High Protein Diet Side Effects

Close Open

Scroll directly down to

Posted by Linda O'Byrne (Atkins Nutritionist)

High protein diet side effects are never cut and dried.

Start on Atkins today and receive support, tips and meal plans for free!

Start now on Atkins

There’s no simple equation of x=y. At Atkins, we only promote responsible dieting but for anyone considering other diets than Atkins’, which focuses on the maintenance of certain food groups to keep you healthy, general rules apply.

Protein is essential to keep the human body running.

The body breaks down the protein into essential amino acids which play a part in the functioning of the human body and its constituent cells. 

But any sort of diet should be avoided if someone has an underlying medical condition, or is elderly and infirm

.  For peace of mind, checks by made with your local GP to check dietary changes will not impair your health.

Beyond such warnings for dieting in general, there has been ongoing debate about the side effects of high protein diets and whether they are a safe for weight loss.

This has dovetailed with high protein diets becoming more popular recently outside of their traditional constituency of bodybuilders.

Conventionally, the side effects of protein diets have centred on possible side effects from long term use.

This have been fairly inconclusive but point to potentialities like constipation from lacking fibre intake, however this can easily be avoided by including high-fibre vegetables in your diet.

Another media scare is that a high protein diet ‘could’ increase your intake of fat which ‘could’ contribute potentially to heart disease

. However, research that has been emerging over the last few years has shown that it’s only when combining high fat with high carb that this risk may be of concern.

When following Atkins, fat is burnt as energy.

The only fat we recommend avoiding are man-made trans-fats. But let’s examine the traditional side effects that have been associated with high protein diets, although note associated is deliberate, as nothing has been conclusively proven. 

And, once again, this is for those high protein diets which focus very much on making protein the lion’s share of what you eat, and not diets such as Atkins which are moderate in protein and low in carbs and are carefully calculated not to deprive the body of any essential nutrients.

Osteoporosis and High Protein Diets

The conjecture is that high protein diets based around meat can lead to greater bone density loss among women by aged 65 while women who don’t eat meat have lower bone density loss. 

This is based on high protein diets requiring more calcium to be processed and excreted which may come from the bones if unavailable elsewhere. However, calcium is created by eating other products such as dairy.

Unfortunately, there is also research that low protein diets can have a similar affect by reducing intestinal calcium absorption so it remains inconclusive if this is a demonstrable side effect.

High Protein Diets and Renal Problems

This is a long-standing cited potential side effect of high protein diets.

As the kidneys filter proteins, it’s claimed a high protein diet can put an additional strain upon the kidneys. However, this advice tends only to be directed at people with existing renal function issues.

Studies of bodybuilders with high protein diets have therefore often been used to show a lack of impaired renal function among the healthy.

High Protein Diets and Diabetes

Another often cited potential side effect of protein diets posits a relationship between diabetes and high protein consumption.  

This claim that because the body is forced to burn off proteins and fat for energy, ketones accumulate in the body. Our bodies have internal mechanisms to regulate ketones from becoming too high but if this occurs due to lack of insulin then you could fall into a diabetic coma.

The problem with this theory is that it’s acknowledged that dietary restriction alone cannot cause this to occur. Additionally, many studies have indicated the reverse that less carbohydrates and more proteins can maintain a better glucose homeostasis.

Recent News: High Protein Diets and Cancer

The latest alleged side-effect came to light early this year with two scientific studies purporting to show how high protein diets could be as bad as smoking.

 One study focused on mice and one study focused on humans, and it was the latter which garnered the most column inches with the claims that cancer rates among human aged 50-65 may be related to high protein intake by the production of insulin like growth factor IGF-1. 

Curiously, the converse was said to occur among people aged over 65. It’s still early days for either of these studies to approach anything conclusive as fact, with so far it being the conviction of one scientist in particular with no more than a possible association being mooted. 

The diet used in this study had no bearing on Atkins and the macronutrient intakes were very different from what we recommend at Atkins.

What is certain is to be aware of how any diets impacts upon you and to monitor this and how you feel with as yet there being no widely accepted and conclusive links between any particular ailments and a high protein intake.