December 17, 2014

The Virtues of Vinegar

(We'll return to the cancer series in a few days.)

I am going to list several popular condiments:

Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salsa, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, pickle relish, hot sauce, and The Oatmeal’s beloved Sriracha.

All of these items, with their diverse flavors and wide range of foundational ingredients, have one thing in common.

Tomatoes?  No.

Oil?  No.

Chili peppers?  Nope.

Hint: It’s VINEGAR!! (Okay, so that was more than a hint.)

It’s true: I challenge you to go to the supermarket and take a good look at the condiments. You will see vinegar listed in the ingredients in almost all of them, and that’s not even taking into account using various forms of vinegar, itself, as a condiment or critical component of salad dressing: apple cider vinegar, balsamic, red wine, champagne, sherry vinegar, and, of course, no proper fish & chips meal would be complete without a generous splash of malt vinegar to go with the newspaper-wrapped, deep-fried deliciousness.

Apart from these modern condiments, which we use on everything from hot dogs at the ballpark, to corn chips on Super Bowl Sunday, to brats at Oktoberfest (not to mention a snazzy new Sriracha beer!), vinegar has been part of traditional ethnic cuisines around the world for centuries. Of course, we can’t assume that an ingredient or culinary technique is beneficial merely because it’s been employed by many disparate groups for a very long time, but we ought to at least give that possibility some consideration. Some traditions deserve to be mothballed to history (footbinding, anyone?), but when it comes to culinary and gastronomic approaches that persist, there’s probably some good reasons lurking behind them. Perhaps the cooks of yesteryear knew something we don’t?

For a while now, I have been promising (threatening?) to write a post about my newfound love for vinegar, so here goes. And instead of writing shorter blog posts, like I have also been promising, it seems I've gone in the opposite direction with this one. It's long. But that's okay. Take your time and read it in stages if need be. It'll still be here when you get back. If you're a bored-to-death cubicle dweller and I've given you a way to kill ten minutes, you're welcome. (*Insert smiley face.*)

December 11, 2014

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Welcome to the next installment in my ongoing series exploring the metabolic theory of cancer.

If this is your first visit, you might want to check out the posts leading up to this:
  1. Introduction
  2. Cells Behaving Badly
  3. Cellular Energy Generation 1 - Glycolysis
  4. Cellular Energy Generation 2 - Mitochondria

Last time, we started exploring the structure and function of mitochondria, our cells’ main energy generators. I have been saying all along that mitochondrial dysfunction—the inability of mitochondria to generate sufficient energy (ATP)—is at the heart of the metabolic origins theory of cancer. Another leg of this table is mitochondrial insufficiency—too few mitochondria, even if they are functioning perfectly well. For today, though, we’ll focus on dysfunction.

The previous post left off saying we would take a look at a few things that can cause structural damage to mitochondria. And let’s remember: since structure determines function, if mitochondrial structure is compromised, then function will be compromised as well.

December 8, 2014

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Cellular Energy Generation 2 - Mighty Mitochondria

We meet again!

If you’re new here, we are in the midst of exploring a fascinating theory regarding the etiology of cancer. We’ve already covered some ways in which cancer cells differ from normal, healthy cells, but we’re holding off on looking at three or four of the most striking hallmarks that make cancer cells different from healthy cells until we have a good understanding of how our cells generate energy.

If youre just tuning in, youll want to check out the previous posts in this series:
  1. Introduction
  2. Cells Behaving Badly
  3. Energy Generation 1 - Glycolysis

Last time, we looked at the biochemical pathways known as glycolysis and fermentation, both of which are old and somewhat “primitive,” and are relatively inefficient ways of harvesting ATP from carbohydrates (glucose, specifically). We briefly introduced the more complex pathway called oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos), also called cellular respiration. Recall that “respiration” is a good way to think of this, since this pathway requires oxygen. OxPhos takes place within specialized structures inside cells, called mitochondria.

If it seems like we’re veering off course to explore all this energy and mitochondrial “stuff,” I promise, these brief forays into cell biology are building a very necessary foundation, without which we won’t be able to make sense of the metabolic theory of cancer. After all, how can we understand cancer as a metabolic disease if we don’t have at least a cursory familiarity with cellular metabolism?

December 4, 2014

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Cellular Energy Generation 1 - Glycolysis


If you’re just joining us, welcome! You have serendipitously stumbled upon a series in which I am exploring the metabolic origins theory of cancer—its scientific underpinnings, and the therapeutic implications thereof. To bring yourself up to speed, check out the introduction and the second post. (This is the third.)  

Last time, we made a list of several ways in which cancer cells behave differently from healthy cells. I left off saying that we had to hold off on discussing three of the most important of these distinguishing behaviors until we had a working understanding of how our cells generate energy. So that’s what’s on the menu today. (Hope you’re hungry!)

As we get into things, it might seem like we are going far afield, and like this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with cancer. I assure you, there’s a method to the madness, and what we’ll be talking about in the next couple of posts is absolutely essential ground to cover if we hope to understand the metabolic origins theory of cancer.

December 1, 2014

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Cells Behaving Badly

If you’re just tuning in, you have landed on a series in which we are exploring the metabolic origins theory of cancer. To find out what this means, take a minute to visit the introductory post. (You can also just read this book review on Amazon for a quick version of what this is all about.)

In this first installment of getting into all this, I think it’s a good idea for us to take a look at some of the ways in which cancer cells distinguish themselves from healthy cells.

  • Generally speaking, they don’t die. Healthy cells undergo a kind of programmed suicide when their parts & pieces are damaged or worn out. They’re not supposed to live forever. When they outlive their usefulness, they make a graceful exit. This programmed cell death is called apoptosis, and it is largely absent in cancer cells. Think of it as the reverse Darwin Awards: instead of taking themselves out of the gene pool by doing something really stupid, cancer cells are absolute geniuses at keeping themselves in itforever. (Until, that is, they grow and spread enough of themselves that they kill their “host,” which, when you think about it, actually does get them a Darwin Award.) Seriously, though, instead of dying as programmed, like good little cells, cancer cells just multiply, and multiply, and multiply, and grow and grow, and spread and spread. 

November 25, 2014

Metabolic Theory of Cancer: Introduction

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you are probably accustomed to me having contrarian views. Much of what I believe about nutrition, food, and health, runs counter to the advice we’ve heard from the government, the popular media, and, for the most part, even from our own professional healthcare providers. I have talked many times about my feelings on saturated fat and cholesterol, and I’ll have a few posts coming up on another misunderstood and wrongfully maligned essential nutrient—sodium.

In the meantime, there is another issue—a big, big issue—that I’d like to bring attention to, and I’m going to strike while the iron is hot. On this week’s episode of the Paleo Solution Podcast (which you can check out right here), Robb Wolf is interviewing Travis Christofferson, who wrote a book called Tripping Over the Truth: The MetabolicTheory of Cancer. I first became aware of Travis and his interest in cancer research back in 2013, when he wrote this guest post for Robb’s website. I left a comment, which spurred Travis to check out my blog, where he saw that I do book reviews. Well, he asked me to review the book several weeks ago, and you can now read my glowing review of it on Amazon.

I had intended to write an additional review tailored specifically for my blog audience, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is so much fascinating, educational, and potentially life-saving information to be had by digging into this material that there was no way a simple one-post book review would do it justice. So instead, this will be a multi-part series looking at a contrarian—but revolutionary and extremely promising—view on the etiology and potential treatment of cancer.