Cancer as a Mitochondrial Metabolic Disease

Cancer Lecture

Thomas Seyfried, PhD, is a biochemical geneticist, professor of biology at Boston College, and author of the ground-breaking book Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.

As part of a lecture delivered on July 31, 2018, at the annual CrossFit Health Conference, Seyfried presented a report card on our current approaches to treating cancer in the United States. Looking at data from the American Cancer Society on cancer incidence and deaths per day between 2013 and 2017, he noted that death rates are on the rise. “The more money we raise for cancer, the more cancer we get,” he observed. “So, you must ask, ‘What is happening here?’ … This is a failure of monumental proportions.”

The failure “has to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of what the nature of this disease is,” he explained. “We’ve been led to believe this is a genetic disease, and I’ll present evidence to say it’s not.”

The belief that cancer is a genetic disease associated with a somatic mutation has become dogma, Seyfried explained, and this dogma shaped much of the cancer research and treatment protocols of the twentieth century. So-called cutting-edge treatments, such as personalized therapy and precision medicine, are based on this viewpoint.

Unfortunately, the viewpoint is wrong, as Seyfried explained in “Cancer as a Mitochondrial Metabolic Disease,” an article published in Frontiers in 2015. There, he aggregated existing research on cancer and re-evaluated the information in light of the two competing theories on the origin of the disease (i.e., cancer as a genetic or metabolic disease).

The research he surveyed supported Otto Warburg’s theory that cancer develops from disturbed energy metabolism. Seyfried and his colleagues compared nuclear-cytoplasmic transfer and mitochondrial transfer experiments and found that the mitochondria are “calling the shots, not the nucleus,” which is “the opposite of what we would expect if this were a genetic disease,” he explained.

Seyfried then described what he and his colleagues believe is the missing link in Warburg’s theory. Normal healthy cells derive energy from oxidative phosphorylation. Cancer cells, on the other hand, get energy through fermentation. What Seyfried and his colleagues discovered — and what Warburg did not know — is that cancer cells can ferment lactic acid and amino acids. That is to say, cancer cells can derive energy for proliferation from glucose and glutamine. Thus, to remove a cancer cell’s energy source, one must remove its access to fermentable fuels, and an effective way to do this, Seyfried found, is through calorie restriction and ketosis.

Calorie restriction and ketosis, he explained, are anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and pro-apoptotic. “No cancer drug is known to do this without toxicity,” he said. He added that those who claim they don’t understand the mechanism by which calorie restriction and ketosis work are full of “bullshit.” “They don’t read the literature. Nor do they contribute to it,” he said.

Seyfried’s cancer research, particularly on aggressive forms of cancer such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and other stages 4 cancers, led to his development of a glucose-ketone index calculator and the press-pulse therapeutic strategy. The calculator helps patients monitor their progress toward therapeutic ketosis. The press-pulse method pairs press therapies, such as following a keto diet while taking ketone supplements and practising stress management, with pulse therapies, such as taking glucose and glutamine inhibitors while undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatments.

During his presentation, Seyfried explained how and why these methods are more effective for cancer patients than traditional standard of care.

“GBM and other stage 4 cancers — I don’t consider them terminal cancers,” he said.

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