Acellular carbohydrates as a critical concept

English: different sorts of Pasta

English: different sorts of Pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A missing piece of the puzzle in understanding the health impacts of the carb-containing foods that we eat?

Dr. Ian Spreadbury presents an intriguing and potentially ground-breaking concept in a paper recently published.  The full text of the paper is available free online.

Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.

Spreadbury I.  Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012;5:175-89.

PMID:  2282663   Free PMC Article

This is a scholarly and well argued thesis. His key conclusion?

“A dietary pattern with carbohydrates exclusively from cellular low-density sources may remove the root cause of a range of our most prevalent diseases.”

There is some risk that his research and theories will be used falsely as an argument in favor of foods that are simply low in carbohydrate density.  In fact, his focus is on both the density of carbs in foods AND on whether the carbs (starch and sugar) are present within cells.

He also does not propose that simply switching from a long-term intake of high-carbohydrate-density acellular foods will instantly fix the problems that have been set in motion – such as impacts on the gut microbe population (the microbiome), inflammation and leptin resistance – nor simply erase the downstream outcomes such as obesity and diabetes.  He does propose that such a dietary change might bring great benefits and that over time the body would likely slowly at least partially recover.  He calls for research into these questions.

My attention was first brought to this paper by Dr. Jay Wortman on his blog, and it has received other attention.

It is likely to become much more widely known now that Dr. Andrew Weil has commented on it HERE and HERE. (Note: Weil’s previously broken link they now have fixed)

I don’t agree fully with Dr. Weil’s comments.  For example, his statement

 “If Spreadbury is right, the obesity solution is straightforward.”

is just so wrong I don’t know where to start.

I love this at the bottom of Dr. Spreadbury’s paper

“This work was not supported by funding.”.

Of course, there are other aspects of carbohydrate intake that still need to be taken into consideration – especially the impact of per-meal carb total intake (not solely the form of the carbs) on blood glucose control in diabetes – where there is a combined impact from carb food form and total.

4 thoughts on “Acellular carbohydrates as a critical concept

  1. ”If Spreadbury is right, the obesity solution is straightforward.”

    is just so wrong I don’t know where to start.

    But, but…. when we know the solution, and live the solution, it all seems so simple…. Essentially, the solution is a Paleo-ist diet, perhaps even low carb paleo template, no exorphins, no acellular carbohydrate, no endocannabinoids components… simple… not easy. For a individual to take up the life style,- a philosophical change must happen -, if they have the desire, interest, energy, it works. For society as a whole, not so easy. In reality, the lifestyle must be sold to the individuals, one at a time.

    • Hello, Fred, thanks for your comment. Yeah, you would think so. Dr. Spreadbury discusses concepts at the heart of Paleo in his article. So nice to see that in a scientific paper and, if you haven’t looked at the text of the article itself yet, I think you would enjoy doing so. For example “People eating a grain-free whole-food diet anecdotally report a satiety that precludes intrusive thoughts about food, often until after a scheduled mealtime has passed.”. Once something medically is set in motion, it develops a life of its own that can’t be fully resolved/repaired by removing the original cause. In obesity, there are layers of impacts on life and health that get more entagled and complex with time. For some people, even removing acellular carbs completely does not result in return to “normal” body weight – even if also fully Paleo. Many people report this – but this voice is not heard as much because (as I have witnessed) people with less exciting stories tend to be ignored/dissed/repressed when they try to communicate about their experiences and/or are too discouraged to bother participating in the online discourse. Witness Jimmy Moore’s brave public battle with weight regain afer his inital weight loss phase. He has now achieved great success again, but it has taken a sustained state of ketosis to do this – the ketosis providing some degree of appetite reduction that his Paleo low-carb diet didn’t. Not all metabolic problems are easily repairable by removing the foods that set them off. Neither are all mental or psycholgical consequences. Sorry, I do know you mean it well, but “if they have the desire, interest, energy, it works” is just not true for everyone. We need respect for metabolic diversity and the unique stories of individuals. Still, what you are saying will work for many or even most – and would especially be effective in prevention of weight problems in the first place.

      • It is the philosophical change that must first happen to be able to follow a HFLC paleo food plan. Without that, it will not work. Willingness to follow, willingness to believe without argument, the willingness to become teachable, are essential. Addressing just acellular carbohydrates is only one of the obesity issues. Appetite stimulation from exorphins is a big one as well, as is those pesty endocannabinoids over stimulation of “the munchies” are seperate issues. The only way is to understand these and have the philosophical change necessary for recovery to a near normal weight.

      • Yeah, the penny has to drop in order to set real change in motion. Peice-meal changes may seem enough in the short term, but in the long term it takes a broad approach to health in order to claim lasting weight control.

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