The Dangers of Excess Carbs

When we consume carbohydrates, we are really consuming sugar, but just in a different form.  Carbohydrates are sugar (glucose) molecules bonded together.  When we eat carbohydrates, the pancreas releases insulin to bring down the blood sugar levels.  The hormone insulin also causes our metabolism to store food energy for later.  When we keep eating carbohydrates, the pancreas continues to secrete insulin and our body is constantly in fat storage mode.  Glucagon, the hormone that allows our bodies to burn stored fat for energy, doesn’t have a chance to come in and do its job when we continue to eat carbohydrates.

Excess insulin from consuming too many carbohydrates over time can lead to many health problems.  Besides leading to obesity because our body is constantly in fat storage mode, excess insulin can also lead to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and even cancer.

Insulin Resistance

Hyperinsulinemia is the medical term used to describe higher than normal levels of insulin in the blood stream. This is a condition that is not diabetes but can be a precursor to type-2 diabetes. Increased amounts of insulin in the blood stream are often an indication that there is a resistance at the cellular level to the use of insulin. According to Mayo Clinic, when the cells are resistant to the insulin in the body, the pancreas begins to secrete more insulin in an effort to move sugar from the blood stream into the cells. As the insulin resistance grows, the pancreas is no longer able to keep up with the requirements and the blood sugar rises, which is the beginning of type-2 diabetes.

High Blood Pressure

According to the book Protein Power by Drs. Micheal R. and Mary Dan Eades, excess insulin can be the hidden cause behind high blood pressure.  Insulin forces the kidneys to retain sodium, resulting in fluid retention.  As the body retains more fluid and the blood volume increases, the blood pressure begins to rise.  Excessive insulin also increases the thickness of the arterial walls, making them less elastic and narrower, which drives up blood pressure.  Insulin also stimulates the adrenals to constrict blood vessels, increasing the heart rate and raising blood pressure.

 High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is essential for life.  Only 7% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the blood.  The other 93% is located in every cell of the body, where its unique waxy, soapy consistency provides the cell membranes with their structural integrity and regulates the flow of nutrients into, and the waste products out of, the cells.  Cholesterol is the building block for all hormones and your brain requires cholesterol for normal electrical transmission.  Some cholesterol comes from food, but the body itself produces 80%, mostly by the liver.   

Our cholesterol levels are actually regulated inside the trillions of cells that make up our bodies.  If a cell needs more cholesterol, it sends LDL (low-density lipoprotein) receptors to the surface in order to snatch cholesterol from the blood.  LDL, although often depicted as the Bad Guy, is the component of cholesterol that carries it to the cells.  HDL (high-density lipoprotein) gathers cholesterol from the tissues and carries it back to the liver to be disposed of.  Excess insulin in the blood causes LDL levels to rise.  Excess carbohydrates cause excess insulin.

Heart Disease

Heart disease starts when LDL particles migrate into the walls of the coronary arteries, setting off an inflammatory process that leads to the buildup of plaque.  When a person maintains a high level of insulin in the blood from a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, the plaque-building process worsens.  Most heart attacks are the result of a small area of this plaque becoming eroded on its surface and breaking open.  This causes a blood clot to form, which can then obstruct the flow of blood through a coronary artery, causing a heart attack.

Metabolic Syndrome

Another consequence of increased amounts of insulin in the blood stream is a combination of symptoms called metabolic syndrome. According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome is characterized by a group of risk factors that includes insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure and increased levels that indicate a predisposition to high cholesterol, increased risk of blood clotting and increased inflammation in the body. If you have metabolic syndrome, you have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

Prostate Cancer

In a study published in September 2009 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, lead researcher Demetrius Albanes from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda MD found that elevated insulin levels were also linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer. The researchers measured the relationship of serum insulin and glucose to the development of prostate cancer and found a strong association between leaner men who were not physically active and who had high insulin levels with the development of prostate cancer.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer has been the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States. In January 2009, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine published “High Insulin Levels Raise Risk of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women” linking higher levels of insulin in the body with an increased risk of breast cancer. Although a link between obesity and breast cancer had been determined, scientists had believed that the causative factor was the increased levels of estrogen in obese women. This research study is the first to identify the role of increased amount of insulin, also commonly found in obese women, to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in tissue cultures while controlling for estrogen. This means that women who are obese could be at higher risk, not only because of the increased estrogen their bodies produce but also because of the increased amount of insulin secreted.