Many people have turned to the high protein, low carbohydrate diet in a desperate attempt to loose weight. Medical doctors prescribed this diet and it was termed the “high uremic diet”. It received this name because those on this diet generally lose large amounts of water. In reality, most of the weight lost experienced is a result of water loss.
The reason for the water loss is simple. Protein in the form of amino acids contains nitrogen in addition to carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. When the nitrogen splits off the amino acid, it binds to three hydrogen atoms forming NH3 (ammonia). Urea is also another waste product from protein metabolism. Both these substances are toxic in the body and a large amount of water is required for their excretion. If insufficient water is consumed, then that water come out of the body’s intercellular fluid. Since the body is composed of about 75% water, it is evident that most of the weight loss is water rather than fat.
It’s true, that carbohydrates can be replaced as a source of energy by protein or fat. However, a series of undesirable events occur when carbohydrate intake is consistently below fifty grams per day. These symptoms are remarkably similar to those that develop during starvation. First, there is a large loss of both sodium and water. The loss of sodium is then followed by potassium, which usually leads to weakness. Unless dietary caloric intake remains high, body protein begins to breakdown, causing muscle wasting, fatigue and increased weakness. As these conditions persist, the metabolic rate will actually slow down. This is deleterious for intentional weight loss efforts, because this reduced metabolic rate may not return to normal for several weeks or months after this diet is stopped. That accounts for the rapid resumption of weight gain once this diet is discontinued.
This diet is also known as the ketogenic (ketone-forming) diet. Fats can not be properly oxidized without carbohydrates. This results in a build up of the intermediates of fat oxidation called ketone bodies. As ketones continue to accumulate, they become abnormal components of blood and urine. In addition, there is an increased production of lactic acid, which is normally found as a by-products of anaerobic metabolism. Both ketones and lactic acid change the hydrogen ion (acid/base) balance of the body towards a lower serum pH (more acid). Acidity can interfere with normal body functions. For optimum health, the body prefers to be slightly alkaline. Calcium can actually be dissolved out of the bones by acidic blood in the body’s attempt to restore the proper pH level. The abnormal build up of ketones is known as ketosis, while a build up lactic acid is called lactic acidosis. Both these conditions are considered serious and are associated with fatigue, dehydration and severe loss of stamina. This can also be life-threatening for those with poor kidney function. Furthermore, and acidic environment is favorable to viruses, bacteria and tumor cells.
In addition, excessive amounts of the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine, commonly found in animal products, can degrade into cresol, phenols and nitrosamines such as cadaverine and putromaine. These are substances implicated with the promotion of skin and colon cancers. Animal protein is also high in methionine that can contribute to elevated homocysteine levels, an important risk factor of heart disease.
Excess protein can lead to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. In this case, proteins are absorbed into the blood stream before they are properly broken down. This absorbed protein is treated as a foreign invader and it invokes an immune response. This can lead to allergic reactions or hypersensitivity with symptoms commonly manifested as sinusitis, runny nose, sneezing, asthma, skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This can overwork the immune system, eventually leading to immune dysfunction.
In addition, this diet can place an unnecessary strain on both the liver and the kidneys. Anyone with liver or kidney disease should not attempt a high protein diet. Everyone on this weight-loss diet should be monitored by a physician.
Source: Albert Grazia, M.S., N.D.