An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Big FAT Lie

No one's actually asked me, or anything, but regulars here who know that I'm on the Atkins program might be wondering where I stand on the issue of the recent medical record releases and the subsequent revelations concerning the condition of the late Dr. Atkins at the time of his death.

For those who don't know, the Wall Street Journal recently ran an article based on the illegally released medical records of Dr. Robert Atkins that showed that at the time of his death he weighed 258 pounds and had heart disease and failed kidneys. On the surface, this information would seem to back up the claims of Atkins detractors that the diet causes kidney failure and heart disease, just the sort of thing they've been looking for for years. Many allegedly reputable news organizations, the Wall Street Journal itself being far from the least of these, jumped on this story and ran with it, utterly failing in their journalistic obligation to actually research the claims and show what the reality of the situation is.

Allow me to put this in perspective from a semi-learned medical point of view. (My wife IS a third-year med student, after all.)

Yeah, Dr. Atkins did weigh 258 lbs at the time of his death. That tends to happen when your kidneys fail and your body begins retaining all the water the kidneys can no longer process. And kidneys often tend to fail after the body's systems begin shutting down following a massive head injury (like the one Dr. Atkins received when he slipped on ice last year) and resulting coma (like the one Dr. Atkins was in at the time of his death). What the Wall Street Journal article also fails to mention is that Dr. Atkins weighed 196 lbs when he was brought into the hospital following the above head injury, a darn fine weight for a 6 foot tall 72 year old man.

What about the heart disease? Sure thing. At the time of his death, Dr. Atkins was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that is completely unrelated to diet intake and which, in Dr. Atkins case, is thought to have been caused by a virus. (Dr. Atkins own doctors say he had almost negligible cholesterol build up in his arteries.) Also, Dr. Atkins was hardly trying to keep his heart-condition a secret. He openly spoke of it on Larry King Live after first being diagnosed with it a few years back and it was a well known fact among the Atkins community. He was still in phenomenal shape and very active for his age.

The truly shocking thing to me, though, is the fact that the Wall Street Journal published this article in the first place. The information in it came directly from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who gave the medical records to the journal as the basis for the article. The PCRM name sounds nice on paper, but they're actually an animal rights activist group who illegally obtained Dr. Atkins medical reports in the first place, evidently for the purpose of smearing his name and getting people to eat less meat and therefore fewer tasty animals. Don't think so? Take a look here.

Why is it illegal to release medical records? Cause the law states that they MAY NOT be released without prior consent of the surviving family. Mrs. Atkins in no way authorized this, so anyone else leaking the information is in violation of the law and should be prosecuted.

Now granted, the above information comes from an article at Atkins own website from his own organization. Sure, they have a bias toward the good Doctor in the first place, but who else in the world would have a vested interest in getting the FACTS of this case right and try to head off the media ignoring them?

I highly recommend anyone interested in this check out the articles on Atkins website where the information has been nicely summed up. You might also give Mrs. Atkins own article a gander.

The unfortunate part of all this is that most of the newspapers and sundry media that were so quick to jump on this story in the first place will also utterly fail to report the truth about the issue since it will just make them look like the half-assed bunch of ball-dropping hacks that they are.

As far as my own feelings on the diet program are concerned, I'm still all for it. As a future medical professional, my wife has done a lot of research on Atkins. She felt it was her duty to know what it was all about and see how it worked. As such, she has combed medical journals looking for any evidence that Atkins and similar diet programs are harmful. She had not been able to find a single study that debunks the Atkins program. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine states that it does in fact work and work well for most people who use it. NEJoM says that people on the program tend to lose weight, have less high cholesterol and diabetes associated problems and live longer as a result. They, of course, admit that they don't know HOW the program works, as Dr. Atkins program flies in the face of the government's nutritional guidelines and just about everything the medical community has been saying about how the body is supposed to work for the past century, but they still admit that it does work.

The program is not for everyone. Some people, my own step-mother included, have had gasto-intestinal problems on it that they felt made it unsafe for them to continue with it. And people with bad kidneys to begin with should definitely avoid it. All of these warnings are spelled out explicitly in Atkin's book. No one should be able to claim they walked into it unawares.

And as for its effectiveness, I've been on it since early October and have lost 27 pounds. (Course, I probably gained back a bit of that over our Valentine's Weekend Cheat-A-Thon, but I'll drink a bunch of water, go on a couple of power walks and be back in the swing of things within the next few days.) And I feel great. In fact, the only gastro intestinal difficulties I've had as a result have come on the few occasions when I've cheated and ate a bunch of carbs. Then I feel bloated and sluggish and gassy for a day or two until I can process all that out. Probably more information that you cared to know, but it's the truth.

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