There has been an exciting development in my mission to get the word out about the power of using a ketogenic diet and fasting to impact on cancer treatment and side effects of chemotherapy. I have been approached to be a lecturer for an online learning program aimed at health professionals, such as doctors, dietitians and pharmacists. It is beyond exciting to be listed as part of the faculty of a program like this, with a potentially worldwide reach to get my message out there. More details will be forthcoming in the next couple of months…
I have been asked to share my story and the research that led me to take this approach. As I have said before, I am an n=1 experiment, with no control group (I refused to be my own control group by eating my way through a chemo treatment, just to find out how sick I might get…). In scientific terms, that’s called a “case study”. Doesn’t prove cause and effect, but tells an interesting story of one patient’s experience with a specific medical condition. This allows other medical professionals to learn from the experience. In my case, since I’m a health professional myself, I went deep down the rabbit hole of researching cancer when I found myself in the situation of needing to know more. Now that I have been asked to lecture on it, I’m back down the rabbit hole of the research, refreshing and expanding on my knowledge base.
In my previous 30 years as a dietitian, I have had little to do with cancer, as it wasn’t really considered a metabolic disease. Instead of considering it a disease that we could impact with nutrition, we saw it as an independent condition that we had to support people through, a strictly reactionary approach. We would see people who had weight loss or poor intake r/t cancer or cancer treatment effects and teach them a “High Protein High Energy” diet. In the heyday of the low fat movement, it was almost “naughty” to be telling cancer patients to use extra fat to boost up the calorie content of their food while not impacting on the total volume of food required, since many cancer patients were dealing with small appetites, early satiety, taste changes, nausea and vomiting. We also pushed a lot of sugar intake, as this would also boost caloric intake without increasing food volume.
With several years of LCHF research and a full paradigm shift away from the standard dogma under my belt, I wasn’t about to buy the party line about cancer any more than I did for Type 2 diabetes or obesity. So off I went into the scientific literature…
And lo and behold, I found out that there’s a whole body of science that supports looking at cancer not as a genetic disease, but as a metabolic one. A disease of disordered metabolism that is similar across many types and locations of cancer. And that has been increasing rapidly in recent years, in lockstep with the increase in other “lifestyle diseases” – obesity, metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, ADHD, PCOS, and many other inflammatory processes in our bodies.
I found out that the original research was done in the 1930’s by a German researcher named Otto Warburg, and he was awarded the Nobel prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1931 for his work discovering and describing the metabolism of cancer cells and what he called “cellular respiration”.
Warburg hypothesized that cancer growth is caused by tumor cells generating energy (as, e.g., adenosine triphosphate/ATP) mainly by anaerobic breakdown of glucose (known as fermentation, or anaerobic respiration). This is in contrast to healthy cells, which mainly generate energy from oxidative breakdown of pyruvate. Pyruvate is an end product of the breakdown of energy sources such as glucose or fatty acids/ketone bodies, and is oxidized within the mitochondria.Hence, according to Warburg, cancer should be interpreted as a mitochondrial dysfunction.
“Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.”— Otto H. Warburg, 
Several major world events intervened to cause all of Dr Warburg’s work to be basically lost and mothballed. One was World War II, which Germany lost. His work was considered so important that the Nazis were willing to overlook the inconvenient fact that he was half orthodox Jewish, but this worked against him and his reputation after the war. Also, the discovery of DNA, the double helix of life, and the soon-to-follow discovery that cancer had genetic abnormalities, sent the entire machinery of the cancer industry in the direction of genetics and metabolism was forgotten. It is only in the last 10-20 years that researchers have again visited the science around cancer metabolism, looking at these energy and mitochondrial abnormalities as being widespread in many types of cancers, thus providing a new target for treatment.
There are scientists now working around the world on elucidating the mechanisms of cancer metabolism and how it differs from healthy cells. Electron microscopy shows that the internal structures in the mitochondria of cancer cells are deformed. The process of breaking down glucose into ATP and then into energy, a very efficient process in healthy mitochondria, is missing in cancer cells. Instead, the cell uses the ancient process of fermentation, which takes place in the cytoplasm of the cell. Fermentation produces only a fraction as much energy as the Krebs Cycle, and the byproduct of fermentation is lactic acid. This acid is pumped out of the cancer cell through it’s membrane, turning the immediate microclimate of the cancer cell into an inflammatory acidic area. One glucose molecule will produce 36 ATP molecules (the basic energy currency of the cell) in the Krebs Cycle and the byproducts are carbon dioxide and water. Clean burning and efficient. Fermentation, on the other hand, creates only 2 ATP molecules from a single glucose, and produces acid as it’s byproduct, basically poisoning itself. Fermentation in the presence of oxygen is a very abnormal process, but this is what fuels cancer cells.
Cancer cells are “obligate glucose users”, meaning that with this broken metabolism, they are only able to generate energy from glucose, not fatty acids or ketone bodies, our other readily available fuels. And because cancer cells have no ability to down-regulate – no OFF switch – they are HUNGRY for glucose all the time. They have more insulin receptors on their cell membrane surfaces than regular cells, ready to pull in any available fuel. They LOVE it when we eat lots of carbohydrates and our blood sugar rises and our insulin levels rise in response. It feeds the cancer…
For the non-scientific reader, your head will be spinning by now… More on the metabolism of cancer in the next blog post. Back to my reading…
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Great read and not so clinical that the common person won’t understand. You have much to contribute to the understanding of cancer.
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