Dietary Carbohydrates Promote Aging

Dietary carbohydrates are usually thought of as healthy or at worst benign, and current dietary guidelines suggest eating plenty of carbohydrates, especially grains. But are carbohydrates really healthy or benign, or do they harm health and promote aging? As we’ll see below, dietary carbohydrates promote aging.

Whole grains: no evidence for benefits

Dietary guidelines specifically call for eating whole grains, and we’ve been bombarded with messages that eating them is the healthy thing to do.

However, there’s little evidence that whole grains provide any benefits.

The evidence that does exist is mostly epidemiological, that is, the evidence consists of associations between better health and the use of whole grains. (Overview of the evidence here.) As with other studies showing associations, causality cannot be shown. People who eat whole grains are likely to smoke less, exercise more, be more health conscious, have higher IQ and higher conscientiousness, have lower prevalence of obesity – in short, to be motivated to be healthy and take steps to be so. This is the healthy user effect. It’s difficult to separate any effects of whole grains from the other factors.

Randomized controlled studies are the gold standard for showing causality. And meta-analyses done by the Cochrane group are the gold standard for ascertaining the validity of scientific evidence.

A recent Cochrane meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of whole grains in relation to cardiovascular disease risk found:

There is insufficient evidence from RCTs of an effect of whole grain diets on cardiovascular outcomes or on major CVD risk factors such as blood lipids and blood pressure. Trials were at unclear or high risk of bias with small sample sizes and relatively short-term interventions, and the overall quality of the evidence was low. There is a need for well-designed, adequately powered RCTs with longer durations assessing cardiovascular events as well as cardiovascular risk factors. [Emphasis added.]

If whole grains have no effect on cardiovascular risk, it seems likely that other health effects would be minimal to non-existent.

In truth, whole grains may have some benefit depending on what they displace in the diet. For example, whole grains have a lower glycemic index than refined grains, so if a person ate whole instead of refined grains, that could be beneficial.

But, since whole grains increase insulin response and raise blood sugar, cutting them out of your diet entirely would make more sense.

In any case, the lack of evidence of benefits for cardiovascular disease in controlled trials makes a travesty of the allegedly “evidence-based” dietary guidelines. Health authorities should not be subjecting the American people to a massive dietary experiment without extremely good evidence that what they recommend is healthy. Instead of healthy, we got the obesity epidemic.

Dietary carbohydrates are associated with increased death rates

The PURE study, recently published, showed an association between dietary carbohydrates and increased death rates, and it is not the first study to do this.

High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.

The charts below show associations between the amount of energy in the diet from total fat, different types of fat, and carbohydrates, in relation to total mortality and cardiovascular mortality.

Large image of Figure 1.

Fat was protective, carbohydrates were harmful. To be fair, one must point out that the percentage of carbohydrate that showed higher death rates was very high, above 65% of calories. Currently, Americans eat about 50% of calories as carbohydrates. In the PURE study, more than half the subjects ate 60% or greater carbohydrate, and one quarter ate more than 70%.

These results, like other similar studies, show an association only, but in this case the association shows the opposite of what health authorities believe.

Dietary carbohydrates promote aging

Most carbohydrates consist of long chains of glucose molecules, which means that when broken down by digestion, glucose results. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar and insulin levels, and this process is related to aging and greater mortality.

Taking the body of preceding evidence both from model organisms as well as human epidemiology into account, we therefore believe that current nutritional recommendations in regards to macronutrients, but most importantly in regards to refined carbs and sugar, should indeed be fundamentally reconsidered.

Lowering blood glucose, either through carbohydrate restriction or via drugs like metformin and acarbose, increases lifespan.

Ketogenic diets extends lifespan

Ketogenic diets are characterized by very low to zero carbohydrate intake, which results in the production of ketones.

Ketogenic diets extend lifespan in lab animals, and even ketone supplements do so. More recent studies have found the same: ketogenic diet extends longevity and healthspan in mice.

Ketogenic diets may extend lifespan because they generate ketone bodies, or because they lower blood sugar and insulin, or because of all of these, or conceivably because of other additional factors. The fact that ketone bodies mimic calorie restriction, the most potent lifespan-extending intervention known, argues that ketone bodies themselves are the magic ingredient.

Conclusion

Aging can be defined as a tendency to worse health

Carbohydrates, at least in sufficient amounts, worsen health. Ergo, carbohydrates promote aging.

While ketogenic diets are beneficial, any carbohydrate restriction is beneficial, so you don’t need to go ultra-low to zero carbohydrate to reap the benefits, although it certainly appears that very low carbohydrate ketogenic diets offer the most benefit.

Sugar is arguably the worst carbohydrate for health, so eliminate that first.

I discussed a very low carbohydrate diet as a cornerstone in fighting aging in my book, Stop the Clock.

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12 comments
Pelekesi says October 16, 2017

At 70% we are not talking high carbs, we are talking not much of anything else – especially protein. As an example whole grain bread is 2/3s carbs with about 1/6th fat and 1/6th protein. That might be sufficient fat intake for cell membrane maintenance and absorbing enough fat soluble items but 16% protein is definitely on the lower end for protein. So this high carb is bad graph might really be saying low protein is bad. It does seem from the graph that this effect peters out below 60% carb.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says October 16, 2017

    Yes, seems possible that one of the effects of very high carb diets may come from crowding out protein, and fat.

    Reply
Antrinh93 says October 16, 2017

Posts a lot of useful information. It makes me even more confident about a low carb diet. thank you!

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Bill says October 16, 2017

PD, do not agree with you on this one. If carbohydrates causing aging then there will be diseases that shorten life.Like CVD for example. But the Kitavan islanders in PNG, traditionally had very low heart disease rates and yet ate a very high carb diet – especially taro & sweet potato and other fruits and vegetables.

Thus there is the Kitavan paradox..

Also I think that Denise Minger’s comments on this subject are very worth keeping in mind:

https://deniseminger.com/2015/10/06/in-defense-of-low-fat-a-call-for-some-evolution-of-thought-part-1/

There you will find a long discussion in her blog article about low fat diets/high carb diets being healthy for some people. Here is part of what she has to say.

“Something special happens at very high levels of fat intake (and very low levels of carbohydrate intake). That thing’s called ketosis. It’s where your body creates ketones to use when glucose is scarce, and where fat metabolism is optimized.’carbosis until further notice. It’s a state where insulin sensitivity dramatically improves, and where carbohydrate metabolism is optimized.

Something equally special happens at very low levels of fat intake (and very high levels of carbohydrate intake). I’m not aware of a formal name for this, so I’m dubbing it ‘carbosis’ until further notice. It’s a state where insulin sensitivity dramatically improves, and where carbohydrate metabolism is optimized.”

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says October 17, 2017

    Here’s a post at Hyperlipid discussing “carbosis”. Once you get past some complex biochemistry, the key point is:

    Translation: Insulin usage: 13% were f*cked. 29% derived no benefit. 58% achieved carbosis.

    How does this stack up against rather mild carbohydrate restriction in severe T2 diabetics?

    This diagram says it all. It’s from Haimoto et al in 2009.

    All they did was drop carbohydrate intake to just over 130g/d. No ketosis. Look at the changes for the first 3 months in HbA1c:

    No one needed to increase meds. No one failed to drop HbA1c. No one had to start on insulin. Most people dropped their sulpha drugs. The large spike upwards in the second section looks like one of the two drop outs. The other drop out seems to be lost in the variation in maintenance of control over the 3-6 month interval. Bear in mind that 130g/d is a VERY modest approach to low carbohydrate dieting in severe T2 diabetes. No ketosis, just 100% response rate to a modest carbohydrate reduction.

    How can you compare carbosis with ketosis, or even mild carbohydrate restriction? It’s like comparing boiled rice followed by boiled rice plus table sugar with a char-grilled fatty steak (rib eye is my preferred choice), buttered broccoli on the side plus Optimal ice-cream to follow. With extra double cream if you’re losing too much weight.

    The biochemistry of carbosis is very interesting. It might help just over a half of people who try it. Its therapeutic use seems to be of dubious relevance when real food can provide results in 100% of people who comply to carbohydrate reduction. It’s strictly for the anhedonic out there but even these poor souls should be cautious about finding themselves in the group of 13-15% who end up f*cked, metabolically speaking.

    No thanks.

    I would also emphasize that the phenomenon of carbosis features ultra-low fat, something very difficult to attain for free living people. Another point: while I didn’t go through all of Minger’s data, citing Walter Kempner seems dubious. He had nowhere near the success he’s credited with, and many people on his regimen got worse. I discussed that briefly here.

    As for Kitavans, as I’ve written, they’re all short, which may make translation of their results difficult. And further, all of their carbohydrates come in the form of tubers and fruits and vegetables; they eat no flour or sugar. Also no seed oils. They eat lots of fish and coconut oil. So, while carbs per se in the form they eat may not harm them, many other of their habits/circumstances lead to better health.

    Reply
      Bill says October 17, 2017

      Yes PD, I was reading those comments from Peter at Hyperlipid last night as well. And Dense Mingers comments as part of that conversation. Very interesting !

      But I still think that the diet which is best for a given human, will vary with personal genetics, gut microbiome and dietary cultural history. I don’t think there is no one set formula. which works for all – even a high fat low carb one

      Reply
Andy p says October 16, 2017

There’s always at least one comment posted on here where someone just doesn’t understand how carbohydrate metabolism works and continues to live in the myth that high carb diets are the way forward. good luck to you but i fear you’re going to suffer unnecessarily in life and will have weight problems guaranteed

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    Bill says October 17, 2017

    Hey Andy P ‘putdowns’ and fear mongering are not usually part of the conversation here at Rogue Health.

    If you make comments based on your personal experience or based on your own knowledge from long study in this area, then I will read and think about your remarks.Otherwise no. Really very simple.

    Reply
Robert says October 16, 2017

Hi PD,

What amount of carbohydrate intake do you recommend?

I used to have a very low carbohydrate diet, but found I had less energy, especially on workout days.

Now I get probably 30-40% of my caloric intake from low glycemic load carbs. Mainly oatmeal and brown rice. I have more energy on workout days and havent noticed any negative effects.

The only consideration I have with meal timing is avoiding the combination of fatty and carby foods. Carb meals are moderately glycemic so I dont mix them with calorically dense foods.

Is this still too much?

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    P. D. Mangan says October 17, 2017

    Hi Robert – if you get 30% of calories from carbs, you’re still a lot lower than most. Personally, I get under 10% of calories from carbs, and on many days that next to 0%. I can only say to do what works for you. If carbs give you more energy and you don’t need to lose fat nor have any issues with blood sugar control or other health problems, then you’re probably fine.

    Reply
    Leo says October 18, 2017

    Get pure/healthy fat @ 70% , non starch Vegetables 20% and the rest, healthy carbs. Cutt shuger and do intermenet fasting. See the result in a month. Workout fasted.

    Reply
    Rob says October 31, 2017

    My experience is similar to yours, Robert. I was very low carb for a while, but I couldn’t maintain my weight when I ate that way (even consuming a lot of healthy fats did not work). I definitely do not need to lose any weight, so I increased the carbs to 30-40% of calories, and now I can maintain weight, and I feel good (no lack of energy). I routinely check my blood sugar, and it’s fine.

    Reply
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