The People's Perspective on Medicine

Low-Carb Diet Helps with Water Retention

Q. My husband has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and suffers when he retains water. It seems to us that when the water retention is at its worst the diuretic Lasix just doesn’t work.

I started thinking about diet and what foods might work as a diuretic and remembered that when we went on a low carb/high protein diet we immediately lost a lot of water weight. We tried it for three days and it was miraculous.

Now when he is retaining water we do three days of strict Atkins and he’s back to normal. Why don’t doctors recommend this?

A. Perhaps they don’t know about it. We checked with Dr. Eric Westman of Duke University Medical Center who has done research on the Atkins diet. He told us that both sodium restriction and carbohydrate restriction have a diuretic effect. Most people don’t know that insulin leads to sodium retention, which leads to water retention. Dietary carbohydrates make insulin rise, so a high-carb diet leads to sodium and fluid retention.

According to Dr. Westman, “Both the low-sodium Rice Diet and the low-carb Atkins Induction diet will lead to water loss during the first week or so.”

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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My experience is that water retention exacerbates both asthma and atrial fibrillation. Years ago I asked the allergy/asthma specialist if limiting consumption of starchy foods could help reduce the “wetness” I felt in my lungs that always seemed to be worse after eating pasta or bread. He told me there was “nothing in the literature” to support that approach. The steroid-bronchodilator he prescribed satisfactorily controlled the asthma but I got an even better effect when reducing carbohydrate intake.
The electrophysiologist had a similar reply regarding carbs and afib and prescribed a diuretic. I no longer suffer from asthma but found that limiting starches presently works better for me than diuretics.
What I’ve discovered over the years is that, for many physicians, if something is not in the literature it simply doesn’t exist. Also, most doctors are too busy to read the existing literature especially if the topic is somewhat obscure.

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