Metabolic Syndrome: Could It and the Other 'Diseases of Civilization' Be Caused By Dietary Carbohydrates?

Metabolic syndrome, diabetes type 2, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, gout, and dozens -- if not hundreds -- of other medical problems all associate together. This observation might suggest to scientists that these diseases might stem from a common cause. That would be a valid and testable hypothesis.

Alas, the association between obesity and the "diseases of civilization" has led to mass confusion. Our health authorities assume that, since obesity associates with disease, it must cause disease. Our guardians of the public health make a basic error of logic -- conflating correlation with causation.

The mainstream idea that "Calories In" and "Calories Out" regulate how much fat we have -- known as the Caloric Balance Hypothesis -- tells us that obesity is caused by eating more calories than we burn off through activity. The Caloric Balance Hypothesis says nothing, however, about why obesity might associate with problems like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, cancer, and the like.

The other hypothesis -- the Lipophilia Hypothesis -- tells us that we become obese because of problems occurring at the level of our fat tissue. As science journalist Gary Taubes and others have noted, obesity is just technically the accumulation of excess fat tissue. Since insulin regulates how much fat we get and where we get it, the most natural culprit for the obesity epidemic would be any factor that causes our bodies to over secrete insulin - such as dietary carbohydrates. And in fact, carbs also may be capable of causing other diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and metabolic syndrome.

We'll now consider evidence that, when indigenous populations adopt the typical Western diet (i.e. a high carb diet), they tend to develop obesity along with the slate of undesirable diseases that associate so closely with it.

1. Here is a random article that discusses the difference in health and weight between indigenous and city populations. The article blames dietary fat and refined carbs, but this line of reasoning fails.

2. To wit, Weston Price makes a powerful case that spiking levels of sugars and starches in the diet of a population will drive up rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Check out his essays here.

3. For more about why the western diet (e.g. a low fat high carb diet) leads to obesity, please see Life Without Bread Chapter 2 (pages 9 to 17)[1].

4. Note: obesity researchers will not dispute that the Western diet is somehow "obesogenic." These theorists will argue that the Western diet contains too much fat and sugar and that it lacks fiber; that's why it's unhealthy. But two of these ideas -- that dietary fat makes us fat and that fiber is necessary in a healthy diet -- both fail to hold up, as Gary Taubes explains at length in Good Calories, Bad Calories.[2]

5. You can read more about the fat hypothesis here and the fiber (and salt!) hypotheses here.

And if dietary fat and a lack of fiber don't cause obesity and the other diseases in these populations, the only culprit we have left to blame is carbohydrates.

All this evidence about metabolic syndrome seems once again to support the Lipophilia Hypothesis and powerfully refute the Caloric Balance Hypothesis.

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1. Allan, Christian and Lutz, Wolfgang. "Life Without Bread." pp. 9-17. New York: McGraw-Hill (2000).

2. Taubes, Gary. "Good Calories, Bad Calories." New York: Knopf (2007).

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