Low-Carb Diets Linked to Higher Risk of Premature Death

From paleo to keto, low carb diets have been hailed by some as the ultimate method for losing weight in recent decades. But researchers have warned that regimens low in carbohydrates are unsafe and should be avoided.

The study involving 24,825 participants who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated those who ate the least carbohydrates had a 32 percent higher risk of premature death compared with those who ate the most carbohydrates. The participants were 47.6 years old on average, and 51 percent were women. The researchers divided the respondents according to the levels of carbohydrates in their diet.

The risk of dying of heart disease was 51 percent higher for this group, while cerebrovascular disease was 50 percent, and cancer at 35 percent.

Researchers at the Medical University of Lodz replicated the results in a meta-analysis of seven prospective cohort studies with 447,506 participants who were followed up after 15.6 years on average. That investigation linked low carb diets to a 15 percent greater risk of premature death, and a 13 percent spike in mortality rates linked to cardiovascular disease, and 8 percent to cancer.

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"One thing is sure," Dr Maciej Banach, professor of medicine at Medical University of Lodz, Poland, told Newsweek: "we should avoid [low carbohydrate diets]."

Banach explained low carbohydrate diets have been regarded as beneficial for our health in the past, but based on his team's research it is now "clear" that is not true. And even though such regimes aid weight loss, the public should be "very careful" when following very restrictive diets, particularly those that feature no carbohydrates for long periods of time.

What makes low carb diets appear to be so dangerous? Banach pointed to previous studies which have linked animal protein, and red meat and processed meat in particular, to a higher risk of cancer.

A diet low in carbohydrates could be harmful to your health, according to researchers. Getty Images

"The reduced intake of fiber and fruits and increased intake of animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat with these diets may play a role. Differences in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals might also be involved," he said.

He concluded: "The findings suggest that low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should not be recommended."

However, he cautioned the study does not prove low carb diets directly raise the risk of a person dying prematurely, and more research is needed to provide definitive proof.

The research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich, and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This article has been updated with background information.