Not only may the Atkins Diet impair mental functioning, it may impair emotional functioning as well. Researchers at MIT are afraid the Atkins Diet is likely to make many people--especially women--irritable and depressed.
The Director of MIT's distinguished Clinical Research Center measured the serotonin levels in the brains of 100 volunteers eating different diets. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the human brain that regulates mood. In fact, the way antidepressants like Prozac are purported to work is by increasing brain levels of this neurotransmitter.
The MIT researchers found that the brain only seemed to make serotonin after a person ate carbohydrates. By starving the brain of this essential mood elevator, the researchers fear that the Atkins Diet may make people restless, irritable or depressed. They noted that women, people under stress, and those taking anti-depressants might be most at risk.
When one follower of low carb guru Herman Tarnower's 1978 "Scarsdale Diet," wrote to him, "When I diet, I get cranky, and my husband says, 'I like you better fat than cranky'; have you any suggestions?" Dr. Tarnower responded, "You should be able to diet without getting cranky. Your husband, I am sure, would like to have you attractive, lean, and pleasant." His paternalistic prescription may make one sympathize, as one journalist wrote, "with his lover Jean Harris, the former school headmistress who later did prison time for his murder."
Based on the MIT serotonin research, Judith Wurtman, Director of the Women's Health Program at the MIT Research Center, warns that filling up on fatty foods like bacon or cheese may make people tired, lethargic and apathetic. Eating a lot of fat, she stated, may "make you an emotional zombie."