2

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Does eating significant amounts of starchy carbs cause the pancreas to be overworked from tireless insulin secretion?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created July 06, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Have we really examined the long term effects that regular and significant consumption of starchy tubers has on the pancreas?

My reason for asking is quite personal. My mother died at the ripe old age of 45 from pancreatic cancer (many consider this to be the most deadly cancer of all). Since I eat starchy carbs, I figured it might be important to get this one right.

Are we working our pancreas overtime to secrete insulin when too many carbs are consumed? Might this be applicable when eating sweet potatoes and/or a big helping of white rice on a regular basis?

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on July 06, 2011
at 10:47 PM

Take the much maligned (and deservingly so) Ancel Keys, for example. He diet 5Y ago while on a (presumably) low fat, whole food diet. He lived to 100. He presumably ate plenty of starches (probably even gluten) and legumes, with innumerable insulin & BG spikes. It could just be his genes. Low Carbing or even Paleo has not cornered the market on health and longevity.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on July 06, 2011
at 10:40 PM

Dr. K it's not jus the Kitavans. It's the Pimas, New Guineans, Chinese, Okinawans, Tarahumaras, ... basically any indinegous tribes until recently. Except for the Inuits, Masais ... they all lived off of starch. Meat was a very small part of total calories. Safe starches sustained them. This is indisputable. Having said that, I agree with you that for the metabolically deranged and generationally obese people, a starchy diet does not make sense. But if you're healthy, a safe-starch diet sans gluten & sugar is totally ok. There are many paths to health and longevity.

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on July 06, 2011
at 10:34 PM

Quilt, mechanistic plausibility only goes so far. I can identify things wrong with any food you can name. One needs a unifying theory and that theory should be based on what healthy people eat. Whether it's hunter gatherers, the people Westin Price observed, or modern people with a low (western) disease burden (e.g., the Thais with respect to cancer or the Japanese with respect to CVD).

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on July 06, 2011
at 10:14 PM

Starch is (healthy) people food. Fructose and omega 6 (and various other factors, mostly related to not eating real food) cause damage that wrecks the body's ability to process starch. Diabetics like to eat fructose because it spikes insulin less, with the result that they have to inject themselves less. That fructose is pain-sparing for diabetics does not make is healthy for non-diabetics.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on July 06, 2011
at 10:06 PM

I honestly believe the starch story is going to change dramatically in the future.......There is no way to separate out omega six or the envirnomental toxins we see today and the starches. Using the Kitavans as the benchmark makes no sense to me. The changes we are seeing done epigenetically matter way more when comparing cultures. Kitavens will never equal americans and therefore what they eat really is out of context in my way of thinking. I like hearing others views because it gets me thinking.....but its got to make biologic sense. The kitavans have been convincing to me.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 06, 2011
at 09:56 PM

I think the mechanism might actually have to do with butyrate-producing gut bacteria.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on July 06, 2011
at 08:23 PM

The minute you mix sugar or gluten grains with safe starches, you get a double whammy: the toxicidity of sugar and gluten doubles and the safe starch in such a context loses its "safeness". If you eat white bread, pstries, cupcakes, and Mars bars, and also eat yams, well, "the safe starch" effect is lost and has no mitigating effect on the overall toxidity. However, Dr. K is right in 1 respect: we've only recently started seeing metabolically deranged people who can only lose weight VLCing. For them, there may be no "safe starch" cuz it will just be insatiably fattening.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18472)

on July 06, 2011
at 07:16 PM

Yes, indeed. Melissa is correct.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 06, 2011
at 06:20 PM

Jack is asking this about starch in the context of a Primal/paleo diet, not in the context of SAD.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on July 06, 2011
at 06:14 PM

We have 125 years of data on americans that oncogenesis is increasing. There is an environmental link and the data so far points to high levels of insulin being a real problem as we age.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on July 06, 2011
at 06:13 PM

Kitavans are not Americans.....and that is the rub. Context.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on July 06, 2011
at 06:12 PM

Actually Melissa it is an unanswered question that is being heavily researched. It appears that the IGF 1 signaling in the face of high levels of intracellular inflammation are very damaging to biological systems. Art DeVany has written about it and Robb Wolf has spoken to it in his podcasts. PGC1alpha,AMPK pathways are all involved.

B61f6513a155cd874b42efdad55312f6

(231)

on July 06, 2011
at 05:41 PM

How much is too much? One sweet potato doesn't have a ton of carbs, so unless you're eating multiple in a sitting, it shouldn't be that much of a carb load for your system to handle.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 06, 2011
at 05:00 PM

does overworking an organ lead to cancer? I don't think so. Environmental toxins seem to be more likely. Either way, I am skeptical of the idea that starchy carbs cause the pancreas to be overworked because I don't know anyone who eats a starch-based diet who has had abnormal markers of pancreatic function and most horticultural societies like the Kitavans seem more than fine as well.

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3 Answers

6
3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

on July 06, 2011
at 07:05 PM

I'll try to provide a balanced perspective on this based on what I know. If you examine human history, you realize that most hunter-gatherer diets were starch-based. The so called Paleolithic diet based on ice-age, carnivorous hunters that hunted mammoths and only infrequently ate root vegetables and berries is a complete myth.

The "gatherer" part of the hunter-gatherer is often misunderstood. The most widely-consumed food group was vegetables, i.e., starchy tubers like cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, turnips. Even after the advent of agriculture, these crops were consumed widely based on geography, along with agricultural crops such as corn, rice, and wheat.

The insulin response from eating such tubers is automatic and natural. In a healthy person, the 2h post-prandial should fall to the fasting level (mid-80s in a healthy person). No record of diabetes exists for those indigenous peoples that have eaten traditional, starchy-based diets. Not even for the Tarahumara and Pima Indians who subsited on corn and whose carbs percentage was around 85%.

Such peoples typically display very low fasting BS levels. The Khitavans and New Guineasn who eat 80%+ starchy carb diets are in the low 80s and their 2h PPs fall to that level, actually sooner than 2h, mostly at 90 minuntes. See Stephan Guyenet's blog about the fasting BG and insulin in such peoples.

Conclusion: If you're gluten-free and minimize sugar/fructose and avoid Omega 6s, a starchy diet will not overwork your pancreas. Blood sugar surges after a starchy meal is normal. This only becomes a problem if your metabolism is wrecked.

Addendum: I've noticed that if you eat pure starch like yuca and yams, and completely abstain from processed foods, you tend to regain your insulin sensitivity. Having eaten 100-150gs of yams, I'm back to a fasting level of mid-90s (good enough for me) within 2 hours. In actuality, the post-prandial may actually dip below 85 in some cases (perhaps hyper insulin sensitivity?)

So what's happening?:

High carbs ==> High BG ===> Insulin Spike ==> Carcinogenesis, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmunity, etc. Elevated insulin is implicated in all these and we're told that:

Low Insulin ==> Longevity and Slow and Graceful Aging.

However, it's not that simple. With the above safe starches, I'm beginning to think there is an additional mechanism at work which enhances and promotes one's insulin sensitivity.

Safe Starchy Carbs ==> Temporary BG Elevation Followed by an Insulin Response ==> Lower Than Usual Post Prandial and also Lower Fasting BG ==> More Efficient and Effective BG Management and Overall Higher Insulin Sensitivity

In fact, it's not even clear whether there's really higher insulin level in a safe-starch diet than in a low-carb or VLC diet. Perhaps the spikes are not only temporary but fleeting and the enhanced insulin sensitivity more than compensates by promoting lower post-prandial and fasting BGs.

That is my hunch and hypothesis. I'm a T2 diabetic and notice this, so there is much more to learn in this area.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 06, 2011
at 09:56 PM

I think the mechanism might actually have to do with butyrate-producing gut bacteria.

2
66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on July 06, 2011
at 05:49 PM

If one is metabolically healthy I doubt an organ can be over worked. Derangement, disease, etc are the primary causal factors for organs not performing at 100% peak efficiency. The human body is incredibly robust and adaptable, hence the success of humans but this strength can also be a weakness in that the body can adapt to abuse and not show any overt signs until it gets to a threshold and cannot take anymore.

0
Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on July 06, 2011
at 06:10 PM

Jack Im upvoting this because I think this question is at the foundation of why many Paleo folks hit stalls........they dont understand where they are biochemically in their health. I think many can eat tubers and starches when they are humming along......but as we know many find paleo how are trying to get right. That is why I am always asking about context. Most of the people I see who want to make an initial change should not be eating this stuff......Im glad you went there.

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