There’s a curious dichotomy at work between what is being said about low-carb diets and what the reality is. On the one hand we keep hearing from much of the media and the so-called health “experts” about how low-carb nutrition is just a passing fad, decidedly unhealthy for you, clogs your arteries with all that fat, ruins your kidneys from consuming too much protein, removes whole categories of foods, excludes fruits and vegetables from your diet, will give you cancer because of the red meat consumed, so forth and so on. Meanwhile, studies continue to pour in from the scientific community demonstrating the incredible health BENEFITS of livin’ la vida low-carb, including stunning blood sugar and insulin control, improvements in key heart health markers like HDL and triglycerides, reduced blood pressure, incredible energy and vitality, clear skin and so much more! It’s incredibly odd that there would be two so diametrically opposite viewpoints regarding a discussion of the same way of eating, but it is the reality that befalls the low-carb diet. Thankfully there is real science behind the concept of carbohydrate-restriction that trumps any propaganda and innuendo about it that may come from groups with a vested interest in seeing its demise (cough…vegetarians…cough…vegans…cough!).
That’s why I was delighted to see a column published in the UK-based Daily Mail this week entitled “Can cutting carbohydrates from your diet make you live longer?” highlighting the incredible groundbreaking work of biochemistry and biophysics professor at the University of California San Francisco Cynthia Kenyon, PhD. I first learned about Dr. Kenyon’s fabulous work about a year ago when I blogged about her research feeding worms glucose resulting in a 20 percent reduced lifespan. I’ve attempted to book Dr. Kenyon on my podcast for an interview, but I haven’t had any luck in this regard so far. I’ll keep trying because she is doing a great service to the world openly promoting a reduction in carbohydrates for the sake of longevity and vibrant health. Perhaps she could convince her colleague at UCSF Dr. Robert Lustig that it’s more than just the fructose that is the culprit in weight and health issues.
While many have been seeking the mythical concept of the “fountain of youth” for as long as I can remember, Dr. Kenyon says it is as simple as making some simple changes in your diet that will keep you feel young, being healthy, and living that way as long as you possibly can. This is shocking to people who think there’s some magic pill or potion that will make that happen, especially in the 21st Century when technological advances have progressed so much that people actually believe something like that is possible. Maybe…maybe not. What we do know is chronic disease is running rampant like never before in the history of the world and there’s one culprit that Dr. Kenyon believes is to blame–CARBOHYDRATES!
By limiting your intake of carbohydrates of all kinds–even the supposedly healthy ones like bananas, whole grain breads and pastas, potatoes along with the usual suspects of simple carbs found in cakes, cookies, candy and the like–you can be assured to be healthy and stay healthy for a very long time in your life. She discovered this by observing the genetic reactions happening in C.elegans roundworms which can be translated into what happens in humans as well. She discovered that controlling the gene activity dramatically slows down the aging process of the worms whose lifespan is usually about 20 days long. The mutations she performed in the worms allowed them to live to be 40 days–the equivalent of seeing someone who you thought was 30 and they’re actually 60 years old! More importantly, they “behaved like youngsters” which means they not only looked younger but felt younger too. Some of the worms have lived as long as 144 days–equal to a human being living to be 450 years old. While that is not even remotely likely, it shows you the power of altering your genes to maximize every chance you can to get healthier and stay healthier for a long and prosperous life.
Interestingly, many scientists have long believed the secret to longevity is a calorie-restricted diet, but compliance with a way of eating that leaves you constantly hungry and craving nutrition is not very high. Dr. Kenyon notes that a low-calorie diet is effective because it’s actually a low-carbohydrate diet that helps to control insulin production (which turns on the “Grim Reaper” gene) and is the primary hormonal culprit in the aging process. Meanwhile the “Sweet Sixteen” gene called DAF 16 is a sort of “elixir” that turns back the clock allowing for youthfulness to prevail again when the genes are both repaired and renovated due in large part to an increase in antioxidants which lessen the impact of free radicals which lead to many of the most common diseases associated with aging today like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more.
Not surprisingly, with all her work looking at the heavy hand of the “Grim Reaper” gene turned on by insulin, Dr. Kenyon began cutting back significantly on her carbohydrate intake to control the insulin production and lower blood sugar. The makeup of her diet is enough to bring a smile to the face of most people who follow a healthy low-carb lifestyle: no starchy foods like potatoes, noodles, rice, bread and pasta, salads without sugary dressings, olive oil, nuts, cheese, chicken, eggs, bunless hamburgers, baked fish, very little fruit, no processed foods, and some 80 percent chocolate. She believes eating this way will help her stay healthy and fit for a much longer period of time than she would have had she continued eating the way she used to.
As for the “Sweet Sixteen” gene getting turned on by a reduction in insulin, Dr. Kenyon tested this theory by adding some glucose to the diet of some of her worms who were living longer and healthier. Almost immediately the worms showed signs of aging and health decline. This work in Dr. Kenyon’s lab piqued the interest of other researchers who began looking for this “Grim Reaper”/”Sweet Sixteen” concept in other animals as well as humans–and they found it! A remote village in northern Ecuador has no incidences of cancer, obesity or heart disease because the “Grim Reaper” gene that produces insulin is missing. Of course, they only grow to be four-feet tall because insulin is a growth hormone, too.
This column was amazing because it stated very clearly that raised insulin levels are “triggered by high carbohydrate consumption.” Shazam! Somebody stop the presses because this is huge news that deserves to be on the front page of health news publications and web sites around the world. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon, though. They also accurately report that consuming more carbs which raises insulin also leads to an increase in cholesterol, raises blood pressure levels, and releases triglycerides into the blood stream to significantly boost the chances of getting heart disease. But, as happens with virtually every positive article about science supporting low-carb diets, the pharmaceutical companies salivate at the opportunity to create a pill that simulates the diet changes. Thankfully, none are even close to hitting the market. Hey, how about this? Just go on a low-carb diet! Gee, what a novel concept!
The column also suggests exercise as a way to reduce insulin by increasing your sensitivity to it which in turns lowers the amount of it your body needs. Additionally, physical activity helps your body produce more antioxidants which fight the free radicals that lead to aging. It would seem obvious from Dr. Kenyon’s work that most anyone who is seeking to reduce insulin levels to live healthier and long would cut back on their carbohydrates, but conventional wisdom has long told us that a low-fat, high complex carbohydrate diet is necessary for proper energy and health. This is a debate that will not subside as there are powerful forces at work to keep the status quo regarding diet and health intact. And yet the impact of the work of Dr. Kenyon and others will eventually create this tsunami of public backlash about being lied to about how unhealthy dietary fat supposedly is and how innocuous carbohydrates are on the hormones like insulin that determine your health and how long you live.
The article alludes to awarding the Nobel Prize to Dr. Cynthia Kenyon and she’s certainly worthy of such an honorable distinction along with other researchers and practioners like Dr. Jeff Volek from the University of Connecticut, Dr. Eric Westman at Duke University, Dr. Stephen Phinney at the University of California-Davis, Dr. Mary C. Vernon from the University of Kansas, and many others who are promoting the concept of low-carb nutrition for health. It’s interesting how the mainstream medical establishment will acknowledge that this work is indeed important but then they refuse to state that people should be eating low-carb because “I’m not sure the evidence for the benefit of cutting carbohydrates and keeping insulin levels down is strong enough yet.” HOW MUCH MORE EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED?! Sheez! It just amazes me how supposedly intellectual people could come to such ignorant conclusions when the evidence is staring them in the face!
You can e-mail Dr. Cynthia Kenyon to thank her for the amazing work she is doing on behalf of low-carb diets on aging by sending her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. As I stated, I’ve again asked for an interview with her for my podcast and I hope to make that happen in 2011 sometime. It’s good to see such prominent media coverage of the work of someone like her and I expect to hear much more from her in the years to come.