By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
Humans are strange. We often have little tics and habits, originating from anxiety. Some crack their knuckles, some bite their nails, and others snack on laundry starch. Wait, what?! Yes, there are people who eat things that your mother always told you not to put in your mouth when you were three years old: sand, paint, dirt, clay, starches. These are the pica people. Pica is defined as compulsively consuming anything that isn't traditionally used as food.
It's relatively common for people aged 1-6, with an estimated 10-32% exhibiting this behavior. However, later in life it could be an indication of a mineral deficiency, psychological disorder, or both.
The most common kind of argo starch is composed of cornstarch, and this is also the ingredient in the laundry starch. It is a powdery substance also used to thicken soups, gravies, and other liquids. The glucose in this starch is converted to fructose, which then morphs to high fructose corn syrup. While this could technically be defined as a kind of food additive, whether you're putting it in your baking or simply eating it straight, it has some pretty negative side effects.
So, grab a traditionally-foody snack, and let me tell you all about it.
Pregnancy Problems Caused by Eating Argo Starch
Strange desires often arise during pregnancy. The stereotype of pregnant women craving weird things, like avocado with watermelon juice (or something equally as strange) is prevalent in pop culture.
It turns out that the particular pica of argo starch is so common that it has a name: amylophagia: the disorder in pregnant women that makes them ingest raw cornstarch in large quantities.
Eating Argo starch is especially common in the rural South of the United States. While it is thought that a lack of adequate iron and/or zinc in the blood might cause these cravings, corn starch itself has very little nutritional value.
Furthermore, the elevated blood sugar levels acquired while consuming it will probably lead to problems in the baby's developmental process and to abnormalities.
Related Gastrointestinal Distress
However, pica in pregnancy doesn't just lead to problems for the baby. It sometimes causes problems for the mom, too, during the process. S.L. Young and researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center wanted to know about some effects, so in 2010 they went to examine pregnant women on Zemba Island in Zanzibar, Tanzania. There was a 36.3% instance of amylophagia 5.2% instance of geophagy, and a 40.1% instance of pica in general. Every pica studied resulted in abdominal pain and nausea. Not only will it lead to a possibly unsuccessful pregnancy, consuming corn starch will probably also cause a lot of discomfort in the meanwhile.
Eating Argo Starch May Indicate a Mineral Deficiency
Iron deficiency is prevalent in many kinds of pica, including with the consumption of starch.
In 1998, H. Menge from the Remscheid clinic in Germany saw a case of pica for starch associated with severe iron-deficiency anemia. A lack of iron is fairly common, but in some rarer cases, potassium and zinc deficiencies can present after excess starch consumption.
Not only that, but according to Menge, there are also sometimes gastrointestinal obstructions, due to gastroliths or impaction. Malnutrition and a sore tummy. Definitely not worth the binging.
Eating Argo Starch Can Cause Weight Gain
Not surprisingly, starch will also make you fat. According to Miriam E. Bocarsly at Princeton University, it's even worse for you than your old garden-variety sugar.
In 2010, she and colleague Bartley G. Hoebel found that lab rats who consumed high-fructose corn syrup (the general makeup of argo starch) gained more weight than those fed regular table sugar.
Hoebel commented that, “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.”
While the human body may have slightly different reactions, we should take this into account when snacking on corn starch. A weight gain has possibly lethal side effects, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
If you're craving that fructose, see if another starch hits the spot or at least calms the cravings.
There are many out there that are better for you, including wheat, barley, beans, peas, potatoes, carrots, rice, and oats. These are complex, and contain more vitamins and minerals. Corn starch falls into the category of refined starches, the ones you should avoid.
Eating Starch Decreases Organ Functioning
Cardiovascular health is essential to the human body. Scientists from the University of Manitoba and St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre wanted to know what effect high fructose corn syrup would have on heart health.
In 2009, the scientists tested 12 rats, half which were assigned to standard chow and half which were given chow with high fructose corn syrup.
It turned out that the systolic blood pressure, circulating insulin, total cholesterol, and triacylglycerol levels were significantly higher in the high fructose corn syrup group. Not only that, liver sections from that same group shared lipid accretion, mild inflammation, and bile pigmentation.
Livers also showed a high total lipid level and changes in fatty acid profile. Cardiovascular health and liver function were both severely compromised. Poor ratties.
Given the construction of cornstarch, it's likely the same thing will happen to us humans. Watch out.
Eating Starch Can Cause High Blood Pressure
The high blood pressure bit should be highlighted, because hypertension causes a host of other debilitating health problems.
When Dr. Diana Jalal and other kidney specialists at the University of Colorado looked at 3 years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, comprised of 4,500 adults with no history of hypertension, they found bad news for corn starch and anything else containing high fructose corn syrup.
Just 2.5 soft drinks a day increased the risk for high blood pressure.
If you are binging on that box of cornstarch, you're consuming that much easily. Be good to your system and put it down.
Eating Starch Encourages Cancer
Yep, the big C. Dr. Anthony Heaney and scientists from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center used pancreatic tumors from patients, growing the cells in petri dishes. When they put fructose in with the pancreatic cancer cells, they grew more quickly.
Unfortunately, this may not just be the case with pancreas cancer.
According to Heaney, fructose probably “would also speed the growth of other cancers as well.” So, especially if you're already at risk genetically, or if you currently have cancer, consuming lots of corn starch is a ticket to an early grave. Have some mashed potatoes instead, for goodness sake.