Low-Carb Diets, Arthritis, and Osteoporosis

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Low-carb diets are popular and controversial at the same time. When not used with proper overall nutrition in mind, a low-carb diet can potentially lead to long-term health problems. Among those are an increased risk for gout, a form of arthritis, and osteoporosis.

healthy keto breakfast: egg, avocado, cheese, bacon
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Popular Diets

Low-carb diets come in many varieties, and the buzzwords "low carb" are found on many food labels.

Low-carb diets that have generated a lot of publicity include:

  • Atkins Diet
  • Carbohydrate Addict's Diet
  • South Beach Diet
  • SugarBusters!
  • Zone Diet
  • Paleo Diet

The publicity has been both favorable and unfavorable. Reports of short-term weight loss success and improved levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and triglycerides are common. On the other hand, reports of potential negative health consequences show the downside of these diets.

Some physicians, nutritionists, and researchers have questioned the safety of low-carb diets.

How They Work

The basic concept behind a low-carb diet is that carbohydrates promote insulin production, which in turn promotes the accumulation of fat.

The theory is:

  • A lower daily intake of carbohydrates causes the body to burn stored carbohydrates for energy.
  • As this process of burning stored carbohydrates (a.k.a. glycogen) occurs, water is released and weight loss follows.
  • The body also begins to burn fat for energy.

Such a diet is called a "ketogenic" diet because it causes an accumulation of ketones (byproducts of fat oxidation) in the bloodstream, which are removed by the kidneys.

In a state of what has been called perpetual ketosis or benign dietary ketosis, a person loses weight no matter how many calories are consumed from fat and protein.

Long-Term Health Effects

The long-term risks and consequences of a low-carb diet are being researched and no definitive or conclusive evidence yet exists. 

Compared to national guidelines for nutrition and weight loss, some low-carb diets contain high amounts of saturated fat, animal protein, and cholesterol. At the same time, they lack nutrients, fiber, and complex carbohydrates considered necessary for maintaining good health.

Health experts who express concern over long-term safety suggest some low-carb diets may increase the risk of certain diseases such as:

Low-Carb Diets and Gout

Gout is one of the most painful types of arthritis. The suggested correlation between a low-carb diet and an increased risk of gout seems obvious.

Gout is caused by an excess of uric acid in the body. Foods rich in purines (i.e. meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, eggs, etc.) are later broken down into uric acid in the body. Since many low-carb diets emphasize fat and protein, especially from animal sources, people following a low-carb diet may eat enough purine to trigger a gout attack.

Low-Carb Diets and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition that is characterized by loss of the normal density of bone, resulting in brittle bones, which are subject to fracture. The disease process can be silent (without symptoms) for decades.

There is a potential increased risk of osteoporosis with a low-carb diet where calcium loss can result if protein intake remains high and calcium intake remains low. The ratio of animal to vegetable protein intake may also contribute to bone loss. While research in rats and mice has shown losses in bone density associated with low-carbohydrate diets (as in this 2017 study, for example), small studies in humans have not supported the association.

A Word From Verywell

As is evident by analyzing the prevalence of obesity data, weight loss is a significant issue. However, it is important to realize that not all diets are healthy and some may have serious long-term health consequences. 

You should discuss your overall health situation with your doctor before choosing a weight loss plan. Together, you can review your personal health history and options so you can do your best to avoid adverse effects of a particular weight loss plan.

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