The Metabolic Approach to Cancer by Nasha Winters and Jess Higgins Kelley
This book details alternative explanations for the incidence of cancer and offers therapies to starve cancer cells and reverse symptoms.
In this episode, Julia and Sasha did not have any time for their usual discussion of paleo activities, offal consumption, and poop health. Due to the upcoming holiday and important things like Friendsgiving, the two only talked about the book, promising more detailed talk of their paleo exploits before Episode 15.
In this episode, we discuss:
Old podcasts with Nasha winters
For more about genes' impact on disease, read Dirty Genes by Dr. Ben Lynch
Links on the top of the paper
Scientists reverse peanut allergies with probiotics
Fasting is a good tool for cancer
What is the metabolic approach to cancer?
Cancer cells are produced by humans every day through cell division, but in a normally functioning body, these cells are quickly destroyed. Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, protects the body by detecting mutated DNA in newly produced cells and breaking down the corresponding cells. A cancerous cells evades the body’s mechanisms to protect against such mutations and is able to reproduce indefinitely.
The conventional theories of cancer genesis include genes, family history, and bad luck. It’s basically the 3 Gs argument applied to cancer. In this world, you’re pretty much doomed, and there isn’t much you can do to change your fate. You’re going to get cancer no matter what you try to do to mitigate it.
What role does sugar play?
The metabolic theory of cancer builds on the Warburg effect, which acknowledges that cancer cells metabolize glucose anaerobically at an incredibly fast rate compared with normally functioning cells. Essentially, mitochondria in cancer cells are malfunctioning and refusing to metabolize glucose to produce ATP normally. Rather, they don’t use oxygen and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. As the authors argue, human actions and environment can make this situation worse and further encourage the incorrect behavior of malfunctioning cells.
Current science is aware that sugar is tantamount to cancer cells’ survival to the extent that they use sugar in positron emission tomography (PET) scans to find tumors. The more a spot lights up, the greater the number of tumor cells gathered there. Even with this awareness, conventional medicine is reluctant to
tell patients to stop consuming sugar and adopt a fat-based diet. They argue that sugar does not encourage cancer growth and that abstaining from sugar consumption doesn’t help anything. In fact, some doctors believe cancer patients should eat whatever they want in order to reduce weight loss and increase good feelings while going through a difficult time. Other examples of modern medicine making cancer worse are the fact that cancer meds contain sugar and most conventional cancer treatments are also carcinogenic, leading to an increase in second cancers.
Why do cancer cells malfunction?
Nasha and Jess offer several options for the malfunctioning of mitochondria in the first place. One such possibility is that a disruption in the circadian rhythm can lead to imbalanced hormones, increased stress, and inflammation. In a normal circadian rhythm, people feel tired when the sun goes down and energized when it rises. The body releases melatonin around sundown to encourage the body to rest and repair. In addition to the body doing its most repairing and healing while asleep, it also uses melatonin for repairing oxidative damage. When oxidized particles (also called free radicals) are looking for electrons, they are very reactive and dangerous. Without a proper sleep cycle to regulate the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS), they can increase too much and cause mutations in DNA, leading to cancer cells. And the production of mutated cells can lead to an increase in inflammation, so a vicious cycle is created. Julia and Sasha recommend camping to reset your circadian rhythm because you will get tired when the sun goes down and sleep merrily until the sun rises.
Similarly, chronic stress can be carcinogenic, as well. Stress’s main driver is cortisol, at its peak every morning as melatonin is recycled. While cortisol is necessary for waking up the body and giving it energy throughout the day, chronically elevated cortisol is not a good thing. In a state of elevated cortisol, the body encourages glucose release, which can increase insulin, leading to fat storage and insulin resistance. It also contributes to angiogenesis, the creation of blood vessels for cancer cells, and metastasis, the spreading of cancer to different organs and systems. Cancer cells can also increase inflammation so that more blood cells will travel to their tumor and increase blood flow.
Also, much of cancer genesis is due to the toxins to which we are constantly exposed. As the authors point out, there are no studies showing the effects on the body of the synergy of harmful chemicals. If chemicals are studied at all (and they only have to show they are not harmful if there is a suspicion they might be), researchers only look at the “active” ingredient of something and do not worry about its interaction with the inert ingredients and other chemicals in the environment or the inert ingredients’ interactions with each other. The authors state that a newly synthesized chemical is produced every 27 seconds around the world. And they write that dioxin and glyphosate have been found on tampons. While this is infuriating, it’s not entirely surprising since tampons are made of cotton. This—and because tampons cause micro-tears on the vagina—is why we use diva cups instead of tampons.
In general the discussion of environmental influence on cancer genesis is fascinating. Harmful chemicals can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress and mutate DNA in cells. Not surprisingly (but satisfactorily) the authors identify scented plugins as a source of carcinogenic chemicals, including formaldehyde and phthalates. Other sources of carcinogenic chemicals include new cars, regular clothes, baby toys, paint, home insulation, receipt paper, scented candles, vegetable oils, EMF exposure, vape pens, colored tattoo ink, conventional makeup and toiletries, and countless other things (like pretty much everything that humans create).
To reduce and combat our exposure to harmful chemicals we like the following products:
Plants to purify the air and remove harmful chemicals
Organic food from the farmers market
Wool dryer balls (no fabric softener needed!)
Don't do the "alkaline diet"
We really liked the book’s debunking of the alkaline diet. All of a sudden people are eating “alkaline” foods and pH-9 water. And someone in Indianapolis told Julia she has a personal chef because eating acidic foods causes cancer. This isn’t true and ignores basic biochemistry. The body’s different systems have different optimal pH levels, which are highly regulated. For example, the blood has a pH of about 7.4, the skin around 5, and the stomach 1 or 2. Proponents of the diet argue that acid created by food causes cancer because acidosis can be present in the fluid around tumors. As the authors argue, however, this is due to how cancer cells metabolize energy. Since they metabolize glucose anaerobically, they produce lactic acid as a metabolite by-product. This buildup of lactic acid is what causes acidosis; acidosis does not cause cancer. And even if it did, eating alkaline foods does not impact blood pH levels anyway because the stomach neutralizes basic foods.
Henrietta Lacks's role in cancer research
Scientists learned about the basically immortal nature of cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks from whom doctors kept biopsied cancer cells, which they used for research years after her death. Called HeLa cells, they are still used today, (which creates an awkward problem of ownership and compensation for the scientists and Henrietta’s family). Cells can thrive for a really long time if they have a ready supply of glucose and sugar, which is the main point of this book. Because cancer cells metabolize glucose absurdly fast and don’t have any ability to metabolize fat, they can be starved if they are deprived of sugar. On a ketogenic diet, the body runs on ketone bodies synthesized from fatty acids in the liver.
There were a few things that we did not love about this book, as tends to be the case. For example, Sasha did not appreciate the inconsistency in macronutrient counts for various foods. A half of a cup of black beans and a half of a cup of brown rice have 400 total calories, according to the book. However, it is actually more like 222 calories with 10 grams of total protein. The authors also state more than once that organs are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet but fail to offer any recipes using offal, preferring instead to rely on turkey meat, lean fish, and “healthy fats” like olives, nuts, and avocado.
Also, after arguing that people should not consume dairy unless it is raw and from pastured animals, the authors recommend people use whey protein in a “healing”, ketogenic smoothie. And they classify whey as a high-fat food. Few things. First, whey is not a fat. It is a quickly digested protein that is quite insulinogenic, meaning it encourages the secretion of insulin. Perhaps the reason the authors like whey is that it shuffles glucose out of the blood and into muscle, but that doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t a high-fat food. Second, the process of making whey protein powder requires heating and separating milk solids as well as the introduction of other chemicals.
If you want a protein powder, we recommend collagen protein from pastured animals. Otherwise, make your own whey from raw milk and drink it as a liquid—if you tolerate it. Also called a “high-fat food” was coconut flour. A fourth of a cup of coconut flour (which is a really small amount if you plan to do any paleo baking) yields only 4 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbohydrate, and 6 grams of sugar. In other words, coconut flour is not the same as coconut oil.
Is meat carcinogenic?
The authors' discussion of meat was confusing and frustrating. First, they say emphatically that one should not eat any meat at all unless it comes from healthy, pastured animals eating an organic diet. And then they recommend Applegate bacon and sausage. If you don’t know your farmer personally, you have no guarantee animals were raised on pasture with their natural behaviors and diets. And if a company is not blasting its commitment to full pasture living for all of its animals, then you can rest assured it is not raising them outside on organic grass.
Moreover, “100% vegetarian diet” should be a red flag to anyone concerned about animal welfare for several reasons: one, it means that animals are receiving some industrially created supplemental feed, which can contain any number of things, including corn and soy; and two, chickens and pigs are not vegetarians. They are omnivores and need some source of meat in the form of insects, rodents, small reptiles, etc. When Julia worked on a farm in West Virginia, she fed chickens fish skin, guts, and bones left over from scaling fish for dinner. And they loved it.
Second, the authors write that meat consumption has been linked to cancer. For a book proposing to reverse cancer with a ketogenic diet full of nutrient-dense animal foods, this made little sense to us. And it confuses people who are new to these topics. As plenty of people have pointed out, the associative studies purporting to find a link between red meat consumption and rectal cancer in men are inconclusive, full of confounds, and showing an effect so small it should be considered insignificant.
Chris Kresser describes how studies show opposite effects for different cancers and no links at all for women and suffer from the “healthy user bias”—people who eat higher amounts of red meat probably engage in other unhealthy behaviors like eating vegetable oil and sugar, smoking, drinking soda. And not exercising because if they ignore conventional advice regarding meat consumption, they are likely to avoid advice for other health-related behaviors, as well.
Moreover, studies never seem to compare red meat-eaters who have a paleo diet and clean lifestyle and exercise plenty with red meat eaters following the Standard American Diet and lifestyle. If we could isolate the effects of red meat consumption in a truly healthy individual, we would not find any association between meat and cancer risk—in fact, we would probably find that red meat consumption is protective against cancer.
What about nitrates?
Someday we will read a book that really investigates the issue of nitrates/nitrites in meat and nitrosamines, produced when cooking meat at high temperatures and dry-curing meat. People argue that you should avoid cooked bacon and cured meats due to their nitrates, but as Chris Kresser points out, we produce more nitrites in our saliva than we eat. And vegetables have way more nitrates than bacon and sausage. And both nitrites and nitrates are necessary for human health and not definitively harmful. Nitrosamine, however, is harmful, but we cook our bacon slowly in the oven and do not produce any smoke when cooking, so we are confident we avoid this problem. And not all cured meat shows evidence of nitrosamine, so as long as you buy high-quality stuff or cure it yourself, you’re going to be fine.
Our final takeaway from this awesome book is that people make the excuse that eating organic, real food is “too expensive”. We really like that the authors clap back with, “Really? Would you rather pay for cancer treatment and be sick?” We couldn’t agree more. Food is everything. Your body cannot make new cells, synthesize hormones, create neurons, repair damage, and maintain in good health if you don’t choose the proper inputs. We would rather spend more on organic, real food now than be sick and miserable later—and have to deal with the costs of medicines and dangerous treatments. Neither of us sees a primary care doctor currently, and we don’t have any medications. We consider food as our medicine and are happy to spend money getting the best possible kinds.
Finally a book that calls out irresponsible medicine and outdated thinking boldly and unapologetically. The Metabolic Approach to Cancer offers not only hope to people given the worst diagnosis, but it provides solid science and proven remedies to back it up.
This book really makes you wonder why conventional medicine is holding on so tightly to carcinogenic and miserable treatments that might grant you 6 months more of life at the cost of $50,000. It also makes you wonder why so many people have to wait until after a terrible diagnosis to begin living and eating the way we are genetically designed to.
Give The Metabolic Approach a read even if you don't have cancer—and maybe especially so. Get on the right path now to best protect your mitochondria, reverse oxidative damage, and feel young and healthy.