Critical Carbs

September 30, 2003 12:50 PM

Dietary carbs are currently regarded as the culprit for most modern human diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Indeed, numerous studies demonstrate the association between over consumption of carbs and a high percentage of blood sugar problems, obesity and cognitive impairments among modern humans from all age groups.

Consequently, carb-bashing today is at an all-time high. Many people develop carb phobia and low or no carb diets are now the darling of the media. So it seems, the two most popular dietary methods are currently carb or calorie restriction. Most, if not all diets are based on either one or both methods.

Yet, in spite of the growing awareness of the hazards of over consumption of carbs and calories, the rate of weight gain, obesity and blood sugar related diseases is still accelerating. To make matters worse, people who follow extreme low calorie or low carb diets often face unpleasant symptoms including mental and physical fatigue, chronic cravings for carbs (in particular sweets), loss of libido and severe mood swings. Bodybuilders, who try to slim down via low calorie low carb diets, often face similar adverse symptoms in addition to loss of muscle mass and strength.

Obviously, something must be wrong with the assumption that chronic carb and calorie restriction is the practical solution for most of modern disease. Even though the idea of carb and calorie restriction may very well work theoretically, in practical terms (in vivo) it fails.

The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the critical role of dietary carbs in human metabolism as well as to challenge the notion that carbs aren't essential for human survival. Finally, conclusions are presented together with some practical methods as to how to take advantage of dietary carbs for reaching a desired metabolic potential to build lean tissue (including muscles), burn fat and increase energy production.

Maximum Oxygenation

Maximum oxygenation is a biological term that describes maximum energy production from metabolic processes that require oxygen. Active individuals, including athletes and bodybuilders, should note that maximum oxygenation is a principal key to maximum performance. The upcoming paragraph may be somewhat technical. Nevertheless, understanding this topic could mean the difference between average and superior capability to build muscles and ignite energy.

Living organisms derive most of their energy from oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions, which involve the transfer of electrons to the respiratory chain complex (an aerobic energy-yielding metabolic process that involves interaction between hydrogen protons and oxygen). Aerobic energy production requires oxygen and yields most of the energy needed for survival. In fact, the electron transfer system (oxidative phosphorylation) yields ten times more energy than the Krebs cycle itself.

Dr. Otto Warburg, one of the world's foremost leading biochemists, won a Nobel Prize for his basic work with respiratory enzymes and cellular energy production. He discovered and characterized certain nucleotide compounds and proteins, which are necessary for the actions of the respiratory chain, which, as noted, yields most of the energy needed to maintain an optimum metabolic state.

Dr. Warburg suggested that energy released in the oxidation of foodstuff may be conserved and transferred via a special mechanism for use in synthesis and growth. On the other hand, anaerobic respiration (an energy yielding metabolic process that does not require oxygen) may adversely catabolize and damage healthy tissues. Dr. Warburg and other researchers showed that there is indeed a relationship between anaerobic respiration, tissue destruction and cancer. Dr. Abram Hoffer and Dr. Morton Walker, in their book Smart Nutrition (Avery 1994), suggested that anaerobic respiration is the most primitive energy producing method compared to aerobic respiration which is a later development in the evolution of life from unicellular to multicellular organisms. It is likely that multicellular organisms did not develop until cells became aerobic.

According to this theory, the switch back from aerobic to anaerobic respiration brings the cell back to a primitive condition that may cause uncontrolled cell division and a resultant catastrophic damage to the whole organism. As you're about to see, aerobic respiration clearly depends on dietary carb utilization and the production of substrates and enzymes that serve as energy molecules. All energy molecules are, in fact, made from nucleotides. Most important, all nucleotide material, including all energy molecules, are derived from glucose that is then predominantly derived from dietary carbs.

The Essential Role of Carbs

It is commonly assumed that carbs serve as fuel and nothing more. This assumption is wrong and quite misleading since it fails to recognize the main biological functions of carbs, which go far beyond being just a sheer substrate for energy. Evidently, optimum carb utilization from food is critically necessary in order to afford full activation of two vitally important metabolic pathways, which are bound together: i) the pentose phosphate pathway and ii) the uronic acid pathway.

As you'll soon see, these pathways play essential roles in facilitating DNA, RNA and nucleotides synthesis as well as steroid hormones production, enhancing immunity and generation of energy. As such, these pathways regulate hormonal actions, rate of tissue regeneration as well as protection against DNA damage and disease. Most important, both pathways' actions depend upon dietary carb consumption and utilization.

The Pentose Phosphate Pathway

The pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) is an anabolic process that is derived from glucose metabolism and occurs mostly (but not exclusively) in the liver. It utilizes pentose (a five-carbon sugar) from and glucose (a six-carbon sugar).

The pentose phosphate pathway's primary functions are:
  1. To generate the energy molecule NADPH for biosynthesis reaction in the cells
  2. To provide ribose-5 phosphate for the synthesis of nucleotides and nucleic acid including DNA and RNA
  3. To metabolize dietary pentose from the digestion of nucleic acid
  4. To biosynthesize steroid hormones and fatty acids (by utilizing in NADPH)
  5. To regenerate the most powerful antioxidant glutathione enzyme and thereby protect cells and mitochondrial DNA from oxidative stress and aging
  6. To support the production of UDP glucuronic acid, that is essentially important for overall detoxification. Hormonal transport production of proteoglycan and glycoproteins and the synthesis of sphingolipids (lipids that are necessary for detox and neural protection)

The Adverse Effects of Low Calorie and Low Carb Diets

As you can see, the pentose phosphate pathway controls critical metabolic functions. However, in times of a desperate need for energy, such as during prolonged fasting or due to low calorie diets, the pentose phosphate pathway may shut down its main functions and instead switch into sheer energy production. It is likely that energy demand is a top priority for the body and therefore, in times of desperate need for energy, the body would suppress certain important metabolic pathways to accelerate immediate energy production. In fact, 30 percent of liver glucose oxidation can occur via the pentose phosphate pathway.

Consequently, dietary carb utilization is a factor that can significantly influence the pentose phosphate pathway's actions. Since the synthesis of glucose from protein or fat (gluconeogenesis) is in fact a limited metabolic process that occurs mostly in the liver (muscle can't produce glucose), it is reasonable to conclude that severe low carb diets, for active individuals in particular, which chronically over-restrict dietary carb consumption (under 100g of carbs per day), may adversely affect the pentose phosphate pathway due to insufficient glucose supply and increased energy demand.

The pentose phosphate pathway's actions also decreases with age, a fact that may contribute to the decline in steroid hormone production, muscle waste, increased vulnerability to disease and reduced energy production. Finally, it's important to note that insulin sensitivity is necessary for optimum glucose utilization and the activation of the pentose phosphate pathway.

Glucuronic Acid Pathway (or Uronic Acid Pathway)

The glucuronic acid pathway, or as it is called, uronic acid pathway, is also derived from glucose metabolism, mostly in the liver. Its active compound UDP glucuronic acid is a co-enzyme responsible for binding with toxins to facilitate their elimination. In that respect, UDP glucuronate conjugates with endotoxins such as bilrubine (a toxin metabolite of hemoglobin and dietary meat) as well as sulphoric acid and thereby protects the body from endotoxicity and exposure to carcinogens.

SIDEBAR: Meat Eaters and Coffee Drinkers
Meat eaters and coffee drinkers should be aware of the important role that glucuronate plays in overall detox, in particular with regard to the digestion and assimilation of animal protein and the neutralization of coffee acid toxin compounds.

The Uronic Acid Pathway is a primal evolutionary metabolic process that initially synthesizes Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in mammals, except in primates including humans. Nevertheless, UDP glucuronic acid's primal actions include:
  • Detoxification
  • The transport of fat soluble hormones and substances to target tissues for subsequent release
  • The production of proteoglycans and glycoconjugated compounds such as glucosamine glycan and glycoproteins, which perform critical immune and hormonal signaling functions on the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix. Some proteoglycans serve as growth factor receptors.
The uronic acid pathway also regulates the production of sphingolipids (lipids which are based on a lipophilic amino alcohol backbone rather than glycerol). Sphingolipids play an important role in transduction signals, protection against toxins, viruses and bacteria, activation of cell receptors and neuroprotective actions. The glucuronic acid pathway functions depend on the pentose phosphate pathway and therefore depends on overall glucose metabolism. Evidently, both pathways' optimal actions requires sufficient dietary carb utilization.

In summary, dietary carbs and glucose utilization go far beyond just sheer energy production. Chronic carb or calorie over restrictions may help one lose fat in the short run. However, in the long run, such dietary methods may diminish the essentially important pentose phosphate pathway with its related UDP glucuronic acid functions and thereby adversely affect critical metabolic processes including steroid hormone synthesis, nucleic acid and nucleotides production, tissue repair, removal of toxins and overall generation of energy.

Bodybuilders and athletes should never overlook the important role of carb utilization in muscular development and overall performance. Nonetheless, the question remains - how can one practically consume carbs in order to maximize all the beneficial effects without causing insulin resistance or fat gain?
How To Take Advantage of Dietary Carbs for Building Lean Tissue, Removing Toxins, Burning Fat and Igniting Maximum Energy
  • Avoid prolonged low calorie or crash diets to grant sufficient energy supply necessary for optimum function of the pentose phosphate pathway and the related uronic acid pathway
  • Avoid chronic carb over restriction due to prolonged very low or no carb diets. Insufficient carb utilization may adversely affect the pentose phosphate pathway and its related UDP glucuronic acid functions.
  • Limit your carb consumption to one meal per day, preferably at night. That way you may be able to keep high insulin sensitivity toward the end of the day and thereby afford optimum carb utilization.
  • You can opt to cycle between days of low carbs and days of moderate to high carbs. This method could be highly effective in protecting against insulin resistance and preventing fat gain, while maximizing carb utilization for overall regeneration of tissue and ignition of energy. For instance, you can incorporate a high carb day followed by two days of low carbs (high fat), followed by a moderate carb day, followed by a low carb high protein day, and so on.
  • Minimize simple carb consumption. Prioritize your dietary carb intake. Always choose complex carbs with low a glycemic index and those that are naturally high in fiber. The best choices for carb food are legumes, roots, squashes, barley, oats, wild rice and quinoa. Whole complex carb food releases glucose at a slower rate than simple carb food and therefore may afford better glucose utilization with a decreased risk of insulin and blood sugar fluctuation.
  • Do not eat carbs alone, in particular grains or roots. Always combine these carbs with protein or fat to decrease their glycemic effect. Carbs alone may provoke an insulin spike and a consequent low blood sugar with symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, irritability, headaches and a craving for sweets. Bodybuilders and athletes should carefully design their pre-workout recovery meals to contain a high ratio of protein to carbs.
  • Eating low glycemic whole fruits such as apples, berries or kiwis on an empty stomach is ok. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended to squeeze lime or lemon juice on the top. Acid slows the rate of carb absorption. The fiber in whole fruits significantly reduces the sugar impact and effectively enhances overall detox.
  • Take multivitamin and multimineral supplements as well as EFAs to facilitate optimum assimilation of all essential nutrients. A lack of even one essential nutrient may lead to severe metabolic impairment and compromise the ability of the body to utilize glucose and energy. B vitamins, in particular, are precursors to co-enzymes, which are vitally important for glucose and energy utilization. Antioxidants are necessary for protection against oxidative free radicals and overall detox. Note that active individuals, including bodybuilders and athletes, need to increase essential nutrients and antioxidant intake due to higher food consumption and increased oxygenation with their respective waste and toxin metabolites.

Final Notes

Dietary carbs should be regarded as a double edge sword. Nonetheless, in times of so much confusion as to what to eat and how much, it's important to present another way of looking at food, including carbohydrate-rich foods.

Food should be regarded as a source of complete nourishment and as
such, it should satisfy three requirements:
  1. Food should supply all essential and conditionally essential
  2. Food should be clean of chemical toxins. It should smell and
    taste well and be fully digestible.
  3. Food should supply an optimal amount of energy substrates
    (including glucose) to satisfy the body's metabolic needs. Optimum
    means: the right amount needed - no less, no more!
Dietary carbs are a most viable source of conditionally essential glucose as well as fiber, minerals, oils and phytonutrients. Carbs add unique taste, smell and aroma to food and are considered the cleanest and most digestible fuel. One should never dismiss the importance of smell, taste and overall satiety from food. Hunger and satiety mark the presence of most powerful neuropeptides that aside from regulating feeding cycles, also regulate hormonal secretion, sleep-awake cycles, aggression and relaxation, regeneration of tissues (growth), overall energy expenditure and rate of fat burning.

From that aspect, both sensation of hunger and satisfaction from food are necessary for maximum nourishment. Food works as a source of nutrients and also as a neurocatalyst for other numerous critical metabolic functions that regulate the rate of growth, fat burning and energy production. Chronically over restricting or eliminating dietary carbs from one's diet may lead to severe consequences including hormonal and neural impairments, stunted growth, sluggish metabolism and advanced aging, notwithstanding chronic hunger, in particular craving for sweets, mood swings, depression and fatigue.

Saying all that, carbs should always be treated as the fastest to assimilate and most aggressive component of food. As noted, they should never be consumed too often during the day to avoid insulin resistance and blood sugar fluctuation.

Finally, use your instincts and common sense. Through trial and error, you can find the right amount of carbs that your body needs. Using old dietary methods such as carb depletion followed by carb the loading will enable you to periodically consume a large amount of carbs without gaining fat. Remember, what you see is what you get, and in a related matter, what looks good, smells good and tastes good is generally good.

Regardless of what many low carb advocates say, our human body is well preprogrammed to ingest and utilize carbs. Therefore, chronically over restricting or avoiding carbs may be biologically perceived by the body as a suppression of a primal need. When you go against your true nature, your body may come back with a vengeance to reclaim what was taken away from it, and it will do so by inducing an excruciating hunger with a chronic cravings for sweets, that often leads to compulsive binging on carbs and undesirable fat gain. Do not deny your body from its primal need to eat carbs. Do not tempt to fool your body with carb substitutes and artificial sweeteners. Nothing can take the place of real dietary carbs and their critical function in your body.

NOTE: People suffering from diabetes and blood sugar related problems should consult their physician or health professional before adopting any dietary regimen.
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