Objective: Low-carbohydrate diets and their combination with high-protein diets have been gaining widespread popularity to control weight. In addition to weight loss, they may have favorable short-term effects on the risk factors of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Our objective was to elucidate their long-term effects on mortality and CVD incidence.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, ISI Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and ClinicalTrials.gov for relevant articles published as of September 2012. Cohort studies of at least one year's follow-up period were included.
Review methods: Identified articles were systematically reviewed and those with pertinent data were selected for meta-analysis. Pooled risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for all-cause mortality, CVD mortality and CVD incidence were calculated using the random-effects model with inverse-variance weighting.
Results: We included 17 studies for a systematic review, followed by a meta-analysis using pertinent data. Of the 272,216 people in 4 cohort studies using the low-carbohydrate score, 15,981 (5.9%) cases of death from all-cause were reported. The risk of all-cause mortality among those with high low-carbohydrate score was significantly elevated: the pooled RR (95% CI) was 1.31 (1.07-1.59). A total of 3,214 (1.3%) cases of CVD death among 249,272 subjects in 3 cohort studies and 5,081 (2.3%) incident CVD cases among 220,691 people in different 4 cohort studies were reported. The risks of CVD mortality and incidence were not statistically increased: the pooled RRs (95% CIs) were 1.10 (0.98-1.24) and 0.98 (0.78-1.24), respectively. Analyses using low-carbohydrate/high-protein score yielded similar results.
Conclusion: Low-carbohydrate diets were associated with a significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality and they were not significantly associated with a risk of CVD mortality and incidence. However, this analysis is based on limited observational studies and large-scale trials on the complex interactions between low-carbohydrate diets and long-term outcomes are needed.