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Side Effects of the Atkins Diet

Updated on June 11, 2016

The Atkins diet remains the most popular of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein weight loss programs around today, although was actually first developed in the 1970s by Dr. Robert Atkin.It rose to prominence more recently in the mid 2000s thanks in large part to the endorsement of several celebrities and while the initial excitement surrounding the diet has now died down, it remains a popular choice for those looking to lose weight quickly and relatively easily.

What isn't often mentioned by exponents of the diet however are the potential side effects, some of which can potentially make the diet a lot harder to stick to.

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One of the main side effects many dieters report particularly in the first few days of beginning the Atkins diet is insomnia, which for most people tends to lessen after the first couple of weeks. This is likely due to the body adjusting to using ketones as its primary fuel source.

On a more positive note however, many people tend to find that while they sleep a lot less, they can tend to function the same as usual on a lot less sleep than they are used to. Due to the Atkins diet's tendency to level out blood sugar levels many also experience heightened energy levels throughout the day, with none of the mid morning or afternoon slumps that high carbohydrate diets can tend to produce.

Headaches and Dizziness

Particularly during the first few days of the Atkins diet, many dieters report of bouts of dizziness and headaches. These are usually down to the fact that the body takes several days to adjust to using ketones from fat as fuel rather than glucose from carbohydrates.

Dizziness can also be caused by fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which tend to eventually even out on a high protein diet compared to a carbohydrate rich diet. These tend to be short term side effects however, and are rarely experienced after the first few days of the diet being implemented.


Perhaps the most common side effects produced by the Atkins diet are cravings for carbohydrate rich foods such as bread or sugary foods such as chocolate. Again this is usually only during the initial phase of the diet.

Fortunately there are other options that simply breaking the diet if the cravings become too intense. In addition to the foods allowed by the program, several companies have developed specialist low carbohydrate foods such as snack bars and desserts that can be eaten as part of the diet.


Due to the high amount of protein eaten with the Atkins diet, some people can experience constipation, particularly during the induction phase when carbohydrates are most strictly limited.

This is particularly the case if less than the recommended 8 glasses of water is ingested during the day although taking an additional fiber supplement is also an option.

Bad Breath

The high protein and low carbohydrate intake prescribed by the Atkins diet causes ketones instead of glucose to be burned as fuel for the body. These ketones are then excreted partly in the breath and sweat, giving off an odd sweet odor.

Alleged side effects

As well as the more well documented side effects of the Atkins diet, there are some that claim that the diet can either cause or worsen heart conditions, lead to osteoporosis and even the development of kidney stones.

For the most part these are either unsubstantiated or completely opposed to the limited research done into the long term effects of the diet. They are worth reading into however if you are considering starting the diet and have existing medical conditions that might be exacerbated by a sudden and radical change in diet.

For the time being the debate as to how healthy the Atkins plan really is in anything but the short term is ongoing. The few long term studies that have been published tend to suggest that low carbohydrate diets are at the very least no worse than high carbohydrate diets, and that for certain preexisting conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes, they can be beneficial.

Indeed much of the criticism surrounding the cardiovascular effects of the diet see to be centered around the fact that they inventor of the diet Dr Robert Atkins diet of a cardiac arrest in 2002. It should be noted however that he was 72 years of age at the time, as well as the fact that the doctors treating him remarked that his diet had left him with an otherwise very healthy cardiovascular system and that his death had been the result of a viral infection.

Beneficial side effects

Although the side effects of the Atkins diet outlined above are generally a burden, they are to some extent balanced out by the beneficial side effects of the diet.

Type two diabetes for example can be effectively controlled by following the diet, as the energy released from burning fats instead of carbohydrates has a steadying effect on blood sugar levels. In many cases this can mean a complete regression of diabetes symptoms, with many people able to reduce or in some cases even stop taking diabetes medications altogether. The Atkins diet isn't alone in this ability however, with most low carb, high protein diets being beneficial in the same way.

Epilepsy similarly can be improved by ketogenic diets.A study conducted at the John Hopkins university for example suggested that fits could be greatly reduced and in some cases even eliminated through ketosis.


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