Low-Carb Diets, Arthritis, and Osteoporosis

Show Article Table of Contents

Veal cutlet with peppers and mushrooms
Schnare & Stief/Getty Images

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.

The Fad

Books, products, and programs that promote weight loss are big business. Fad diets have fed the weight loss frenzy for many decades. Yet, diets come and go. How long a fad diet lasts depends largely on how difficult it is to follow and whether quick results can be achieved.

Popular Diets

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

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

  • The Atkins Diet
  • The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet
  • The South Beach Diet
  • SugarBusters!
  • The Zone
  • Low-Carb 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 some of these fad 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.

Summarily, here's how it works:

  • 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.

The theory: 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 hike 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. A diet comprised of foods rich in purines (i.e. meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, eggs, etc.) are later broken down into uric acid in the body.

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate a day can lead to the buildup of ketones in your blood. Ketosis can also raise uric acid levels.

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 also 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.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources