Do carbohydrates actually lower your risk of metabolic disease?

Metabolic Disease

Sugar is the devil. It curdles your insides and causes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other metabolic diseases. That is what the NYT bestselling books say at least. Well… turns out, best selling books aren’t actually scientific evidence. So let’s look there for out answers.

A recent paper was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this fall that looked at the effect that carbohydrates and fats have on a specific biological phenomena in our body; epigenetics.

Epigenetics is a feature of our biology that were discovered just a few decades ago. To describe it in an easily digestible manner, think of epigenetics as marks on your DNA that tell your body how, when, why, and how much of your genes to express.

Epigenetics and Metabolic Disease

There is a gene in the body called CPT1A. This gene is involved in metabolism, specifically with regard to metabolism fatty acids. It also has been linked to insulin sensitivity, glucose regulation, and obesity.

This CPT1A gene can be modified through epigenetics. Specifically, it can be methylated, which is sort of like putting a sticky note on your gene to tell it to behave slightly differently.

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It turns out that when this gene has higher levels of methylation, you are less likely to have obesity, type 2 diabetes, and higher triglycerides in your blood. When there is less methylation, you are more likely to have these things. So, there is a correlation between this epigenetic mark and your overall metabolic health.

Fats and Carbs Methylate CPT1A Differently

This recent paper actually looked at whether or not people’s consumption of carbohydrates or fats affected the methylation of this gene. These scientists found that higher levels of carbohydrate is associated with higher levels of methylation of the CPT1A, while higher fat intake is associated with lower levels of methylation of the CPT1a gene.

Generally speaking (and is the case here), that higher levels of methylation lead to lower levels of gene expression, while lower levels lead to higher levels of gene expression. As such, higher carbohydrate intake did in fact associate with lower levels of CPT1A expression.

Also, they found that people with lower levels of the CPT1A expression had lower fasting glucose, fasting triglycerides, and lower BMI.

What Does This Mean?

Well, this study doesn’t tell us everything we need to know, but it does seem to suggest that there are some reasons why diets that have moderate-to-high carbohydrate intakes and moderate-to-low fat intakes may be more beneficial in reducing the risk of metabolic disease they higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate diets.