The Distortion of The Death of Dr. Robert Atkins Continues

Three years ago I carefully researched the details of the death of Robert Atkins and wrote about it on this blog. I was motivated by the grossly inaccurate portrayal of him promulgated on vegan and plant-based websites. Elsewhere on this website I have described in detail the death of Nathan Pritikin whose ultra-low fat diet stands in stark contrast to Atkins’ ultra-low carb diet.

The most important point I hoped to make was that we should not judge the benefits of any diet based on how the founder of that diet dies. There is far too much randomness in death and far too much genetic influence over our health to base dietary decisions on one man ( or woman’s) mode of departing existence.

Atkins suffered a completely random event slipping and falling on ice and suffering an epidural hematoma. Pritikin developed leukemia and died after committing suicide.

Unfortunately my article did not end the misinformation rampant on the internet about Atkins so I’m reposting it today for all of you who may be feeling guilty about eating too much on Thanksgiving yesterday.

One of the characters in my story, Michael Bloomberg, has recently announced that he is running for President.

In the spring of 2003 at the age of 72 years, Robert Atkins, the cardiologist and  controversial promoter of high fat diets for weight loss, fell  on the sidewalk in front of his Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in Manhattan.  He lost his footing on a patch of ice, slipped and banged his head on the pavement.  At the time of his fall his book ”Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” lead the NY times paper-back best seller list.

He was taken to nearby Cornell Medical Center where a clot was evacuated from his brain. Thereafter he lapsed into a coma and he spent 9 days in the ICU, expiring on April 17, 2003.

The cause of death was determined by the New York Medical Examiner to be “blunt injury of head with epidural hematoma.”

An epidural hematoma is a collection of blood between the skull and the tough outer lining of the brain (the dura) which can occur with blunt trauma to the head which results in laceration of the arteries in this area. It is a not  uncommon cause of death in trauma . Actress Natasha Richardson (skiing, see below)  died from this. Nothing about the manner in which Robert Atkins died would suggest that he was a victim of his own diet any more than  Natasha Richardson was.

However, within the year a campaign of misinformation and deception spear-headed by  evangelistic vegans would try to paint the picture that Atkins died as a direct result of what they perceived as a horribly dangerous diet.

Michael Bloomberg, then New York major,  was quoted as saying

“I don’t believe that bullshit that [Atkins] dropped dead slipping on the sidewalk.”

According to the Smoking Gun:

“The 61-year-old billionaire added that Atkins was “fat” and served “inedible” food at his Hamptons home when Bloomberg visited. The mayor’s inference, of course, was that Atkins was actually felled by his meat-heavy diet, that his arteries were clogged with beef drippings. “

Enter The Vegans

Richard Fleming, a physician promoting prevention of cardiovascular disease through vegetarianism and with close ties to an organization  called Physicians Committe for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) sent a letter to the NY Medical Examiner requesting a copy of the full medical examination of Atkins. The NYME office  should have only issued copies of this report to physicians involved in the care of Atkins or next of kin but mistakenly complied with this request.  Fleming, who would subsequently publish his own low fat diet book, conveniently gave the report to PCRM which is directed by animal rights and vegan physicians.

From the front page of The two major concerns of the group are converting everyone to veganism and animal rights.

Neal Barnard, the President of PCRM, in an incredibly unethical move sent the letter to the Wall Street Journal with the hope that the information would destroy the popularity of the Atkins diet, a diet he clearly despises..  Barnard said the group decided to publicize the report because Atkins’ “health history was used to promote his terribly unhealthy eating plan..” The WSJ subsequently published an article summarizing the findings.

To this day, advocates of vegetarianism and low fat diets, distort the findings of Atkins’ Medical Examination in order to depict high fat diets like his as dangerous and portray Atkins as a victim of his own diet.

To scientists and thoughtful, unbiased physicians it is manifestly apparent that you cannot base decisions on what diet plan is healthy or effective for weight loss on the outcome of one patient. It doesn’t matter how famous that one person is or whether he/she originated and meticulously followed the diet. It is a ludicrous concept.

Would you base your decision to engage in running  based on the death of Jim Fixx?  Fixx  did much to popularize the sport of running and the concept of jogging as a source of health benefit and weight loss. He died while jogging, in fact. An autopsy concluded that he died of a massive heart attack and found advanced atherosclerosis (blockage) of the arteries to his heart.

Fixx inherited his predisposition to heart disease and couldn’t run himself out of it. Multiple studies over the years have documented the benefit of regular aerobic exercise like running on longevity and cardiovascular risk.

Would you based your decision to engage in  a very low fat diet based on how Nathan Pritikin died?  Pritikin authored an extremely popular book emphasizing eliminating fat from the diet but developed leukemia and slashed his wrists,  committing suicide at the age of 69 years. Would vegetarians accept the premise that their preferred diet results in leukemia or suicidal depression based on Pritikin’s death?

The Distortion of Atkins Death

The NYME report lists Atkins weight at autopsy as 258 pounds. Low-fat zealots seized on this fact as indicating that Atkins was screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-5-32-56-ammorbidly obese throughout his life.  For example, a  you-tube video of an audio interview of Atkinas online posted by “plant-based coach”  has this obviously photoshopped head of Atkins put on the body of a morbidly obese man. Atkins actually weight around 200 pounds through most of his life and a hospital note on admission showed him weighing 195 pounds. A substantial weight gain of 63 pounds occurred in the 9 days after his admission due to the accumulation of fluid volume and swelling which is not uncommon in the critically ill.

No autopsy was performed on Atkins but the NYME wrote on the document that he had “h/o of MI, CHF, HTN.”

MI is the acronym for a myocardial infarction or heart attack. As far as we can tell without access to full medical records, Atkins never had an MI. He did have a cardiac arrest in 2002. While most cardiac arrests are due to a cardiac arrhythmia secondary to an MI they can also occur in patients who have a cardiomyopathy or weakness in the heart muscle from causes other than MI.

In fact, USA Today reported that Stuart Trager, MD,  chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council in New York, indicated that Atkins was diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy at the time of his cardiac arrest and that it was not felt to be due to blocked coronary arteries/MI. Cardiomyopathy can be caused by viral infections or nonspecific inflammation of the heart muscle and would have nothing to do with diet.

Trager also stated that Atkins, as a result of the cardiomyopathy, had developed heart failure (CHF) and the pumping ability of his heart (ejection fraction) had dropped to 15% to 20%. While CHF can be due to heart attacks causing heart weakness in Atkins case it appears it was unrelated to fatty blockage of the coronary arteries causing MI and therefore likely not related  to his diet.

What Does Atkins Death Tell Us About His Diet 

The information about Atkins death tells us nothing about the effectiveness or dangers of his diet.  In one individual it is entirely likely that a genetic predisposition to cancer or heart disease overwhelms whatever beneficial effects the individual’s lifestyle may have had. Thus, we should never rely on the appearance or the longevity of  the primary promoter of a diet for the diet’s effectiveness.

The evangelists of low-fat, vegan or vegetarian diets like PCRM have shamelessly promoted misinformation about Atkins death to dismiss high fat diets and promote their own agenda. If their diets are truly superior it should be possible to utilize facts and science to promote them rather than a sensationalistic, distorted focus on the body of one man who slipped on the ice and fell to his death.

Epidurally Yours



24 thoughts on “The Distortion of The Death of Dr. Robert Atkins Continues”

  1. Atkin’s diet isn’t about Veg or Not Veg. It’s about getting rid of SUGAR! Sugar is the cause of most disease. Don’t get lost in the veggie/flesh argument. It’s all about Sugar sugar sugar.

  2. Your reply is mannerly and accurate for what is in the literature: It is NOT how the Mediterranean diet is practiced in the USA. In the USA animal protein (fish, etc), is literally the “center of (dominates) the plate 2 of 3 meals a day. Please tell me how often you have food from an animal each week. My bet = 10 or more times a week, whereas the animal protein in the European version of the Mediterranean diet is 2-4 times a week (“as a spice”). Thnx again for professional & polite response. My respect to you as we continue to disagree on this but I am a strong supporter of your techno-info. HRS, MD, FACC

  3. Well said. I might interest you to know that Dr Richard Fleming was outed for fraud by the FDA and then had a completely implausible paper retracted – since then, he continues to publish self-serving, increasingly nonsensical papers with faked data in predatory journals at a steady rate.

    The fact that so many vegan diet papers have needed to cite Fleming’s questionable research indicates just how thin the body of science that veganism relies on for support really is.

    • Puddleg,
      Thanks for that update. What Fleming and Barnard did after Atkins’ death has always struck as incredibly sleazy. Not surprising he would progress on to fake scientific papers.

  4. The discussion on diet is excellent- thank you. My comments may be of interest to others with similar dietary issues.

    Like so many, my diet is governed by food sensitivities and allergies, and the effect of food on my blood glucose. Double blind studies confirmed my issues.

    The Mediterranean diet is out – too many amines. A vegetarian diet, same problem. Rice is low allergy but very high GI, so blood glucose soars. No more rice!

    Dietary amines have been shown to affect atrial fibrillation. Google dietary amines atrial fibrillation to see a long list of scholarly articles that investigate the link between dietary amines and AF.

    Alcohol is notorious for precipitating AF, and many potable potions are very high in amines, especially those fermented like wine and beer. So I’m on the wagon. Most tasty vegetables, fruits and nuts are high in amines. Eating healthy is not so healthy for me.

    The low amine diet, plus a nightly low dose beta blocker, and the PACS, PVCS and skipped heart beats have all vanished.

    And the chronic post shingles nerve pain seems diminishing. The link with amines and pain is established, as is the link to migraines.

    The continuous blood glucose monitoring Freestyle Libre helps identify those foods which spike my blood glucose. Interesting that published tables of low GI foods can be so different from my personal readings. Would recommend FSL to all Type 2 Diabetics.

    I feel better with a low amine diet, and tight BG control. My wife feels her IBS is better on a FODMAP and gluten free diet.

    Interesting that following these principles, I am far closer to Dr Atkins than his vegan colleagues.

    As with different exercise intensity programs, we have many choices, and the challenge is to find what works best for each of us in practice, and if that conflicts with the theory, we must examine the theory closely.

    Would be interested to hear of others who have noticed diet related AF issues.

    • I had a history of a mitral valve prolapse that struck me from time to time until my early 40s. I did an elimination type diet and found that high fructose corn syrup (specifically in ice cream because I had been soda free for over a decade) was my primary trigger. I immediately stopped eating ice cream and soon after adopted a zero sugar diet (no artificial sweeteners, either). Since then, I have dropped grains and most processed and simple carbohydrates from my diet. I haven’t had a skipped heart beat or rapid beats in over a decade now! I’m healthier than ever at 52 and not slowing down anytime soon! Diet really is key to health and more people need to listen to their own bodies rather than the dogma spewed by their doctors trying to sell pharmaceuticals!

  5. What ever happened to the 30 odd years of clinical notes Atkins based his diet recommendations on. Surely that would point to successes and failures of his way of eating

  6. ACP is a bit overly vigorous in his defense of animal protein. To be frank, he hides behind poorly done studies like that Lyon heart study for the Mediterranean diet. My healthiest patients are vegan, but 90% will do just fine. Vegans to a person, unless it is “late in the game” have perfect non-HDL cholesterol, perfect triglycerides, perfect % body fat, perfect magnesium, perfect A1C, perfect potassium, perfect BUN, perfect hemoglobin, perfect uric acid. Vegans have a 50% lower carbon footprint. High animal protein diets overload the mitochondria predisposing to mistakes and the generation of cancers: this was published but I don’t have the reference. High animal protein diets make kidney disease worse. Compared to vegan diets with salt and alcohol control, animal protein raises blood pressure, cholesterol and creates the wrong microbiome in the intestines. Take a look at human teeth, jaw function, salivary gland enzymes… the human body is 90+% vegan by design, similar to chimpanzees and gorillas and not like hyenas, lions, or dogs. Or

        • Another point for accuracy… my search re Med diet returns this:
          “The Mediterranean diet is a primarily plant-based eating plan that includes daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices. Other foods like animal proteins are eaten in smaller quantities, with the preferred animal protein being fish and seafood.
          Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet | The Nutrition Source | Harvard …

          Dr. Silverstein, I do not wish to seem contentious, but I am in the midst of studying diets (again!) because there is so much conflicting information from experts. If you are going to argue the author’s position, it would be most helpful if you would include reputable source references. Thank you.

    • Don’t muddy the waters talking about teeth. Chimps are omnivores; so are raccoons, and their teeth do not resemble each other. Modern birds are toothless, but eagles are not herbivores.
      Happy Thanksgiving to all!

      • Racoons have a carnivore’s mouth, like bears that are also omniovres: both are vastly predominantly carnivores and their teeth/mouth reflect that. We should be as carnivorous as our closest biologic cousins = chimpanzees: that would be 5-10% (as I suggested). Apologies for lecturing a dentist, but plez speak wi a comparative anatomy dentist to confirm what I(!) have said.

        • Animals eat what they can eat; variations in diet persist where variations in food occur. I know enough about dentition to know that our teeth resemble neither pure carnivores nor herbivores.
          (BTW, learned comparative dental anatomy from one of the pioneers–Ted Kazimiroff).

        • A small point, but in the interest of accuracy…
          “Black bears are very opportunistic eaters. Most of their diet consists of grasses, roots, berries, and insects. They will also eat fish and mammals—including carrion—and easily develop a taste for human foods and garbage.”

    • There are some problems with claiming that vegans are metabolically healthy, because, firstly, veganism is a self-selecting group with high turnover.
      Secondly, anorexia nervosa is associated with both meat avoidance and with genes for insulin sensitivity and OCD.

      If anorexia (or OCD) is on a spectrum, and these associations also apply to people who restrict their diets without a medical indication in general, as seems likely, then metabolic health (and conscientiousness) are confounding the picture.
      This would mean that veganism, if recommended to a wider population, could have quite different metabolic effects from those it seems to have in the small self-selecting group.
      For example, in an Indian bariatric surgery clinic sample, the minority vegetarian diet was supplying the majority of morbidly obese cases.
      In India diet type is determined by religion and caste rather than free, “healthy-user” choice.

    • Vegans by design? Just compare their digestive systems. That should tell you something very clearly. And you are an M.D?, figures! Any diet that requires supplementation is not adequate or sustainable.

    • Gorilla’s has a massively long large intestine and microbiome compared to humans. They ferment the hell out of fibres and produce 70% SCFA’s. They are pretty much in ketosis

  7. Thanks for the information Doc, there are millions of vegetarians by birth who eat a lot of carbohydrates that put them on cardiac risk


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