The doctor’s widow blames the gain on fluid retention.

NEW YORK – Maybe they should call it the Fatkins Diet.

A medical examiner’s report mistakenly made public reveals that diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins was a bloated 258 pounds and had a history of heart problems when he died.

The bombshell sparked a new round of debate Tuesday on whether the high-protein, high-fat regimen sweeping the nation is a weight-loss miracle or a health hazard.

“This has people questioning if it (the diet) is as safe as Dr. Atkins claimed,” Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Atkins’ widow and disciples quickly fired back, claiming his ailments were unrelated to the diet and his excess weight was from water retention.

“It has become clear to me that something as simple as the truth will be perverted and manipulated by dishonest individuals,” Veronica Atkins railed.

Her husband – the best-known diet doc in the world – died of head injuries on April 17, nine days after he slipped on a patch of ice in Manhattan. He was 72.

At the request of his family, no autopsy was performed, but the city medical examiner did examine his corpse and health history and make a report.

The document was supposed to be confidential but was released to a Nebraska physician. He gave it to a Washington group that promotes a vegetarian diet, which leaked it to The Wall Street Journal.

The blunder came three weeks after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg slammed Atkins as “fat” during a pasta lunch, even suggesting that his death had more to do with his health than the fall. Bloomberg eventually apologized to Atkins’ widow.

“We made a mistake,” said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office. “Hopefully, we will make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

But once the fat was out of the bag, it raised questions about Atkins’ entire philosophy.

While alive, the cardiologist claimed that severely restricting carbohydrates causes pounds to melt off and prevents disease.

The medical examiner’s report, however, said he had a history of myocardial infarction (heart attack), hypertension (high blood pressure) and congestive heart failure.

Veronica Atkins and Stuart Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council, bristled at the notion that Atkins’ menu of steak, eggs and butter was to blame.

They insisted Atkins’ heart problems stemmed from cardiomyopathy caused by a virus, and that he had never had a heart attack – only a cardiac arrest episode in April 2002.

As for his 258-pound weight – obese under federal guidelines – Trager said Atkins normally weighed between 180 and 195 pounds. During his nine-day coma, he packed on another 60 pounds in water weight, he said.

But some experts questioned whether such a sudden weight increase is possible.

“It is amazing how much weight can be gained as a result of fluid retention, but I find it difficult to accept he gained 60 pounds in nine days,” said forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht, the coroner of Allegheny County, Pa.

Dr. Daniel Fisher, an NYU cardiologist, confirmed that Atkins’ heart failure could have been caused by a virus, but said it would be difficult to rule out diet as a factor.

(c) 2004, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-02-10-04 2250EST

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