The Safer Alternative
> References 1-1160

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