Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Your Mitochondria and Cancer

Today's post, written by Xandria Williams, discusses mitochondrial damage and highlights the importance of lifestyle and diet when it comes to preventing, and recovering from, cancer. 

This is an excerpt from Xandria Williams' latest book 'Detecting Cancer' which is now available for purchase. 'Detecting Cancer' is the third book in her 'Cancer Quintet', of which the first two are 'Vital Signs for Cancer' and 'Cancer Concerns'. Xandria Williams has worked as a Nutritional Biochemist and Naturopath for over thirty years. For the past ten years she has had a particular interest in researching cancer as a process, and the ways in which nutritional, plant and other natural substances can be used to help restore health


 The cause of cancer is no longer a mystery; we know it occurs whenever any cell is denied 60% of its oxygen requirements.”[i]
“Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. …the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.”[ii]
Thus stated Nobel Prize Winner Dr Otto Warburg 90 years ago.
Every time Dr Warburg put healthy cells in a controlled laboratory environment and totally deprived them of oxygen he found that they had turned into cancer cells. They reverted back to being undifferentiated (non-specialised) cells, eminently capable of repeated uncontrolled replications and multiplying to form a tumour. With an adequate supply of oxygen they reverted back to aerobically functioning healthy cells. Modern research continues to prove Warburg’s theory.[iii]
Warburg postulated that there were several reasons behind these failures:
*   Oxygen deficiency at the cellular level.
*   Deficiency of the nutrients needed for mitochondrial function, what Warburg called the ‘essential factors’. Vitamins were only just being discovered in the 1930s and were probably not named in the late 1920s when he was proposing his theory. However, it was obviously known that certain essential factors were needed for correct mitochondrial function. These essential nutrients include at the most immediate level of involvement: vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, biotin, CoQ-10, lipoic acid and a number of trace elements. Other nutrient deficiencies can have a more indirect impact on mitochondrial function.
*   A wide variety of toxins.
*   Emotional issues.
So what are these mitochondria, the failure of or damage to which can lead to cancer?
Your cells consist of a cell wall or membrane, surrounding a fluid but structured cytosol. Within this cytosol, and held in place by a variety of structures, somewhat like scaffolding, are the many different organelles (or organs) of the cell. One type of cell organelle is the mitochondrion.
They look, in shape and internal structure, for instance, like bacteria, from which they are thought to originate. The average human cell now contains around 1,500 mitochondria. They produce ATP in two ways. We will take glucose, the energy fuel derived from virtually all carbohydrates. Within the cytosol, two ATPs can be produced, without oxygen, from every glucose molecule.[1] Within the mitochondria, with the use of oxygen, 36 ATPs can be produced from one molecule of glucose. Clearly the latter is much more efficient.
The ability to produce energy by utilising oxygen[2] was of great benefit, but it also had some disadvantages. During the process of producing energy in this way there is considerable output of super reactive free radicals that can damage the surrounding compounds and tissues. These free radicals could be particularly damaging to the cell’s DNA, within the nucleus, so it is fortunate that these reactions now occur within the mitochondria and away from the cell’s nucleus. It is one of the reasons why so many ‘anti-oxidant’ nutrients are need for the maintenance of good health.
A further level of protection for the nuclear DNA was required during mitosis, the process by which two daughter cells (they are never called sons) are being produced. During this time the double stranded DNA uncoils and ‘unzips’, thus becoming more vulnerable to free radical damage. It is preferable, during this time of cellular reproduction, to rely on anaerobic energy production.
Thus we have the cytosol producing energy for cell division and for repair and the mitochondria producing energy for cellular function and metabolism. During mitosis and the formation of the new cell, the focus is on the anaerobic form of energy production. After that the focus should move strongly towards full mitochondrial function. In healthy cells the full focus of energy-producing chemistry should be on the mitochondria. If, after mitosis and the formation of the new cell, energy production does not swing back to the mitochondrial method, cellular integrity can be compromised and the cell can become damaged. Healthy, oxygen-rich, mitochondria, as Dr Otto Warburg hypothesised, are required for good health. If these mitochondria are damaged in any way, poor health, at both the cellular level and the level of the total organism, will result.
Modern research, supporting the near century old hypothesis of Warburg, demonstrates that a lack of the essential nutrients and anti-oxidants, needed for mitochondrial function can damage the mitochondria.
Several essential nutrients are needed for the generation of ATP, and without them the membranes of the mitochondria can become blocked. As a result, the entry and exit channels within the mitochondrial membrane cannot function; the mitochondria neither take in oxygen or essential nutrients nor export ATP, other compounds or waste products.[iv] If this leads to a build-up of those dangerous free radicals, significant destructive damage can also be caused.
The cellular self-protecting response to this is to reduce mitochondrial energy-generating activity, and lead to greater cellular reliance on the cytosol’s anaerobic energy-producing pathway. However, this should only be the major source of energy during tissue repair and cellular reproduction. Not only is this strategy inefficient as a source of energy, it also encourages cellular reproduction.
Thus, mitochondrial failure or damage can lead to chronic exhaustion. It can also lead to a variety of other and more serious degenerative diseases. Worse, this focus on increased and excessive cellular reproduction is an obvious characteristic of cancer cells. Otto Warburg, with little knowledge of what we now know about mitochondrial function, seems to have been amazingly perceptive and ahead of his time.
So, the prime cause of cancer is mitochondrial damage, triggered by many outside or epigenetic factors, such as poor diet, nutrient deficiencies and the presence of toxins. This damage can lead to many problems, including fatigue and failures at all levels of your body. It can trigger damage to the cell’s DNA, to genetic mutations, some of which can trigger cancer. Genes may seem to be causing cancer, but except in rare cases, they are not the primary cause.
Since the primary cause is external to you, part of your lifestyle and diet, you have an enormous weapon you can use in your attempts to either prevent or recover from cancer. Change and improve your lifestyle and diet.
You are not your genes. You are the result of the lifestyle you choose and the effects this has on your mitochondria and hence on your genes. Good genes can be activated by a healthy lifestyle. Genes that should only be active, during the very active growth period in utero, and genes that are inherently oncogenes[3] can lie quiet, all your life from birth onwards. Or they can be triggered by toxins, nutrient deficiencies, lack of cellular oxygen and mitochondrial damage.
The millions of dollars or pounds, raised by well-meaning individuals, charities and related organisations, and used for research into the genetic causes of cancer, may provide useful funds for genetic research. It may provide income for the various drug companies that focus on developing products to impact on genetic changes or tumour destruction. But it does little to help people with cancer.
It would be of enormously much greater benefit, to people suffering from cancer, if these funds were put to use improving our environment, removing or reducing the enormous load of toxins to which people are daily exposed, and encouraging people to adopt a better lifestyle and improve their diet. This may not sound as exciting as new high-tech equipment methods of destroying tumours, or exciting new drugs with their toxic consequences, but it would be a lot more effective. Putting more research money into furthering our understanding of mitochondrial function, and the failure of this function, in relation to cancer, and ways to prevent or remedy this failure, would almost certainly be a more helpful path to follow.

[1]    Via the Embden-Meyerhof pathway.
[2]    Via oxidative phosphorylation.
[3]    Genes whose activity leads to cancer.

[i]      Otto Warburg, The Prime Cause and Prevention of Cancer. Lecture to Nobel Laureates, 1966, June 30
[iii]    José M. Cuezva, Maryla Krajewska, Miguel López de Heredia, Stanislaw Krajewski, Gema Santamaría, Hoguen Kim, Juan M. Zapata, Hiroyuki Marusawa, Margarita Chamorro and John C. Reed, The bioenergetic signature of cancer, a marker of tumour progression. Cancer Research 2002; 62: 66746681
[iv]    Habib, S.J.H., Biogenesis and function of mitochondrial outer membrane proteins. 2009, dissertation, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich

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