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CARB Syndrome: The Food-Brain Connection

August 17, 2011

As a practicing primary care physician with over 30 years of experience, my time in the trenches has allowed me to make observations about the type of patients I was seeing over time. There is no question that the disease profile of the average patient is changing. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already know about the epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes. Our teenagers and children are now developing obesity and type II diabetes at a frightening rate, something that was unheard of a few decades ago. The experts tell us it’s because we’re eating too much and not exercising enough. Perhaps that is true, but it’s not the cause of our current epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Because of my interest in Neuroscience–the science of the brain, I have also noticed that we are seeing a lot more folks with brains that don’t seem to be working properly. These brain dysfunction disorders include:

  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, night eating disorder, binge eating disorder)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Multiple chemical sensitivities
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

All of these conditions seem to share certain commonalities. They are often co-morbid, a fancy medical term to indicate that some people have more than one of these conditions, suggesting that they might be connected by a shared pathological process or environmental triggers. Over the years I also learned that many individuals with one or more of these conditions also seem to have too much fat in their body. Remember that obesity is defined as excessive body fat, which doesn’t always correlate with size and weight. If you want to know how much fat is in your body, you actually have to measure it using various equipment that measures body composition. That’s exactly what I did in my medical practice and over the years I have measure 18,000 body composition readings.

I learned that most people with one or more of the above conditions have too much fat in their body, regardless of their weight, size or BMI. For example, virtually all people with anorexia have excessive body fat. Wait a minute–how is that possible? These folks have starved themselves down to skin and bones. Not exactly. If you look closely at someone with anorexia, they don’t have well-defined muscles because they have a layer of fat covering their wasted muscles. For some reason their body is storing extra fat even when they’re starving. This characteristic is also shared by most other individuals with the above conditions. When they store enough extra fat to become “visually” obese, everyone agrees that they are obese. Because virtually nobody is measuring body composition (including the medical profession), they don’t realize that the thin and normal sized folks with the above conditions are also storing too much fat.

The people with these conditions also share another characteristic–they all have similar brain dysfunction symptoms indicating that they have low levels of monoamine neurotransmitters in their brain. These neurotransmitters–dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and serotonin allow the cells in your brain to talk to each other. Thus if you have low levels of serotonin, you develop symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, depression and poor sleep. If you lack dopamine and norepinephrine, you have difficulty concentrating and focusing, low physical and mental energy, poor impulse control, scattered thoughts and other bothersome symptoms. If you lack all of these key neurotransmitters, you have a mess and your brain ends up in the toilet.

Thus in our medical practices we are seeing a lot more folks with the conditions listed above and many of them have many of these disorders at the same time. Most of them are also storing too much fat and have some degree of insulin resistance, the first step towards type II diabetes. We now have a lot of folks with goofed up brains who are flabby. Do you know anyone who fits this description? What if I were to tell you that all of the conditions listed above and excessive fat storage are driven by a single pathological process, a disease process that has been missed by the scientific and medical communities. If that’s the case, then we would expect to see a lot of people who are overweight with a long list of Psychiatric problems, kids with weight problems who can’t seem to learn because they have ADHD, bipolar disorder II and various learning disabilities, and an epidemic of diabetes in children and adults. Wait a minute–isn’t that exactly what we are seeing? When I was growning up, there was one overweight kid in the class and one who couldn’t seem to learn, yet now that describes the majority of a typical classroom!

I believe that I have uncovered the pathological process that is driving the increase in incidence in these conditions and it has absolutely nothing to do with eating too much food or failing to exercise. But it does has a lot to do with what you eat, not how much you eat. There are two components of our modern diet that are driving this pathological process–excessive fructose (primarily sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) and high glycemic carbohydrates. Yes, I know–I am not the first to demonize these components of our diet. As I scientist, I also need to know exactly why these substances are harmful. Is it because they are “empty calories” that taste good so you tend to eat too much of them? If that’s the case I’ll probably continue to eat them and take a vitamin pill to make them less empty!

As it turns out, excessive fructose and high glycemic carbohydrates do their damage essentially by frying your brain. In a later post I’ll describe in detail how they do so but for now all you need to know is that excessive consumption of excessive fructose and high glycemic carbohydrates over time will trigger a chronic brain disease that I call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain Syndrome (CARB Syndrome). Once this disease process takes hold, your body will first start storing extra fat in your liver and abdominal organs leading to central or “beer belly” obesity and insulin resistance. Once you have insulin resistance and consume high glycemic carbohydrates, your brain is subjected to magnified glucose spikes. Because high levels of glucose are neurotoxic (they damage nerve cells), over time these glucose spikes trigger the brain dysfunction typical of CARB syndrome. This brain dysfunction will eventually generate over 20 brain dysfunction symptoms that are typical for patients with the above listed conditions. When the brain starts to malfunction, it reads fluctuating glucose levels (from eating high glycemic carbohydrates) as a food shortage and it triggers a famine-protective metabolic mode where extra fat will be stored at any caloric intake.

Thus folks with CARB syndrome have brain dysfunction symptoms that interfere with their ability to function, central obesity and excessive total body fat storage–a truly nasty combination. When they go to their doctor, they are diagnosed with various conditions from the above list and then they are placed on medications that rarely improve things over the long haul. When their physician notices that they are getting a little plump, they are told to under-eat by dieting and to start exercising more. If you have already been there and done that, you know how well this approach works.

In future posts I will describe the CARB syndrome model in more detail and I will give you the information you will need to determine if you have the disease. I will also give you the information you will need to reverse the disease process and return to health. This blog is dedicated to giving you the best possible information in your quest for better health and a higher quality of life. I wish you well on your journey.

–William L. Wilson, M.D.

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From → Carb Syndrome

7 Comments
  1. laurie paskavitz permalink

    cool stuff, Dr. Wilson. I’m glad you’re fleshing out your thoughts here in the blog and look forward to reading your next posts.

  2. Dr. Wilson. Thanks your sharing. I have also commented of fructose / fructan in my own blog, and the connection to a condition called Pouchitis that people who had colitis and had the corrective surgery get. Some people cannot properly digest the Fructose, and it ends up becoming a super-food for anaerobic bacteria in the intestine. Google FODMAP for some more details. This describes my own symptoms precisely, but I had yet to notice a possible impact on brain functions. And I do have some of those mental conditions as well. Something more to explore.

    • Yes some people are “fructose intolerant” where large amounts of fructose enter the colon to be digested by bacteria. When you combine fructose and glucose (that would be sucrose or sugar), it speeds the absorption of the glucose, leading to more intense brain-frying glucose spikes. Sugar is a chronic toxin similar to cigarette smoking–you can do it for decades until the wheels suddenly fall off.

  3. Amy Cotterman permalink

    Dr. Wilson, your posting at Dr. Mercola’s website caught my eye and brought me here. To say that I am very interested in learning more is an understatement. I have been an incorrigible “sugar addict” my entire life, starting as a very young child, and have watched my health deteriorate throughout the years. In particular, my brain function has deteriorated, and I have been diagnosed with (as well as am medicated for) every single condition you have listed except bipolar. I have known for some time that my sugar consumption needed to stop, and have attempted to do so and adopt a paleolithic diet several times, but each time reverted under the weight of intolerable cravings and withdrawal symptoms. I have many questions, but the two most pressing are: 1) do you have any suggestions for dealing with the cravings and withdrawal; and 2) how long does it typically take a patient to regain normal levels of the affected neurotransmitters?

    On a side note, if you are not already familiar with him, you might be interested in the work of Dr. Charles Parker, as one of his areas of interest seems to be how brain function and the efficacy of psychotropic medication are affected by nutrition intake and food allergies and sensitivities.

    • I do have several safe and simple suggestions. Of course the first it to avoid sugar and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible but I fully understand this is almost impossible to do with strong carbohydrate cravings. Consider taking the following:

      –Take L-glutamine 1,000 mg capsule three times daily between meals. This will help to blunt carbohydrate cravings. The dose can be increased as needed. It can easily be purchased on the Internet.
      –Take Appecurb Forte three capsules between meals twice daily. This can be increased to four twice daily. If you get nausea reduce the dose and work up slowly. It can be purchased at: http://www.integrativepsychiatry.net/appecurb_180_capsules.html
      –Take Cinsulin one capsule before each meal (Costco or lef.org). This is an enhanced form of cinnamon.
      –Have your physician measure a homocysteine level and if it is between 8 and 12 take l-methyfolate 1,000 mcg daily (available at lef.org) and if it is between 12 and 15 take 3,000 mcg daily. This is the only form of folic acid to get into the brain.
      –Take omega 3, three or four capsules daily.
      –Take NeuroMag one daily (lef.org), a high quality form of magnesium that gets into the brain.
      –Read Richard Johnson’s “The Sugar Fix” to learn about fructose. Ignore what he says about high glycemic carbohydrates because it’s out of date.
      –If you need to take psychiatric drugs, keep doses of SSRI medications low and combine them with medication that enhance dopamine (Adderall, Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Provigil). Avoid atypical anti-psychotics.

      This should be a good starting point. Soon I will be putting up a lot more information about the disease CARB syndrome at: carbsyndrome.com. I am also in the process of completing two books that will be available on the web site. Good luck!

      Dr. Bill Wilson

      • Amy Cotterman permalink

        Thank you so much! I look forward to learning more.

  4. i hope you will attempt to direct people who follow this blog towards natural remedies preferentially over medication as i truly believe dopamine increasing medication has the potential to ruin your life.

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