Women who follow a high protein diet, such as Atkins, could be damaging their chances of conceiving, new research has suggested.

Researchers at the University of Colorado conducted experiments on mice that showed that diets containing 25% protein affected embryo and foetal development, reported BBC News Online.

Presenting their research at a fertility conference in Berlin, the researchers said that this could mean that women whose diet consists of more than 30% protein could have difficulty conceiving. They added that it would be sensible for women who were trying to conceive to limit their protein consumption to around 20% of their diet.

However, a spokeswoman for Atkins Nutritionals argued that a low-carbohydrate diet could actually help overweight women with polycystic ovary syndrome to conceive. She also questioned whether results from tests on mice could be applied to humans.

“The study subjects were mice, which are herbivores. Whether or not these findings or effects would apply to humans, who are omnivores, is unknown,” the spokeswoman was quoted by the BBC as saying.