Carbs: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

cupcakeEarlier this week I addressed the question of ideal weight and the research that suggests people in their later years benefit from a few extra pounds. But just as I cautioned that a little goes a long way, new research shows that older men and women, particularly those who eat more carbohydrates, may have a harder time regulating their appetite.

We all know that eating results in “stress” to the body and that carbs initiate or exacerbate hormonal processes that other nutrients don’t. Turns out they also prey upon the very parts that tell us to put the fork down. Dr. Zane Andrews, a neuroendocrinologist from Monash University, found that free radicals organize an assault on appetite-regulating POMC neurons. (POMCs tell our body when we’re full.) But the kicker is this: the more carbs in the meal, the more damage to the POMCs. Carbs: pesky varmints of the food world. (Half-kidding.)

Over a lifetime of carb-“rich” meals, these poor POMCs become increasingly damaged and dysfunctional. Given our society’s focus on carbohydrates, Andrews explains, we’re setting ourselves up for “premature cell deterioration.” Andrews also says those of us between ages 25-50 are most “at risk.” Our efforts in these years to avoid excessive carbs can encourage the longevity of these neurons and our hunger-regulating cellular balance.

A diet full of carbs encourages weight gain and simultaneously knocks out the neurons responsible for hunger suppression, making it harder to lose weight once a person’s realized it’s time to shed the extra poundage. They’re a menacing catalyst that sets in motion all kinds of degenerative havoc. The high-carb diet, it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Dr. Andrews’ study underscores the importance of a lot of things, big and small, short- and long-term. Starting a healthy, low-carb diet as soon as possible can help you maximize overall benefits. At the same time, every meal counts (whether you’re 25 or 55). The small effort you make today is unequivocally doing you good. The lifetime commitment you make can offer extraordinary advantages.

I’ll be sure to bring you more on Dr. Andrews’ research into the impact of carb-heavy diets. In the meantime, send me your thoughts and questions on carbs and the aging process or any other health issues that might be on your mind.

jek in the box Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to Grains

What Happens to Your Body When… You CARB BINGE?

What’s the Deal with Artificial Sweeteners?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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9 thoughts on “Carbs: The Gift that Keeps on Giving”

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  1. “Dr Andrews’ next research project will focus on finding if a diet rich in carbohydrates and sugars has other impacts on the brain, such as the increased incidences of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.”

    I find the carb-brain connection fascinating. Or rather, the excess carb-brain connection.

    For example, Dr. Eades says:

    “One of the ways to provide fuel for the brain is to consume sugar–it provides a quick boost in short-term energy but at a long-term cost. People whose diet contains a large amount of sugar or foods that are rapidly turned into sugar frequently have blood sugar problems and also much, much higher rates of memory loss and other degenerative brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s…”

    I’ve also read that neurons, like other cells, can become insulin resistant. Supposedly, neurons involved in memory, complex thinking and *drum roll* appetite control contain insulin receptors.

  2. Hi Mark – I wonder whether there is any data to indicate whether (and if so how quickly) the PMOCs have the capacity to regenerate if a low-carb diet is adopted? I think I have read that neurons can regrow but assume it depends on the type and conditions…

    If Andrews does find a connection between degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease and high carb diets then it could trigger the kind of seismic change in dietary behaviour that arguably will take eons to occur when the stakes are not as high….

  3. It’s no secret that these evil additions that you are either welcoming or justifying will go straight to your stomach and your “love handles”!! Cut out the carbs you can cut out the unwanted unecessary weight!

  4. Oh my, I almost wish I hadn’t read this knowing how many years I was on a high carb diet compared to the one year I’ve been eating primal.

  5. I nver knew how much of an effect carbs had on the brain and the sensory system. However, it would explain why I used to get strong cravings rather than a gradual buildup of feeling hungry when I ate junky, low quality carbs. I’ve cut down on the carbs a lot since switching over to a more healthy lifestyle. Not quite at your level but getting there 🙂

  6. Mark – one more thought. From a comment I made when discussing this with someone else:

    My take on the implications is that there is probably no damage to the cells when carbohydrate levels are below a certain level; and that the critical level is whatever level we were accustomed to consuming as we evolved – i.e. lower than the modern diet. It may simply be that in order to train for extended periods every day it is necessary for humans to consume more carbohydrate than is good for the appetite regulating cells. The theory goes that our ancestors did not need to exercise that regularly because their food acquisition activity generally went in short intense bursts separated by periods of rest. Perhaps when training, athletes do not notice the damage to their appetite regulating cells because the effects are disguised by their very active lifestyle.

    So my thinking is that this could be another factor contributing to retired athletes putting on a lot of weight….