March 23, 2015

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Speculation on the Causes of Cancer (Pt.1)

Those of us who are steeped in the ancestral health paradigm sometimes get a little too big for our britches. Because we know a little more about the care and feeding of the human body than the average guy or gal on the street, we tend to think we have an explanation for just about every health-related issue there is. When someone we know is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s easy for us to say to ourselves, “If only he had done x, y, and z, this wouldn’t have happened.” Or, “If only she hadn’t done a, b, and c, she wouldn’t have ended up like this.”

And, sure, when it comes to things like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, difficulty conceiving, and the like, we do have plenty of answers. (Or think we do, anyway.) So we play the blame game. The afflicted individuals brought their conditions upon themselves by engaging in certain behaviors and/or not engaging in others. It’s not that we think they “deserve” whatever conditions they have; it’s just that we can readily identify things they did or did not do, that eventually brought those conditions about. (And in my opinion, in some cases, ignorant doctors hold just as much responsibility as the patients.)

But what about cancer? Anyone out there gutsy enough to say that someone with cancer had it comin’? I’m sure as heck not.

March 18, 2015

Taste Test: Primal Mayo

I have never made any secret of the fact that I’m not perfect when it comes to diet. In fact, with regard to eating not-so-nutritious things, I have a fair bit of experience. Most of the time, though, I do pretty well. If not by my own standards, then at least compared to the average soda-swilling, bagel-munching guy or gal on the street. I’ve been at this low-carb real food “thing” long enough that I’ve never found myself at a restaurant or dinner at a friend’s home and felt like there was nothing I could eat. I’ve learned to make my own no-sugar or lower carb versions of certain foods, and learned to make appropriate substitutions when necessary.

One thing I haven’t been able to replicate in a wholesome version is mayonnaise. Being pretty much just oil, eggs, vinegar, and maybe some salt and lemon juice, mayo is about as low carb as it gets. The problem with mayo isn’t the carb content; it’s the type of oil typically used in commercial brands. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a Hellmann’s gal. (That’s Best Foods to those of you west of the Rockies.) When Ina Garten, one of my favorite Food Network “celebuchefs” uses mayonnaise, she always says “Use a good mayonnaise,” and even though the network isn’t allowed to show the brand label on the front of the jar, you can clearly tell it’s Hellmann’s.

I have tried other brands. I’ve tried Duke’s, Kraft, and the store brands from Safeway, Giant, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. I’ve tried mayo made with canola oil (gasp!). None of them even came close. A couple of those were okay; others were downright dreadful. I never bothered trying the olive oil mayonnaises. If you look at the labels, you’ll see that while they do contain a little olive oil, so the manufacturer can write OLIVE OIL in big letters on the front of the jar, they are still predominantly soybean oil. (Thanks to our generous tax subsidies, soy is super cheap for food manufacturers to use in their products.)

I’ve even tried making it from scratch a time or two. Let’s just say the results made me want to reach for the Hellmann’s even more. And frankly, considering my lack of dietary sainthood—and lack of desire to attain it—while I generally advise against consumption of large amounts of soy oil, if mayonnaise and the occasional blue cheese salad dressing are pretty much my only sources of it, I’m comfortable with that. (Let me pause while the gasps of horror subside and the whooshing sound in the wake of the purists getting up to leave quiets down.)

March 4, 2015

Book Review - Extra Virginity

Olive oil has a bit of a unique place in nutrition science. It’s one of the only single foods all the warring factions agree is good for us: Paleos, vegans, vegetarians, low-carbers -- we've all got a bottle of it in the kitchen. It’s lower in saturated fatty acids than most animal fats, which pleases the veg-heads (and the ignoramuses who think saturated fat is “bad” for us), and its loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, which seems to please everyone else—doctors, nutritionists, chefs, and newspaper journalists who think they know anything about biochemistry. Olive oil has been anointed (pun intended) with the magical powers to do just about everything from preventing heart disease to making your salad delicious. (The latter, I agree with; the former, I don’t think we can say for sure. Prevent heart disease, maybe, maybe not. But biochemically and physiologically speaking, it’s sure less likely to cause cardiovascular problems than, say, soybean and cottonseed oils.)

I love reading about the science of nutrition, but I also love reading about cooking, culinary culture, and, if I’m especially enamored with something, individual ingredients. Since olive oil figures heavily into my diet—and probably yours, too—when I heard there was a book called Extra Virginity, which covers some of the historical, cultural, gastronomic, and economic significance of this palate- and health-pleasing oil, I got my keister to the bookstore to get a copy. And with a subtitle like, “The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil,” I knew I’d be in for some serious eye-opening.

February 20, 2015

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Cancer as a Protective Mechanism

“Cancer cells were producing energy in a way that evolution had set aside as an auxiliary pathway, a highly inefficient generator that kicked in when the power went out.” (Christofferson, p.20

“Tumors bypass many of the biochemical constraints that regulate metabolism, in order to maximize their survival at great expense to the host.” (Mathupala, Ko, Pedersen, 2010)

The amplified rates of glycolysis “indicate a strategy used by highly malignant tumors to survive as well as thrive within the host using a remarkable set of coordinated molecular mechanisms. These mechanisms, which are very similar to those utilized by some highly successful parasites, indicate a sophisticated strategy devised by tumors to survive even the most inhospitable microenvironments within the host.” (Mathupala, Rempel, Pedersen, 1997)

Throughout this series on the metabolic origins of cancer, I have been hinting that cancer—destructive, devastating, scary cancer—might be an evolutionarily conserved protective mechanism. I realize this is politically incorrect. But when we understand some of the biochemistry and physiology involved, this is actually a fairly logical conclusion to arrive at.   

I have gone to great lengths to explain some of the relevant biochemical pathways involved in how and why cancer cells accomplish all the seemingly horrible things they do. In looking at glycolysis, the shift to hexokinase 2, aerobic fermentation, the upregulation of glucose transporters, and more, we have explored a lot about the how of cancer. And we’ve certainly talked a bit about the why. Today, let’s go a little farther down the rabbit hole of the why, because, as I left off saying last time, if we can figure out why cells become malignant, we might have better odds at preventing cancer. We can certainly develop more effective treatment protocols if we understand the how of cancer, but understanding the why will give us even more of an advantage in devising treatments, as well as creating (potentially) better prevention strategies and strategies to prevent recurrence.    

February 10, 2015

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Mutations vs Mitochondria

“Let’s get ready to RUUUUMBLLLLLE!”

“Maybe we’ve mischaracterized the origin of cancer. Maybe cancer is not a genetic disease after all. Maybe we are losing the war against cancer because scientists are chasing a flawed scientific paradigm, and cancer is not a disease of damaged DNA but rather one of defective metabolism.” (Christofferson, xiii)

“If scientists have mischaracterized the origin of cancer, then we have lost three decades trying to target mutations that are a side effect rather than the motor driving the disease. (Christofferson, p.223)

“It is interesting to note that none of the current approaches to brain cancer management discussed at a recent symposium involved strategies to target tumor cell energy metabolism. Several presentations at this symposium discussed the failures associated with current approaches to management. As long as [brain] cancer is viewed as something other than a disease of energy metabolism, the failures will likely continue in our opinion.” (Seyfried et al., 2012)

February 3, 2015

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Cancer Cells are Sugar Junkies

“One of the most common and profound phenotypes of cancer cells is their propensity to utilize and catabolize glucose at high rates.” (Mathupala et al, 1997)

“The higher the glucose levels, the faster the tumors grew. As glucose levels fall, tumor size and growth rate falls.” (Seyfried et al., 2012)

“Hyperglycemia was also directly linked to poor prognosis in humans with malignant brain cancer.” (Seyfried et al., 2012)

Cancer cells are sugar junkies.

If those five words, strung together in that order, are a surprise to you, then you haven’t been paying much attention so far. If you’ve been keeping up with the previous posts in this series on the metabolic origins of cancer, you will have seen this coming a mile away. (Or, rather, four or five blog posts away.)

Cancer cells love glucose. They need glucose. And they do everything in their power to suck up as much of it as they possibly can, even at the expense of healthy tissue elsewhere in the body. Short of actually taking control of the motor functions of your arms and hands in order to pour you a giant bowl of sugar-frosted breakfast cereal and cram it down your throat, cancer cells do everything they can to ensure they have access to a never-ending supply of glucose. 

In the past few posts, we’ve looked in detail at the main reason why cancer cells do this, and a few mechanisms for how they do it. I have been saying all along that cancer cells are wily little things, and they perform some stunningly impressive feats of metabolic Twister in order to accomplish the nefarious task of keeping themselves alive by gorging on glucose.

Since it’s been a while since the last post, let’s take a quick look back at what we’ve covered so far, regarding cancer cells’ dependence on glucose as their primary fuel.