MUNICH, Germany — Despite their popularity, low-carbohydrate diets are unsafe and could lead to an earlier death, according to a new study.

The research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Congress 2018, from the Medical claims that people who consume low amount of carbs are more likely to die from heart disease and cancer, as well as other serious conditions.

“We found that people who consumed a low carbohydrate diet were at greater risk of premature death,” says co-author Maciej Banach, a professor at the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, in a release. “Risks were also increased for individual causes of death including coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer. These diets should be avoided.”

For the study, the authors turned to data taken from 24,825 people (average age ~48) who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2010. They sought to connect low-carb diets to the risk of death from any cause, along with death from heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (including stroke), and cancer. The results showed that people who consumed the lowest levels of carbs among the study sample were 32 percent more likely to die from any cause over a 6.4-year follow-up period, compared to individuals who consumed the highest levels of carbs. Low-carb dieters also had a 51 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease, 50 percent greater risk of dying from cerebrovascular disease, and 35 percent greater risk of dying from cancer.

“The findings suggest that low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should not be recommended,” says Banach.

A meta-analysis of seven studies that included more than 447,000 participants confirmed these results. Low-carb dieters, after an average follow up of about 15 years, were calculated to have a 15 percent, 13 percent, and 8 percent greater risk of death from any cause, heart disease, and cancer, respectively.

As for what could be behind the alarming connection, the authors point to low-carb dieters eating more red meat and other animal proteins.

“The reduced intake of fibre and fruits and increased intake of animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat with these diets may play a role. Differences in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals might also be involved,” says Banach.

Interestingly, the risk of death was highest in non-obese adults over 55.

“Low carbohydrate diets might be useful in the short term to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and improve blood glucose control, but our study suggests that in the long-term they are linked with an increased risk of death from any cause, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer,” says Banach.

The study was presented to attendees of the annual Congress on Aug. 28, 2018.

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