An evidence-based approach to cancer treatment and prevention

Many people view cancer as unpredictable – that some people are just “unlucky”, and it’s largely random who gets diagnosed. It’s not surprising, given the prevailing view among medical professionals that cancer is first and foremost a genetic disease.

But emerging evidence suggests that the primary driver of cancer is not genetic mutations, but dysfunctional cell metabolism. This means that once again, our genes are not our destiny, and that treating the root cause of disease has the potential to enhance cancer treatment or prevent its occurrence in the first place.

In this article, I’ll discuss the evidence for the metabolic theory of cancer and how to put this into practice to help prevent and treat cancer.

The traditional view of cancer

For a long time, cancer has been viewed as a genetic disease. Somatic mutation theory holds that when DNA in the cell nucleus is replicated over many cell divisions, its prone to random mutations. Mutations in specific “driver genes”, like oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, can lead to runaway cellular proliferation and malignancy. This, in turn, can result in abnormal cellular metabolism and will determine the characteristics of the tumor.

But if cancer is a genetic disease, why do cancer rates continue to climb higher every year? We share most our genes with our hunter-gatherer ancestors and virtually all of our genes with our grandparents and great-grandparents, yet it seems that cancer becomes more prevalent with each successive generation and afflicts more and more young people. Moreover, traditional cultures are virtually free of cancer and other chronic diseases. It would seem as though there must be another factor.

The mitochondrial metabolic theory of cancer

The most promising line of cancer research involves mitochondria. Mitochondria are tiny energy factories located inside just about every cell in your body. In healthy cells, they turn fuels like fat and carbs into energy that the cell can use. This process requires oxygen and is called aerobic metabolism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Otto Warburg observed that cancer cells seemed to thrive on anaerobic metabolism – that is, metabolism without oxygen – and largely rely on glucose for energy. Warburg received a Nobel Prize in 1931 for this discovery, and it was named the Warburg Effect. Since then, it has been found that 80-90% of cancers have this highly glycolytic metabolism.1

Researchers in the 1980s wanted to find out exactly which part of the cell was responsible for malignancy. They performed several unique experiments where they took the nucleus (containing the DNA) from one cell and combined it with the cytoplasm (the cellular fluid containing the mitochondria) from another cell, creating a sort of hybrid cell.2,3

When they combined the cytoplasm of a malignant cell with a healthy nucleus, the cells became malignant and proliferated out of control. Injecting healthy cytoplasm into a cell with potentially cancerous mutations in the nucleus, however, did not result in tumor growth or malignancy.

Overall, their findings suggest that the issue is in the cytoplasm (the location of the mitochondria), NOT in the nucleus where the DNA lies. In fact, prominent cancer researchers like Dr. Thomas Seyfried believe that all other characteristics of the disease, including the genetic mutations, can arise either directly or indirectly from impaired mitochondrial function. Several studies suggest that reactive oxygen species produced from dysfunctional mitochondria and anaerobic metabolism can lead to instability of the DNA in the nucleus, increasing the chance of mutations that can cause runaway proliferation and tumor growth. This is illustrated in the figure below:

What does this mean? Cancer still has a genetic basis. We can clearly inherit gene variants that are associated with increased cancer risk, just as we can inherit genetic variants that are associated with Alzheimer’s, IBD, asthma, and other chronic diseases. But genetics alone are NOT enough to cause cancer. Indeed, studies now suggest that 90 to 95 percent of cancer can be attributed to diet and lifestyle.4

Causes of mitochondrial dysfunction

So if mitochondrial dysfunction is the primary cause of cancer, what causes mitochondrial dysfunction? There are several contributing factors, and each person will have a unique combination of exposures. Some of the most common causes are shown in the diagram below:

This is empowering. While genetics and aging are largely out of our control, the majority of these factors are modifiable. New mitochondria are formed regularly and can replace older, dysfunctional mitochondria if we make the necessary diet and lifestyle changes. In a moment, I’ll share the most important steps to improving your mitochondrial health. But first, I want to clarify the role of complementary treatment.

A quick primer on complementary treatment

Understandably, people feel desperate when they receive a cancer diagnosis. This can lead to a lot of self-directed research, where the lines between evidence-based therapies and unsubstantiated ones can easily be blurred. The result is a great deal of confusion over what complementary or alternative therapies actually have merit. However, if we rely on evidence, conventional and unconventional therapies do not have to be at odds. By bringing the best of both worlds together, we can improve the chances of achieving cancer remission and restoring optimal health.

It’s my hope that in the rest of this article, I might help clarify where the evidence really lies, and how we can use our understanding of cancer as a metabolic disease to treat and prevent cancer.

Note: I am not an oncologist. Diet and lifestyle are not a replacement for aggressive cancer treatment. They are intended to be complementary to conventional surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy treatment, and should always be discussed with members of your care team. Any respectable healthcare provider will remain open-minded to complementary treatments that are evidence-based and do not interfere with the primary treatment.

7 ways to support mitochondrial health to help treat (or prevent) cancer:

Cancer is a complex, multifactorial disease, and each person’s cancer has a distinct etiology and presentation. However, when combined with mainstream care, lifestyle changes can enhance the effectiveness of treatment, reduce adverse symptoms, and prevent cancer occurrence or recurrence by improving mitochondrial health.

1) Cut the sugar and processed foods

Remember the Warburg effect? Most cancer cells thrive on anaerobic metabolism and use glucose as their primary fuel, while healthy cells can use glucose or fat for energy using aerobic metabolism. Research from Belgium suggests that tumor growth directly depends on the degree of glucose overstimulation:

Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness.” 5

– Dr. Johan Thevelein, principal investigator

In other words, most cancers thrive on carbohydrates. By reducing carbohydrates in the diet and replacing them with healthy fats, you “starve” the cancer cells, while still feeding the healthy ones.  Eliminating processed foods, grains, and sugar will also help reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall mitochondrial health.

2) Taking it the extra step: ketosis and intermittent fasting

Our body demands a steady supply of fuel to our brain. If we stop eating, our body will start to mobilize fatty acids from adipose tissue for fuel. Most of these fatty acids can’t easily cross the blood-brain barrier, so instead they undergo a process in the liver that converts them to ketones. Ketones are small molecules that can easily pass into the brain and act as a particularly efficient fuel for mitochondria. Like fats, ketones require oxygen for their metabolism. Therefore, cancer cells cannot effectively utilize ketones.6

A 24 to 48 hour fast will typically kick the body into ketosis, but there’s another option: a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is high in fat, very low in carbohydrates, and moderate in protein, so it mimics the metabolic physiology of fasting. In addition to mobilizing body fat, dietary fat will also be used to form ketones. Ketosis is a fantastic adjuvant therapy (combination therapy) for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

I’ll be dedicating a full article to the benefits of nutritional ketosis in the future, but here a few as it relates to cancer and mitochondrial health:

  • Increases antioxidant mechanisms and enhancing cellular defense mechanisms7
  • Can sensitize tumors to the therapeutic effects of particular anti-cancer agents8
  • Increases mitochondrial efficiency and the formation of new mitochondria9
  • Reduces the production of reactive oxygen species in the mitochondria10
  • Has neurological and weight loss benefits

Note: Those with cancer cachexia and muscle wasting should be cautious about entering ketosis, as it is a catabolic state and may cause weight loss.

3) Get carcinogens out of your life

Cosmetics. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average women puts on 165 different chemicals a day; the average man, about 85.11 Many of these are known carcinogens. Some are even banned in Europe, but allowed in the U.S. These include:

Soap, shampoo, and makeup: Parabens are a known carcinogen. One study found that 99% of breast cancer tissues had parabens in them.12 Sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrance, and synthetic colors are also ingredients to be wary of.

Synthetic parfum/fragrances: contain dangerous phthalates, benzene derivatives, and other potential carcinogens.

Try instead: An all-in-one natural soap and shampoo bar. My favorite is Ancient Minerals Zion Clay Soap.

Toothpaste: Fluoride is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen. Some toothpastes contain Triclosan, a potential carcinogen, neurotoxin, and endocrine disruptor.

Try instead: A re-mineralizing toothpaste like Coral White

Paraffin Candles: Candles made with paraffin wax create highly toxic gases like benzenes and toluenes when burned. Mice exposed to these vapors have been shown to exhibit liver and kidney abnormalities.13 Scented candles also often have wicks that contain heavy metals and artificial scents and dyes which can also release chemicals into the air.

Try instead: Beeswax candles, which also may help purify the air

Air fresheners: These are often conveniently labeled with the ingredient “parfum” or “fragrance” so that they don’t have to disclose the toxic chemicals they contain

Try instead: Making your own using essential oils and water

Household cleaners: Corporate advertising has tried to convince us that we need multiple different products to clean different surfaces. Most synthetic cleaners feature warning signs that they are toxic, corrosive, or poisonous, yet we continue to use these around ourselves and our kids.

Try instead: Dr. Bronner’s all-purpose natural household cleaner

Laundry detergent: Common ingredients like 1,4-dioxane, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and synthetic colors are all potential carcinogens.

        Try instead: Soap Nuts or Mirror Lake Organics Laundry Soap

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: The International Agency on Research for Cancer has identified 15 different compounds in cigarette smoke that are listed as Group 1 carcinogens. Alcohol is also a Group 1 carcinogen and increases the risk of liver, oral, esophageal, stomach, breast, and colon cancer.14

Pollution: Indoor and outdoor air can contain carcinogenic compounds, and water can contain heavy metals like arsenic.

The solution: Get an air filter and a charcoal-based water filter for your home. Buy furniture gently used or look for furniture without flame retardants.

Pesticides and fertilizers: Several organophosphate pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers have been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.15,16

The solution: Familiarize yourself with the Dirty Dozen list and buy organic products whenever possible. Better yet, go to the farmers market and meet local farmers who can tell you about their growing practices.

Plastic. Plasticizers like BPA can cause endocrine disruption, reproductive issues, and cancer. Even “BPA-free” plastics are full of alternative plasticizers that may be worse than BPA itself.

Instead: Invest in a stainless steel water bottle, and when possible, buy food that is not wrapped in plastic.

Cookware: Non-stick cookware has a synthetic coating of polytetrafluoroethylene (also known as Teflon). This plastic polymer has been shown by the EWG to release toxic gases at high heats.

Instead: opt for stainless steel, cast iron, or safe ceramic cookware.

This list might seem overwhelming, but it’s only because of the ubiquity of carcinogens in our modern world. If you can just commit an hour to getting these out of your house, and an hour replacing them with healthier alternatives, your mitochondria will thank you in the long-term!

*Note: I have no affiliation with any of these companies or products. These are simply what I use in my home, after trying out many different natural products.

4) Exercise

Exercise has been shown to increase mitochondrial biogenesis, the process of forming new mitochondria, and improve their function.17 Exercise also improves mood and helps to maintain muscle mass and cardiovascular function. Studies have found no harmful effects on patients with cancer from moderate exercise, and those who exercise regularly report less fatigue and improved quality of life during drug treatment.18

5) Optimize sleep and circadian rhythms

Shorter sleep duration is associated with mitochondrial stress and a reduced copy number of mitochondrial DNA.19 Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause intermittent oxygen starvation of the mitochondria, which results in oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.20

Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour clock that governs our wakefulness and sleep patterns, and is determined primarily by our exposure to light. Mitochondria have a circadian clock of their own, which is thought to be influenced by nutrient availability (in other words, the times at which we eat).21,22 Periodic fasting, adequate sleep, and entraining circadian rhythms allows the mitochondria to repair themselves.

6) Try mind-body therapies

Mind-body medicine has no direct anti-tumor effects and is not a replacement for aggressive treatment. However, when used in a complementary fashion, mind-body techniques have been shown to reduce anxiety and pain and improve quality of life in cancer patients.23 Acupuncture interacts with peripheral and central neurological pathways and has been shown in a few controlled studies to reduce pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea.24 Evidence also clearly shows the benefit of support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.25

7) Supplemental support

Note: It is important to disclose any supplements with your oncologist to assess potential interaction with chemotherapy treatments.

Some botanical supplements show promising immunomodulatory effects in preclinical studies, increasing tumor rejection or pathogen resistance. In a large, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Wisconsin ginseng was well tolerated and effective in improving fatigue outcomes in cancer survivors.26 However, some botanical treatments are potent and, if used improperly, can cause liver toxicity and liver failure.

The evidence regarding dietary supplements and antioxidants during chemotherapy or radiation treatment is mixed. Some doctors believe that antioxidant support can help offset the toxicity of treatment on healthy cells. Others believe that antioxidant support might reduce the ability of chemotherapy drugs to kill off cancer cells.

General supplements to support mitochondrial health include CoQ10, magnesium, vitamin C, selenium, and L-carnitine. As the metabolic theory of cancer gains more traction, I hope to see more controlled studies on the long-term efficacy of these supplemental nutrients in cancer treatment. In general, nutritional supplements should always be considered in the context of the patient’s nutritional status, the particular cancer you are dealing with, and the primary treatment agents.

That’s all for now. If you found this helpful, I’d love to hear about it. Click here to subscribe or get a free phone consultation with me.

 

Sources:

  1. Vander Heiden, M. G., Cantley, L. C. & Thompson, C. B. Understanding the Warburg Effect: The Metabolic Requirements of Cell Proliferation. Science 324, 1029–1033 (2009).
  2. Israel, B. A. & Schaeffer, W. I. Cytoplasmic suppression of malignancy. In Vitro Cell. Dev. Biol. 23, 627–632 (1987).
  3. Shay, J. W. & Werbin, H. Cytoplasmic suppression of tumorigenicity in reconstructed mouse cells. Cancer Res. 48, 830–833 (1988).
  4. Anand, P. et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharm Res 25, 2097–2116 (2008).
  5. Scientists reveal the relationship between sugar and cancer. Available at: http://www.vib.be/en/news/Pages/Scientists-reveal-the-relationship-between-sugar-and-cancer.aspx. (Accessed: 24th January 2018)
  6. Fine, E. J., Miller, A., Quadros, E. V., Sequeira, J. M. & Feinman, R. D. Acetoacetate reduces growth and ATP concentration in cancer cell lines which over-express uncoupling protein 2. Cancer Cell International 9, 14 (2009).
  7. Shimazu, T. et al. Suppression of oxidative stress by β-hydroxybutyrate, an endogenous histone deacetylase inhibitor. Science 339, 211–214 (2013).
  8. Lee, C. et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med 4, 124ra27 (2012).
  9. Bough, K. J. et al. Mitochondrial biogenesis in the anticonvulsant mechanism of the ketogenic diet. Ann. Neurol. 60, 223–235 (2006).
  10. Maalouf, M., Sullivan, P. G., Davis, L., Kim, D. Y. & Rho, J. M. Ketones inhibit mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species production following glutamate excitotoxicity by increasing NADH oxidation. Neuroscience 145, 256–264 (2007).
  11. Exposures add up – Survey results | Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG. Available at: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/. (Accessed: 17th May 2017)
  12. Barr, L., Metaxas, G., Harbach, C. a. J., Savoy, L. A. & Darbre, P. D. Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum. J. Appl. Toxicol. 32, 219–232 (2012).
  13. Ketan, V. K., Bhavyata, K., Linzbuoy, G. & Hyacinth, H. N. Renal and hepatotoxic alterations in adult mice on inhalation of specific mixture of organic solvents. Toxicol Ind Health 31, 1158–1164 (2015).
  14. Cogliano, V. J. et al. Preventable Exposures Associated With Human Cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst 103, 1827–1839 (2011).
  15. Guyton, K. Z. et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. The Lancet Oncology 16, 490–491 (2015).
  16. Ward, M. H. Too Much of a Good Thing? Nitrate from Nitrogen Fertilizers and Cancer. Rev Environ Health 24, 357–363 (2009).
  17. Menshikova, E. V. et al. Effects of Exercise on Mitochondrial Content and Function in Aging Human Skeletal Muscle. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 61, 534–540 (2006).
  18. Mustian, K. M., Sprod, L. K., Janelsins, M., Peppone, L. J. & Mohile, S. Exercise Recommendations for Cancer-Related Fatigue, Cognitive Impairment, Sleep problems, Depression, Pain, Anxiety, and Physical Dysfunction: A Review. Oncol Hematol Rev 8, 81–88 (2012).
  19. Wrede, J. E. et al. Mitochondrial DNA Copy Number in Sleep Duration Discordant Monozygotic Twins. Sleep 38, 1655–1658 (2015).
  20. Lacedonia, D. et al. Mitochondrial DNA alteration in obstructive sleep apnea. Respir Res 16, (2015).
  21. Manella, G. & Asher, G. The Circadian Nature of Mitochondrial Biology. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 7, (2016).
  22. Neufeld-Cohen, A. et al. Circadian control of oscillations in mitochondrial rate-limiting enzymes and nutrient utilization by PERIOD proteins. PNAS 113, E1673–E1682 (2016).
  23. Potential role of mind-body therapies in cancer survivorship – Monti – 2008 – Cancer – Wiley Online Library. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.23443/full. (Accessed: 25th January 2018)
  24. Lau, C. H. Y. et al. Acupuncture and Related Therapies for Symptom Management in Palliative Cancer Care. Medicine (Baltimore) 95, (2016).
  25. Lengacher, C. A. et al. Influence of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Telomerase Activity in Women With Breast Cancer (BC). Biological Research For Nursing 16, 438–447 (2014).
  26. Barton, D. L. et al. Wisconsin Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to improve cancer-related fatigue: a randomized, double-blind trial, N07C2. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 105, 1230–1238 (2013).

An evidence-based approach to cancer treatment and prevention

Many people view cancer as unpredictable – that some people are just “unlucky”, and it’s largely random who gets diagnosed. It’s not surprising, given the prevailing view among medical professionals that cancer is first and foremost a genetic disease.

But emerging evidence suggests that the primary driver of cancer is not genetic mutations, but dysfunctional cell metabolism. This means that once again, our genes are not our destiny, and that treating the root cause of disease has the potential to enhance cancer treatment or prevent its occurrence in the first place.

In this article, I’ll discuss the evidence for the metabolic theory of cancer and how to put this into practice to help prevent and treat cancer.

The traditional view of cancer

For a long time, cancer has been viewed as a genetic disease. Somatic mutation theory holds that when DNA in the cell nucleus is replicated over many cell divisions, its prone to random mutations. Mutations in specific “driver genes”, like oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, can lead to runaway cellular proliferation and malignancy. This, in turn, can result in abnormal cellular metabolism and will determine the characteristics of the tumor.

But if cancer is a genetic disease, why do cancer rates continue to climb higher every year? We share most our genes with our hunter-gatherer ancestors and virtually all of our genes with our grandparents and great-grandparents, yet it seems that cancer becomes more prevalent with each successive generation and afflicts more and more young people. Moreover, traditional cultures are virtually free of cancer and other chronic diseases. It would seem as though there must be another factor.

The mitochondrial metabolic theory of cancer

The most promising line of cancer research involves mitochondria. Mitochondria are tiny energy factories located inside just about every cell in your body. In healthy cells, they turn fuels like fat and carbs into energy that the cell can use. This process requires oxygen and is called aerobic metabolism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Otto Warburg observed that cancer cells seemed to thrive on anaerobic metabolism – that is, metabolism without oxygen – and largely rely on glucose for energy. Warburg received a Nobel Prize in 1931 for this discovery, and it was named the Warburg Effect. Since then, it has been found that 80-90% of cancers have this highly glycolytic metabolism.1

Researchers in the 1980s wanted to find out exactly which part of the cell was responsible for malignancy. They performed several unique experiments where they took the nucleus (containing the DNA) from one cell and combined it with the cytoplasm (the cellular fluid containing the mitochondria) from another cell, creating a sort of hybrid cell.2,3

When they combined the cytoplasm of a malignant cell with a healthy nucleus, the cells became malignant and proliferated out of control. Injecting healthy cytoplasm into a cell with potentially cancerous mutations in the nucleus, however, did not result in tumor growth or malignancy.

Overall, their findings suggest that the issue is in the cytoplasm (the location of the mitochondria), NOT in the nucleus where the DNA lies. In fact, prominent cancer researchers like Dr. Thomas Seyfried believe that all other characteristics of the disease, including the genetic mutations, can arise either directly or indirectly from impaired mitochondrial function. Several studies suggest that reactive oxygen species produced from dysfunctional mitochondria and anaerobic metabolism can lead to instability of the DNA in the nucleus, increasing the chance of mutations that can cause runaway proliferation and tumor growth. This is illustrated in the figure below:

What does this mean? Cancer still has a genetic basis. We can clearly inherit gene variants that are associated with increased cancer risk, just as we can inherit genetic variants that are associated with Alzheimer’s, IBD, asthma, and other chronic diseases. But genetics alone are NOT enough to cause cancer. Indeed, studies now suggest that 90 to 95 percent of cancer can be attributed to diet and lifestyle.4

Causes of mitochondrial dysfunction

So if mitochondrial dysfunction is the primary cause of cancer, what causes mitochondrial dysfunction? There are several contributing factors, and each person will have a unique combination of exposures. Some of the most common causes are shown in the diagram below:

This is empowering. While genetics and aging are largely out of our control, the majority of these factors are modifiable. New mitochondria are formed regularly and can replace older, dysfunctional mitochondria if we make the necessary diet and lifestyle changes. In a moment, I’ll share the most important steps to improving your mitochondrial health. But first, I want to clarify the role of complementary treatment.

A quick primer on complementary treatment

Understandably, people feel desperate when they receive a cancer diagnosis. This can lead to a lot of self-directed research, where the lines between evidence-based therapies and unsubstantiated ones can easily be blurred. The result is a great deal of confusion over what complementary or alternative therapies actually have merit. However, if we rely on evidence, conventional and unconventional therapies do not have to be at odds. By bringing the best of both worlds together, we can improve the chances of achieving cancer remission and restoring optimal health.

It’s my hope that in the rest of this article, I might help clarify where the evidence really lies, and how we can use our understanding of cancer as a metabolic disease to treat and prevent cancer.

Note: I am not an oncologist. Diet and lifestyle are not a replacement for aggressive cancer treatment. They are intended to be complementary to conventional surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy treatment, and should always be discussed with members of your care team. Any respectable healthcare provider will remain open-minded to complementary treatments that are evidence-based and do not interfere with the primary treatment.

7 ways to support mitochondrial health to help treat (or prevent) cancer:

Cancer is a complex, multifactorial disease, and each person’s cancer has a distinct etiology and presentation. However, when combined with mainstream care, lifestyle changes can enhance the effectiveness of treatment, reduce adverse symptoms, and prevent cancer occurrence or recurrence by improving mitochondrial health.

1) Cut the sugar and processed foods

Remember the Warburg effect? Most cancer cells thrive on anaerobic metabolism and use glucose as their primary fuel, while healthy cells can use glucose or fat for energy using aerobic metabolism. Research from Belgium suggests that tumor growth directly depends on the degree of glucose overstimulation:

Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness.” 5

– Dr. Johan Thevelein, principal investigator

In other words, most cancers thrive on carbohydrates. By reducing carbohydrates in the diet and replacing them with healthy fats, you “starve” the cancer cells, while still feeding the healthy ones.  Eliminating processed foods, grains, and sugar will also help reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall mitochondrial health.

2) Taking it the extra step: ketosis and intermittent fasting

Our body demands a steady supply of fuel to our brain. If we stop eating, our body will start to mobilize fatty acids from adipose tissue for fuel. Most of these fatty acids can’t easily cross the blood-brain barrier, so instead they undergo a process in the liver that converts them to ketones. Ketones are small molecules that can easily pass into the brain and act as a particularly efficient fuel for mitochondria. Like fats, ketones require oxygen for their metabolism. Therefore, cancer cells cannot effectively utilize ketones.6

A 24 to 48 hour fast will typically kick the body into ketosis, but there’s another option: a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is high in fat, very low in carbohydrates, and moderate in protein, so it mimics the metabolic physiology of fasting. In addition to mobilizing body fat, dietary fat will also be used to form ketones. Ketosis is a fantastic adjuvant therapy (combination therapy) for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

I’ll be dedicating a full article to the benefits of nutritional ketosis in the future, but here a few as it relates to cancer and mitochondrial health:

  • Increases antioxidant mechanisms and enhancing cellular defense mechanisms7
  • Can sensitize tumors to the therapeutic effects of particular anti-cancer agents8
  • Increases mitochondrial efficiency and the formation of new mitochondria9
  • Reduces the production of reactive oxygen species in the mitochondria10
  • Has neurological and weight loss benefits

Note: Those with cancer cachexia and muscle wasting should be cautious about entering ketosis, as it is a catabolic state and may cause weight loss.

3) Get carcinogens out of your life

Cosmetics. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average women puts on 165 different chemicals a day; the average man, about 85.11 Many of these are known carcinogens. Some are even banned in Europe, but allowed in the U.S. These include:

Soap, shampoo, and makeup: Parabens are a known carcinogen. One study found that 99% of breast cancer tissues had parabens in them.12 Sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrance, and synthetic colors are also ingredients to be wary of.

Synthetic parfum/fragrances: contain dangerous phthalates, benzene derivatives, and other potential carcinogens.

Try instead: An all-in-one natural soap and shampoo bar. My favorite is Ancient Minerals Zion Clay Soap.

Toothpaste: Fluoride is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen. Some toothpastes contain Triclosan, a potential carcinogen, neurotoxin, and endocrine disruptor.

Try instead: A re-mineralizing toothpaste like Coral White

Paraffin Candles: Candles made with paraffin wax create highly toxic gases like benzenes and toluenes when burned. Mice exposed to these vapors have been shown to exhibit liver and kidney abnormalities.13 Scented candles also often have wicks that contain heavy metals and artificial scents and dyes which can also release chemicals into the air.

Try instead: Beeswax candles, which also may help purify the air

Air fresheners: These are often conveniently labeled with the ingredient “parfum” or “fragrance” so that they don’t have to disclose the toxic chemicals they contain

Try instead: Making your own using essential oils and water

Household cleaners: Corporate advertising has tried to convince us that we need multiple different products to clean different surfaces. Most synthetic cleaners feature warning signs that they are toxic, corrosive, or poisonous, yet we continue to use these around ourselves and our kids.

Try instead: Dr. Bronner’s all-purpose natural household cleaner

Laundry detergent: Common ingredients like 1,4-dioxane, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and synthetic colors are all potential carcinogens.

        Try instead: Soap Nuts or Mirror Lake Organics Laundry Soap

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: The International Agency on Research for Cancer has identified 15 different compounds in cigarette smoke that are listed as Group 1 carcinogens. Alcohol is also a Group 1 carcinogen and increases the risk of liver, oral, esophageal, stomach, breast, and colon cancer.14

Pollution: Indoor and outdoor air can contain carcinogenic compounds, and water can contain heavy metals like arsenic.

The solution: Get an air filter and a charcoal-based water filter for your home. Buy furniture gently used or look for furniture without flame retardants.

Pesticides and fertilizers: Several organophosphate pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers have been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.15,16

The solution: Familiarize yourself with the Dirty Dozen list and buy organic products whenever possible. Better yet, go to the farmers market and meet local farmers who can tell you about their growing practices.

Plastic. Plasticizers like BPA can cause endocrine disruption, reproductive issues, and cancer. Even “BPA-free” plastics are full of alternative plasticizers that may be worse than BPA itself.

Instead: Invest in a stainless steel water bottle, and when possible, buy food that is not wrapped in plastic.

Cookware: Non-stick cookware has a synthetic coating of polytetrafluoroethylene (also known as Teflon). This plastic polymer has been shown by the EWG to release toxic gases at high heats.

Instead: opt for stainless steel, cast iron, or safe ceramic cookware.

This list might seem overwhelming, but it’s only because of the ubiquity of carcinogens in our modern world. If you can just commit an hour to getting these out of your house, and an hour replacing them with healthier alternatives, your mitochondria will thank you in the long-term!

*Note: I have no affiliation with any of these companies or products. These are simply what I use in my home, after trying out many different natural products.

4) Exercise

Exercise has been shown to increase mitochondrial biogenesis, the process of forming new mitochondria, and improve their function.17 Exercise also improves mood and helps to maintain muscle mass and cardiovascular function. Studies have found no harmful effects on patients with cancer from moderate exercise, and those who exercise regularly report less fatigue and improved quality of life during drug treatment.18

5) Optimize sleep and circadian rhythms

Shorter sleep duration is associated with mitochondrial stress and a reduced copy number of mitochondrial DNA.19 Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause intermittent oxygen starvation of the mitochondria, which results in oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.20

Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour clock that governs our wakefulness and sleep patterns, and is determined primarily by our exposure to light. Mitochondria have a circadian clock of their own, which is thought to be influenced by nutrient availability (in other words, the times at which we eat).21,22 Periodic fasting, adequate sleep, and entraining circadian rhythms allows the mitochondria to repair themselves.

6) Try mind-body therapies

Mind-body medicine has no direct anti-tumor effects and is not a replacement for aggressive treatment. However, when used in a complementary fashion, mind-body techniques have been shown to reduce anxiety and pain and improve quality of life in cancer patients.23 Acupuncture interacts with peripheral and central neurological pathways and has been shown in a few controlled studies to reduce pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea.24 Evidence also clearly shows the benefit of support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.25

7) Supplemental support

Note: It is important to disclose any supplements with your oncologist to assess potential interaction with chemotherapy treatments.

Some botanical supplements show promising immunomodulatory effects in preclinical studies, increasing tumor rejection or pathogen resistance. In a large, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Wisconsin ginseng was well tolerated and effective in improving fatigue outcomes in cancer survivors.26 However, some botanical treatments are potent and, if used improperly, can cause liver toxicity and liver failure.

The evidence regarding dietary supplements and antioxidants during chemotherapy or radiation treatment is mixed. Some doctors believe that antioxidant support can help offset the toxicity of treatment on healthy cells. Others believe that antioxidant support might reduce the ability of chemotherapy drugs to kill off cancer cells.

General supplements to support mitochondrial health include CoQ10, magnesium, vitamin C, selenium, and L-carnitine. As the metabolic theory of cancer gains more traction, I hope to see more controlled studies on the long-term efficacy of these supplemental nutrients in cancer treatment. In general, nutritional supplements should always be considered in the context of the patient’s nutritional status, the particular cancer you are dealing with, and the primary treatment agents.

That’s all for now. If you found this helpful, I’d love to hear about it. Click here to subscribe or get a free phone consultation with me.

 

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By |2018-01-25T19:54:27+00:00January 25th, 2018|