- with links to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders
The mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells that churn out energy in a process that involves oxygen, Q10, selenium, and other nutrients. Around 100 years ago, the German Nobel Prize winner, Professor Otto Warburg, demonstrated that even if cancer can be caused by a number of secondary factors, there is only one primary cause: alterations in the mitochondrial oxygen turnover. In his recent book, Tripping over the Truth, molecular biologist Travis Christoffersen describes how contemporary scientists confirm Warburg’s theories and says that we need to look at prevention and cancer treatment from an entirely different angle. Other studies show that Parkinson’s disease, migraine, senility, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders may be rooted in defects of the mitochondria that have many other functions besides delivering energy. It is therefore vital to take care of the mitochondria throughout life. You can read more about the ketogenic diet that optimizes mitochondrial energy turnover in different mitochondrial diseases.
After you eat food or drink liquids, the energy-providing nutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) are carried with the bloodstream to all the different cells in your organs and tissues. Each cell in the human body contains a number of minute bean-shaped powerhouses called mitochondria. It is inside these structures that energy is made with help from oxygen, Q10, selenium, and certain other nutrients.
Q10 helps the mitochondria make energy and store it chemically in a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Once ATP has been produced, it is dispatched from the mitochondria to make itself useful in the rest of the cell. ATP serves as stored energy, pretty much like a charged battery that delivers the energy required for various processes. The production of ATP by means of oxygen is a highly effective energy form that delivers 18 times more energy that fermentation without oxygen. The mitochondria also need carnitine, an amino acid that carries fatty acids into the cells. In fact, fatty acids constitute a very effective energy form that we can only convert into ATP with help from oxygen.
|Humans live in a symbiosis with billions of mitochondria that are viewed as prehistoric bacteria.|
The many functions of mitochondria and widespread mitochondrial diseases
We have mitochondria in nearly all our cells. They are highly interesting units that are also known as organelles. Mitochondria bear a resemblance to bacteria and have their own genetic material, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and the ability to reproduce independently inside the cell. The mitochondria have other vital functions such as cell division, calcium signaling, monitoring of growth, and programmed cell death (or apoptosis). Therefore, mitochondria are highly responsible for the health of our cells, for cellular functions, and for the ability of our cells to self-destruct if they are worn out or exposed to DNA damage.
Some mitochondrial functions are only carried out in certain cell types. In a sense, mitochondria serve as independent organelles that carry out a host of vital functions in return for room and board inside the cells. Our health depends on this delicate coexistence – or symbiosis - between cells and their mitochondria.
However, various mitochondrial changes may occur in connection with different diseases and also as part of the ageing process. Studies suggest that cancer, migraines, senility, cardiac dysfunction, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and neurodegenerative illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy may be a result of malfunctioning mitochondria.
The mitochondria have a key role in the following functions:
Free radicals and oxidative stress are the worst enemies of the mitochondria
Oxidative stress is when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are a natural byproduct of our own respiration, and the free radical load is increased by stress, ageing processes, elevated blood sugar levels, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, poisoning, tobacco smoke, and microwave radiation. Free radicals are aggressive molecules that contribute to cellular damage, disease, and decay. Our only source of protection against free radicals is the presence of different antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E plus selenium, zinc, Q10, and various plant compounds. Unlike cells, mitochondria are unable to repair the damage that happens to their DNA (mtDNA), which makes the mitochondria very vulnerable to free radical attacks.
Scientists: Cancer is a mitochondria and metabolism disease
Carbohydrates from food and drink are broken down into glucose – also known as blood sugar. Although cancer may have a number of causes, the German professor, Otto Warburg, demonstrated around 100 years ago that the primary cause of cancer is changes to the mitochondrial turnover of glucose by means of oxygen, which causes the mitochondria to ferment glucose without the use of oxygen.
Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1931 but his discoveries were forgotten when cancer research suddenly focused on genes. Nonetheless, it turns out that the genetic changes in most cancer forms are rather complicated, which is why it is so difficult to make chemotherapy work. We see that an increasing number of people are affected by and die of cancer, even though there has been minor progress in cancer treatments in recent years.
Current scientists like Pete Pedersen and Thomas Seyfried have continued working with Warburg’s theories, and the molecular biologist Travis Christoffersen describes the most recent theories about the nature and development of cancer in his new book Tripping over the truth.
When cancer develops, mitochondria send distress signals to the genes of the cell
What happens when a healthy cell turns into a cancer cell, briefly, is that free radials damage the mitochondria and make it increasingly difficult for them to carry out their functions such as normal energy turnover etc. The mitochondria then send distress signals to the genes of the cell (the cellular DNA) so that the cell can make energy without oxygen, simply by fermenting glucose.
It turns out that those genes that react to the mitochondrial distress signals are responsible for handling a number of functions such as cell division and the formation of blood vessels (angiogenesis). This instability from the cellular genes may eventually result in a chaotic situation where the cell turns into an aggressive cancer cell that is no longer a member of the cellular society. The cancer cell therefore survives on its own premises, as the symbiosis with the mitochondria is no longer in effect.
According to Seyfried, the mutations in the genes is merely a false lead, and it is really the damaged mitochondria that are responsible for the cancer development. Cancer, in other words, is a metabolic disease that is not hereditary, although there may be a family tendency. Cancer is linked to epigenetic influence, which is external influence that damages the environment of cells and mitochondria. This harmful influence is caused by a lack of protective nutrients combined with stress, poisoning, hormone-disrupting compounds, microwave radiation, smoking, inflammation, destroyed (oxidized) fats, and overconsumption of refined carbohydrates from sugar, white flour, chips, juice, and junk-food. Also to be included is oxidative stress, the disturbed balance between free radicals and antioxidants. In his book, Intelligent Cells, the internationally renowned cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, addresses how genes and DNA, unlike what most people think, do not control human biology, but that DNA is controlled by signals outside the cell.
Cancer cells’ huge appetite for glucose is also used for diagnoses
As mentioned, energy production by means of fermentation is not very effective, and it is a fact that starving cancer cells can absorb up to 10 times more blood sugar than regular cells. This knowledge comes in handy when patients that need to undergo scanning are asked to ingest a radioactive sugar compound prior to their scanning session. The starving cancer cells absorb loads of this radioactive sugar, and that enables the doctors to localize the cancer cells and cancer tumors in the entire body by looking at the photos.
It is known that cancer cells love glucose, and it is this particular “fuel” that causes the cells to proliferate rapidly. However, regular cancer therapies only involve the use of chemotherapy and radiation but do not call for dietary change and specific actions to deal with mitochondrial health.
A new perception of cancer prevention and therapy
In order to protect mitochondria, it is important to reduce the impact from free radicals by avoiding stress, smoking, heavy metals, chemical compounds, inflammation, and potentially harmful microwaves from cell phones, routers, baby monitors and other wire-less applications. Age processes in themselves accumulate mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which increases the need for antioxidants, but it is not a good idea to overconsume antioxidants, as free radicals also play a key role in our immune defense and several metabolic processes. We only need to increase our antioxidant intake when the body is exposed to oxidative stress. At the same time, it is important to give the mitochondria optimal conditions and optimal oxygen utilization.
Important nutrients for prevention and as elements in cancer therapies
Mitochondria especially need nutrients such as Q10, selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D3, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The best thing you can do, needless to say, is to eat a balanced diet, but factors such as poor nutrient absorption, winter darkness, nutrient-depleted soil, the use of medication plus ageing processes in general may increase your need for certain nutrients.
People with cancer often have low levels of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Lack of Q10 is common
Levels of Q10, for example, are often quite low. We humans are able to produce most of the Q10 for our own needs, but our endogenous synthesis of the compound decreases with age, and taking cholesterol-lowering medicine blocks the Q10 synthesis and makes the deficit wors. Q10 is not only involved in the energy production in cells. It is also a very important antioxidant that protects cellular DNA and, very importantly, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
Q10 interchanges between two forms, ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinone is primarily needed for energy turnover, while ubiquinol serves as an antioxidant. The body changes Q10 from one form to the other in a continuous loop, depending on what it needs, and this constant conversion requires selenium.
Selenium has several cancer-preventive mechanisms
Selenium supports around 30 different selenium-dependent enzymes (selenoproteins), including the very powerful GPX-antioxidants and other selenoproteins with anti-cancer properties. Studies show that lack of selenium increases the risk of cancer, and if you supplement with selenium yeast (that contains a variety of different selenium forms) you can reduce your risk of many common cancer forms by around 50 percent. Supplementation with selenomethionine, on the other hand, has not demonstrate a particularly good effect.
Vitamin D regulates our genes, immune defense, and hormone balance
Other studies have demonstrated that vitamin D3 not only prevents cancer but even enhances programmed cell death – or apoptosis. More specifically, vitamin D regulates around 10 percent of our genes and that is important for our immune defense, it helps inhibit inflammation, and it helps us control our estrogen levels. We also need magnesium to activate vitamin D.
Omega-3 strengthens cell membranes and counteracts inflammation
The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, that you get from fish oil strengthen the cell membranes and the mitochondria. Furthermore, EPA has anti-inflammatory properties. People today get far too little omega-3 and way too much omega-6, which increases the risk of inflammation as seen with cancers and many other lifestyle-related diseases.
As described, various nutrients work in collaboration, which is why it is important to get enough of the different nutrients and to seek to optimize the working conditions for the mitochondria at all times.
Melatonin, exercise, and breathing
When it gets dark outside the pineal gland starts producing melatonin, which supports our sleep and dream activity. Melatonin also happens to be a powerful antioxidant that can repair DNA damage during our sleep. It also removes toxic waste products from the brain. Sleeping properly in other words is vital to our health. However, the body’s endogenous synthesis of melatonin decreases, as we grow older, and it may take a sudden plunge during menopause. Working night shifts and being exposed to jet lag also disrupts the body’s 24-hour clock (circadian rhythm) and its melatonin production. That is something which can be compensated for with a melatonin supplement. It is also important to exercise and to breathe deeply in order to provide the mitochondria with sufficient amounts of vitalizing oxygen.
The ketogenic diet is a must, as cancer cells hate fats
Cancer cells have a propensity for glucose (blood sugar), as they can convert this type of fuel without oxygen to help them proliferate explosively. The scientist, Siefried, discovered that something as simple as limiting your calorie intake helps shrink tumors. The calorie restriction lowers blood sugar levels and causes cancer cells to compete with healthy cells for the scarce fuel. In his book Tripping over the truth, Travis Christofferson looks closer at how eliminating most carbohydrates from the diet and replacing with them healthy animal and vegetable fats helps starve cancer cells. This is because cancer cells, in contrast to healthy cells, are unable to burn fats.
Under normal circumstances, brain cells and nerve cells only burn glucose, while muscle cells and heart muscle cells are able to burn both glucose and fats. If the diet only contains a minimal amount of carbohydrates and plenty of healthy fats, the body switches away from its preferred state of metabolic energy production. This forces the body to convert fats to ketones that replace glucose as the primary body fuel.
The earliest documented use of ketogenic diets for treating cancer dates back to 1995 and was carried out by Linda Nebling. Ever since, there have been many positive accounts of ketogenic diets and cancer – even in combination with standard therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation. This strategy is still in its early phase, and it is difficult to find funds for this type of research because the use of ketogenic diets cannot be patented and is therefore not as interesting from a financial standpoint.
Ketogenic diets with fat as a super fuel used for cancer and neurological diseases
As opposed to glucose that can be converted through fermentation and without oxygen inside cancer cells, ketones can only be burned with help from oxygen, and this combustion can only take place inside healthy cells with healthy mitochondria.
The condition known as ketosis has been an inherent part of our survival since the beginning of time where humans have had to starve for periods and were forced to burn part of their fat reserves in order to get energy. It has been known for decades that a ketogenic diet can prevent epileptic seizures, simply because the brain uses a different type of fuel. It also appears that ketogenic diets can be helpful against other neurological disorders such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and ALS. The beneficial properties of ketosis can be traced back to the mitochondria that use these fats as a type of super fuel.
The ketogenic diet resembles an up-side-down food pyramid
It is important to balance your intake of nutrients so your body gets enough energy, and it depends a lot on your weight, age, and physical activity level. Around 70 percent of the daily calorie intake should ideally come from healthy fats, while approx. 20-25% should come from protein and 5-10% should come from carbohydrate.
Always choose healthy raw materials and allow time for the body to get used to your new diet habits until it reaches the stage of ketosis. An easy indicator is the characteristic “ketosis breath” that many people experience after a few days. This diet causes a fruit-like, metallic taste in the mouth because the body produces different ketones that are discharged through respiration or the urine. The odd taste will normally vanish in a matter of a few weeks. One may also develop flu-like symptoms in the beginning, but they can be eliminated by adding electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
As a bonus, many people lose weight without any effort.
You can find many books about the ketogenic diet on the market, and it is possible to search the net for a doctor or nutritionist with relevant knowledge about the subject.
Ketogenic diets are normally not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, diabetics, or people who take anti-hypertensive medicine.
Because mitochondria are involved in the energy turnover and many other functions in the cellular metabolism, damage to the mitochondria can result in a variety of diseases.
Mitochondrial diseases as such often include neurological disorders like epilepsy, migraines, dementia, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease etc. Studies suggest that even cancer is a mitochondrial disease.
In order to prevent and treat mitochondrial diseases, it is important to help the mitochondria thrive. This requires nutrients such as Q10, selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D3, B vitamins, and omega-3 fats. It is also important to shield the mitochondria against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Try to keep blood sugar levels stable and to maintain normal body weight and waist circumference. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and breathing properly also is important for mitochondrial health. In the case of mitochondrial diseases, it may be worth considering a ketogenic diet of some kind.
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Surendra S. Katyare, A.V. Mali. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mitochondrial Functions. Springer Link 2016
New Links between selenium and cancer prevention. HRB. December 2017
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Klein EA et al. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA 2011.
Bruce Lipton. Intelligente celler. Borgen 2009
Pernille Lund. Q10 – fra helsekost til epokegørende medicin. Ny Videnskab 2014
Succes med keto kuren. Legind 2018