For much of the past week, I have been running a series on the potential perils of high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets.

I have posted them on my Recipes / Health / History page under ‘Low-fat, high-carb diets increase depression’. They are as follows:

Does low animal fat intake increase hostility or depression? (a hypothesis)

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

As I have mentioned, a good layman-to-layman resource is the Texan’s Rocco Stanzione’s Low Carb for Health.

In 2010, he and his family began a ketogenic diet (explained in some of the aforementioned posts). Essentially, this is a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to keep one comfortably satiated, adequately energetic, in a pleasant disposition and in good health.

Stanzione says that he read (and no doubt reread) Gary Taubes’s bestseller, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet. Stanzione has also researched other clinical studies about this type of diet.

Good health is something we hear about endlessly in Western countries. So-called experts often tell us that we are lazy and opposed to it. But are we? Who in this youth-oriented culture of ours would wish for disease? No one.

Something somewhere doesn’t ring true. So is it time for us to question the paradigm — received wisdom — on which modern health and nutrition is drawn?

It would seem so.

The politically centrist French site, Atlantico, today featured the top 10 causes of death in France compared with 100 years ago. (You will not probably not need to translate the causes. Most of us will find them in our own countries.) What follows are those which could well be brought on by a high-carb, low-fat diet:

1/ Cancer
2/ Heart disease
3/ Stroke
5/ Alzheimer’s
6/ Diabetes Type 2
8/ Suicide

Six out of ten — 60% — of these could be diet-related.

Potentially, we can do something about them without ever (possibly) seeing a doctor. There are no guarantees in this life; a remedy which works for many might not work for all.

As always, if you are apprehensive about trying an alternative health regime, read up on the pros and cons before consulting your physician. Your doctor will no doubt discourage you.

However, if you are armed with facts as well as both sides of the argument before your consultation, he or she might well agree, if only out of curiosity to see what the results are.

Today’s post focusses on cancer by way of a few other surprising ‘modern’ diseases which do not exist in the world’s few remaining primitive societies.

The disparity of the Western versus the developing world’s diets came to physicians’ and anthropologists’ attention as early as the 19th century. By then, Europe and North America began to experience the taste of refined flour and sugar, both of which became less expensive and more accessible to nearly everyone.

Stanzione cites findings by Canadian anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, documented in the latter’s book Cancer: disease of civilization?.  Steffansson discovers (emphases in bold mine):

Stanislaw Tanchou …. gave the first formula for predicting cancer risk. It was based on grain consumption and was found to accurately calculate cancer rates in major European cities. The more grain consumed, the greater the rate of cancer.”  Tanchou made the claim in 1843, to the Paris Medical Society. He also postulated that cancer would likewise never be found in hunter-gatherer populations. This began a search among the populations of hunter-gatherers known to missionary doctors and explorers. This search continued until WWII when the last wild humans were “civilized” in the Arctic and Australia. No cases of cancer were ever found within these populations, although after they adopted the diet of civilization, it became common.

What, then, are Western diseases unknown to the last of the hunter-gatherers? By the way, small areas populated by such tribes still exist in parts of Africa and the South Pacific. The American chef Anthony Bourdain spent a few days with hunter-gatherers in Namibia only a few years ago in an episode of No Reservations. They really do eat nose to tail — absolutely everything.

But I digress.

Stanzione writes that Western diseases include:

heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and high blood pressure, as well as lesser problems such as acne, early onset puberty, nearsightedness, skin tags, acanthosis nigricans, polycystic ovary syndrome and male pattern baldness.  All of these are potentially caused (as explained in the linked paper) by insulin resistance or hyperinsulinemia, and I suspect that’s just the beginning of the list.  And if this is your first time here, that means they’re caused by high-carbohydrate diets.

Who would have thought that male pattern baldness, PCO, acne and skin tags would have been maladies of Western civilisation? The mind boggles.

Stanzione explains — citing references — how cancer and other common diseases in the West occur with a high-carb diet:

One is called the Warburg Effect after its discoverer.  Warburg described a feature common to all forms of cancer – they carry out all their metabolism anaerobically.  This is important for a number of reasons.  For one, on a low-carbohydrate diet, the only source of fuel available in the bloodstream in any quantity is ketone bodies, which cannot be metabolized without oxygenCancer cells are thus unable to make metabolic use of ketones.  To my knowledge, there’s no research available that confirms or refutes this statement, but it’s a logical conclusion of the discovery of cancer’s exclusively anaerobic metabolism, and should probably be studied closely.

Another related feature of cancer cells is that insulin receptors are overexpressed.  This means that cancer cells are avid glucose consumers, giving them a competitive advantage over surrounding healthy tissue.  On a low-carb diet, of course, there’s hardly any blood glucose to consume, so this critical feature of cancer cells confers no advantage whatsoever, and may well be a distinct disadvantage.  Together with the inability to metabolize other fuels, this means that theoretically cancer cells cannot survive in a human on a low-carb diet.

Possibly the most important feature common to all cancer cells is their ability to avoid apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which in healthy cells is triggered by certain types of damage or DNA transcription errors.  Without this feature, cancer cells would destroy themselves.  There is another process by which cells deal with damage: autophagy.  We don’t know as much as we’d like about this process, but we do know that it allows cells to recycle aging and damaged organelles and that it’s inhibited by insulin.  This insulin-induced failure of cells to “take out the garbage” via autophagy may, according to many studies (and let me emphasize this one), be a primary pathway to cancer development

Opponents of this theory can offer endless rebuttals. However, Stanzione observes:

We lived on whatever we could get wherever we lived, and that was mostly meat anywhere you care to lookEskimos ate huge amounts of seal meat, so their diet was unbelievably fatty.  They ate almost no plant matterAboriginal Australians ate mostly lean kangaroo meat and were similarly healthy (nutritionists love this one).  Early humans are thought to have subsisted almost entirely on large game.  That such a diet was successful enough for the species to survive and even flourish is often explained away by the assumption that their lives were “nasty, brutish and short and so chronic disease was not a factor.  People who make this claim are nutritionists – not anthropologists, who know better.

My ‘High carbohydrate intake and depression’ post cites psychiatrist Dr Richard A Kunin’s study which he performed on epileptics in the mid-1970s. Even in cases where his diet did not alleviate seizures, patients’ families noted the subjects’ dispositions had greatly improved, therefore, they were kept on an agreeable diet of meat, fish, seafood, poultry, fat, vegetables, cream and most cheeses (see pages 4 and 5 of the PDF). They were able to increase their carbohydrate intake to a minimum level after ketosis set in. Incidentally, urine acidity must be measured twice daily in order to ascertain the level of ketosis. Kunin’s paper explains the procedure.

I’ll look more at ketogenic diets next week. They come with a few essential precautions.