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Mary Vernon, M.D. - The Doctor with the Happy Patients

Using the Atkins Diet to Treat Obesity and Diabetes

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Updated October 18, 2013

Mary Vernon, M.D.

Mary Vernon, M.D.

Photo © Jimmy Moore
If Dr. Mary Vernon can't get you excited about eating low carb, than no one can. She is a bariatric physician who has a family practice in Lawrence, Kansas, as well as being the Medical Director of of the University of Kansas Weight Control Program, and the current president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. In addition, she co-wrote the book Atkins Diabetes Revolution, published in 2004.

What a pleasure it is to listen to a knowledgeable doctor educate other physicians in the use of low carb diets to treat health problems. I had an opportunity to do this at a recent conference of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians in Nashville. Dr. Vernon spoke on the topic "Carbohydrate Restriction for Type 2 Diabetes in Clinical Practice" at a Nutrition and Metabolism Society seminar connected with the conference. I share some of her talk with you, as well as parts of a phone conversation I had with her more recently.

How Dr. Vernon Learned about Low Carb Eating

Before discovering the tool of carbohydrate restriction, Dr. Vernon was frustrated with the lack of progress in her overweight and diabetic patients. She says, "I was telling them what I was supposed to be telling them, but nobody was getting any better."

At an ASBP seminar, she heard a presentation on the positive results of limiting carbohydrate on the body. A short time later she was studying for her boards, and reading a biochemistry book about how the primary function of insulin is fat storage. It was her lightbulb moment. The pieces fell together, and it dawned on her how carb reduction could help people. Still, she was concerned about safety. She says, "I became a data-gathering nut", collecting all kinds of information about her patients' health as they changed their diets. She then collaborated with researchers to find out how lowering carbs was affecting her patients as a group.

The results were so startling and positive, and her patients were so thrilled, that she was won over. She loved seeing the difference in people's lives, especially after her previous frustrations. She likes to tell the story of a medical student working with her who, after the first day of seeing one happy patient after another said, "I feel like I'm in an infomercial!"

Don't Focus on Weight

Interestingly for a bariatrician, Dr. Vernon feels that focusing on weight is missing the boat, because weight is only a marker for an underlying problem. This problem is a difficulty processing glucose, a difficulty which begins with insulin resistance and can progress through various stages ending with diabetes. (See The Road to Diabetes) Correcting the problem results in weight loss - and guess what? The easiest correction is simply to give the body less glucose (carbohydrates).

How the Doctor Can Tell if You're Cheating

Two of the most consistent results when a person first reduces carbohydrates are a dramatic drop in triglycerides, and an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol. These changes are so dependable that Dr. Vernon calls them the "hallmark of carbohydrate restriction", and advised the doctors at the conference that they could use these two measures to inform them as to whether their patients were indeed following a low carb diet.

It is this type of attention to detail that has led to Dr. Vernon becoming one of the foremost physicians in the field advocating carbohydrate restriction for weight loss and the treatment of diabetes and its precursors. She frequently lectures at conferences, continually educating other doctors about the latest research.

The rest of Dr. Vernon's talk was aimed at helping physicians understand how to diagnose glucose tolerance problems before they progress to diabetes, the biology of low carb diets, and the specifics of how to use low carb diets with their patients. She told them how to handle medications, presented case studies, and helped them to understand the role of diet in the progression of the diabetes process. But I wanted to ask Dr. Vernon some of the questions that my readers ask me. Happily, I had an opportunity to talk to her by phone more recently.

Q&A with Dr. Mary Vernon

  1. About.com
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  3. Low Carb Diets
  4. Science of Low Carb
  5. Prediabetes and Diabetes
  6. Interview with Dr Mary Vernon about Diabetes Weight Loss and Low Carb Diets

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