Cancer As A Metabolic Disease & How To Starve It.

An interesting alternative view of Cancer. Not as a genetic disease, but as a metabolic disorder. An interview with a professor at a college who does medical research. Dr. Thomas Seyfried. It’s a bit prone to wandering and some repetition, but the interviewer keeps the video interesting. It is also long, at 1 hour 46 minutes. But, IMHO, worth it.

It also would warrant a bit of a Dig Here! into the presenters published papers and thesis along with the case study results talked about.

The basic thesis is that cancer is not the result of mutations and genetic defects, but is a result of a damaged mitochondria shifting the cell to a fermentation process to get energy; and that, then, results in growth disregulation.

The genetic mutations then largely show up as a result of damage caused by this whole process of out of control growth.

It is asserted that depriving the cancer cells of glucose (and occasionally glutamine) can literally starve the cancer and result in the elimination of it. Further, that occasional fasting can result in “autophagy” as the body selectively chooses to kill off the cancer cells and use them for fuel when being starved. ( I’ve seen that assertion elsewhere too).

The assertion is that any of several diets that strongly restrict carbohydrates can get glucose levels down (especially in the presence of exercise) and this puts a lot of stress on the cancer cells. Then sporadic blocker drugs for the glutamine pathway (also used as fuel by cancer cells) essentially kills them off in droves. But, since glutamine is essential for your survival, you can only block it for short intervals.

There’s several anecdotes given about various cures obtained, perhaps the most amusing being a Pit Bull with a facial tumor ;-)

In general, the “advice” I would take from this is that a ketogenic diet is generally good for you and as a cancer preventative / delay tactic. Periodic Fasting is also beneficial. Avoiding the chemical stew that makes up a lot of “modern processed packaged foods” is a good idea, and eating things found in nature is good for you. All assertions I’ve seen in many other places too. The “new bit” is the notion of cancer as a metabolic disease caused by damage to the mitochondria of the cell.

I’d seen a similar thesis put forward, years ago, that cancer cells had reverted to an earlier anaerobic metabolism and with that also reverted to their “single cell” primitive state, no longer communicating with neighbor cells to make complex organs nor to only grow where they are supposed to be. As nature just heaps new innovations on top of old; I could see the cell still having the “single anaerobic cell” program in the vault and falling back to it if the right stresses knocked out the “multicellular aerobic cooperation” program. This presentation adds the notion of damaged mitochondria as the trigger mechanism, and dramatic reduction of blood sugar as damaging to cancer cells in that “fermenting” mode.

A random example of other folks also touting autophagy brought on by fasting:

What are the benefits of autophagy?

The main benefits of autophagy seem to come in the form of anti-aging principles. In fact, Petre says it’s best known as the body’s way of turning the clock back and creating younger cells.

Khorana points out that when our cells are stressed, autophagy is increased in order to protect us, which helps enhance your lifespan.

Additionally, registered dietitian, Scott Keatley, RD, CDN, says that in times of starvation, autophagy keeps the body going by breaking down cellular material and reusing it for necessary processes.

“Of course this takes energy and cannot continue forever, but it gives us more time to find nourishment,” he adds.

At the cellular level, Petre says the benefits of autophagy include:

removing toxic proteins from the cells that are attributed to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease

recycling residual proteins

providing energy and building blocks for cells that could still benefit from repair
on a larger scale, it prompts regeneration and healthy cells

Autophagy is receiving a lot of attention for the role it may play in preventing or treating cancer, too.

“Autophagy declines as we age, so this means cells that no longer work or may do harm are allowed to multiply, which is the MO of cancer cells,” explains Keatley.

While all cancers start from some sort of defective cells, Petre says that the body should recognize and remove those cells, often using autophagic processes. That’s why some researchers are looking at the possibility that autophagy may lower the risk of cancer.

While there’s no scientific evidence to back this up, Petre says some studies suggest that many cancerous cells can be removed through autophagy.

“This is how the body polices the cancer villains,” she explains. “Recognizing and destroying what went wrong and triggering the repairing mechanism does contribute to lowering the risk of cancer.”

Researchers believe that new studies will lead to insight that will help them target autophagy as a therapy for cancer.

Diet changes that can boost autophagy

Remember that autophagy literally means “self-eating.” So, it makes sense that intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets are known to trigger autophagy.

“Fasting is [the] most effective way to trigger autophagy,” explains Petre.

“Ketosis, a diet high in fat and low in carbs brings the same benefits of fasting without fasting, like a shortcut to induce the same beneficial metabolic changes,” she adds. “By not overwhelming the body with an external load, it gives the body a break to focus on its own health and repair.”

In the keto diet, you get about 75 percent of your daily calories from fat, and 5 to 10 percent of your calories from carbs.

This shift in calorie sources causes your body to shift its metabolic pathways. It will begin to use fat for fuel instead of the glucose that’s derived from carbohydrates.

In response to this restriction, your body will begin to start producing ketone bodies that have many protective effects. Khorana says studies suggest that ketosis can also cause starvation-induced autophagy, which has neuroprotective functions.

“Low glucose levels occur in both diets and are linked to low insulin and high glucagon levels,” explains Petre. And glucagon level is the one that initiates autophagy.

“When the body is low on sugar through fasting or ketosis, it brings the positive stress that wakes up the survival repairing mode,” she adds.

So it looks like there will be more lamb chops and fewer pasta dishes in my future ;-)

I also need to get back to that “intermittent fasting” thing of putting all my meals between about 10 AM and 6 PM. An 8 hour (or less) window for calorie intake can help induce a ketogenic metabolism for part of the rest of the day.

I guess there’s a worse fate than eating fish, chicken, steaks & chops ;-) I think it’s time I got the BBQ set up 8-)


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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13 Responses to Cancer As A Metabolic Disease & How To Starve It.

  1. Sandy McClintock says:

    I find it hard to accept that something is NOT GENETIC!
    Most Geneticists are familiar and comfortable with the concept of “Heritability.”
    0% heritability refers to something that is entirely dictated entirely by the environment/lifestyle.
    100% heritability refers to something that is dictated entirely by the genes.
    The vast majority of biological measurements and characteristics are controlled by both genes and environment, with heritabilities typically in the range 10% to 60%.

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Obesity is not genetic. Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are not genetic. Lots of stuff is non-genetic…

    The claim that cancer cells depend on glucose is now widely accepted.

    But for me, the “kicker” was when he asserted that you can move the nucleus of the cancer cell to a normal cell and it stays normal… Pretty strong evidence that it wasn’t the DNA in the nucleus making the cell a cancer…

  3. Keith Macdonald says:

    “Fasting is [the] most effective way to trigger autophagy,” explains Petre.

    Does Petre explain how much fasting is required to trigger this?

  4. Keith Macdonald says:

    Just remembered something from the 1970’s – some Anglo-Indian work on Ayurvedic medicine. Consisting of practical treatments based on holistic medicine, including yoga, meditation, better diet, organic foods (less processed food) and fasting. With good success rates. But never adopted by “Western” mainstream medicine, addicted as it is to invasive pharma-based treatments, with Wiki pages calling Ayurvedic medicine “pseudoscientific”.

    Ayurvedic medicine e.g.’s

  5. E.M.Smith says:


    Don’t know what Petre says is “enough”, but the “fasting mimicking diet” and “periodic fasting” folks assert that if you just bunch your eating up into less than 8 hours in any one day, you get a blood sugar drop in the other 16 that stimulates autophagy.

    You can also get ketone test strips to pee on and even a ketone meter of some sort to measure when you get to benign dietary ketosis and how far into it you go.

    FWIW, my experience with ketogenic diets has been spread over a few decades, on and off. In general, just going cold turkey into “all meat all the time” carnivore diet worked (I was doing it to ‘support’ a friend as we had lunch together at work…) but was hard in the transition as you were suddenly missing everything you normally had.

    MUCH easier was a gradual transition and one that kept a lot of low carb vegetables in the diet. Add salads and drop the french fries kind of thing.

    Then, easiest of all, was the transition to just eating between 10 am and 6 pm (and I’d even drift into “noon to 4 pm” sometimes).

    Also, IIRC, the “how fast” to get to ketogenic depends on the individual and how much glycogen they have stored up in their liver… but in any case it isn’t weeks, it is more like 1 or 2 days max on the full diet, or maybe a week on the “fasting mimicking” schedule.

    So, in order of “ease”:

    1) Just slowly use up the carbs in the house and don’t buy more. When the loaf of bread runs out, have bacon & eggs without toast. Or jam. As the potatoes run out, skip the hash browns. Leave the sugar out of your morning coffee. Don’t bread a fish filet, but slowly saute it in butter or olive oil (or my favorite 1/2 & 1/2 of each). Grill your chicken, don’t “flour and fry” it.

    2) When shopping, buy red meat, fish, turkey & chicken along with salad greens and low carb vegetables (beets, chard, celery, onions, carrots, etc.) but skip the high carb things like grains and dried legumes (so green beans yes, chili beans and kidney beans no). Pretty soon the only thing in the house is ketogenic.

    3) Shift meals to NOT be “3 squares a day” at 6 Am Noon and 8 PM; but instead drift them closer together. Best is a “one a day feast” about noon, but even a 10 AM to 6 PM “eating window” is OK. This is the “fasting mimicking diet” pattern.

    By this point you are having daily ketosis episodic periods. The interesting thing for me was realizing that I was often NOT HUNGRY AT ALL as the ‘meal window’ came around. I started to not notice that it was 10 am and I’d not had anything to eat yet… As soon as you are turning fat into ketone bodies, you stop feeling hungry as the need for fuel is being met. At that point, even skipping a whole day becomes easier as you are already “in the mode”.

    I also found that the occasional slice of toast (heavy with butter) with the ham & eggs breakfast was “OK”. Essentially, you just need to get the calories from carbs under the calories you burn in a few hours, forcing the shift to burning proteins and fats.

    One other note: Hydrogenated Oils and Mono or Di-glycerides tend to plug up your ability to burn fats via ketosis. (The bend or kink in the middle of the Trans-Fats tends to get stuck in the enzyme that does fat metabolism). Once folks found out that they needed to avoid the word Hydrogenated or TRANSfat on foods; the makers shifted to Mono-glyceride and Di-glyceride so they could avoid the words Hydrogenated and Transfat… yet still use trans-fatty acids. So the other, somewhat harder, bit is to read every packaged food label and skip anything with that stuff in it.

    Then the hardest part:

    The use of all sorts of hydrogenated oils, interesterified fats, mono&diglycerides, etc. etc. is ubiquitous in the USA Food Factory Diet and in fast food places / restaurants (many of which now just microwave stuff from a factory made package…). This makes “eating out” a challenge. Then they also just LOVE to use seed oils in just about everything and every fryer in the world. Well seed oils tend to be long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Yes, the stuff pushed by just about every M.D., health food nut, and The Government. Problem is that polyunsaturated is bad for high temperature cooking as it breaks down and makes nasty stuff like acrylamide. While it is OK for things like salad dressing, do NOT fry in it. Use saturated fats or mono-unsaturated fats like Olive Oil.

    So at this point you are getting “into the weeds” of fat chemistry and reading labels all over the place and dealing with the fact that olive oil doesn’t taste like soybean oil… OK… then comes the kicker:

    Very short chain fatty acids are metabolized directly in the liver, and they do NOT get stored as body fat. These are the fatty acids in butter ( 4 long) and things like goat milk and sheep cheeses (up to 9 long). These are not the 22 long of soybean oil or the 16 long of stearic acid as found in beef fat. Now if you feed a pig or cow a load of corn and soybeans, it tends to preferentially just use those 22 long (and similar) oil fatty acids directly. If you feed it grass and similar non-seeds, it has to make its own shorter chain fatty acids. So… It is better to eat ‘grass fed’ beef, buffalo, and lamb as it is not getting that load of seed oils in its diet. This step is not necessary, but it helps. As much as possible, shift to butter and olive oil along with coconut oil for cooking, and try to eat meats from animals that are not stuffed with corn & soybeans. Free range chickens and high omega-3 eggs (fed a lot of flax seed).

    I don’t know of any way to insure you are getting pork or pigs fed a more natural diet. There’s a whole lot of (literal…) crap fed to pigs, and it is almost impossible to avoid it. I’m still using some bacon & ham, but the amount has been dropping over the years. Pork chops are a distant memory. Both me and the spouse have noticed a slight reaction to pork products. Just a little more inflammatory process going on in any place with an issue. This was not the case a few decades back. There is a feed additive that causes increased weight gain that is banned in Europe, but used everywhere in US Pork. I don’t know if that’s it or not… But just pay attention to pork products…

    So that’s the basics of it and then on into the weeds of it.

    It clearly works, as I’ve done it a few times as have several friends. The hard part is sticking to it. For example, we have a Mickey Mouse Waffle Maker. Spouse can’t resist the occasional Mickey Waffle with real maple syrup. So we just try to limit that kind of thing to one or two days out of the week. My downfall? Raspberry or Blackberry jam on toast with breakfast… BUT, if you do enough exercise to burn up that Tablespoon of jam worth of sugar… (or so I tell myself…)

    Hope that helps.

  6. The True Nolan says:

    The most “in-the-weeds” book I have read on autophagy and fasting is “The Phoenix Protocol” by August Dunning, and his follo-up book “Neogenesis”.

    Much of his ideas are based on Russian research no commonly read here in the US. Dunning supports dry fasting, that is, no water, no juice, no nothing. Brush your teeth but spit out the water. Take a shower, but nothing in your mouth. DRY. The lack of water kicks your system into fasting mode more quickly than simply not eating. Autophagy starts about day three, but more interesting to me, about day four the body begins to release undifferentiated stem cells.

    My very simplified conceptualization and justification of the process is this. Imagine you are an animal and have no food. Obviously, going into ketosis (fat burning mode) will kick in fairly quickly. Let me note also that for every molecule of fat burned, multiple molecules of water are created in your body. If you have a really severe food shortage, your body begins to recycle unused or poorly functioning molecules, excess skin, tumors, whatever is not essential. But imagine you are injured. So injured that you crawl back to your hole to hide. No food. No water. Your body at some point registers this “dry fast” as notification that you are too injured to do anything, and in a last ditch effort to survive, it adds in release of new undifferentiated stem cells. This is basically what the prolonged dry fast is triggered to do. Note that the longer dry fasts are NOT suggested for weight lost, but for health benefits. A long series of short one or two day fasts every week or two would be better for weight control.

    Dunning suggests a seven day dry fast once a year or so. I am an old geezer (70 y.o.) and have done three 5 day dry fasts with no issues. The last day I was THIRSTY, but not so much earlier, and hunger was never too bad. And, just for the record, I kept peeing an almost normal amount right up to the last day. Surprising…

    Final point and then a PS. I am not qualified (and I doubt that ANYONE with current information is) to say exactly how much of Dunning’s books are accurate. This really is the cutting edge of biochemistry. As I said, he gets WAY deep in the weeds. So much so that every time I read his books I end up with a highlighter and flipping back and forth to keep the many acronyms straight. Not an easy read, but if you are interested in extreme dry fasting for autophagy and stem cell generation, this is the book for you.

    PS. Dunning has an interesting CV. “August Dunning is a former NASA Space Station scientist and a chemical and electric space propulsion designer at Pratt and Whitney Space Propulsion. He is currently a researcher at Caltech in amorphous metallic glass composites and Mars mission planning to develop ways to protect astronauts during interplanetary from space radiation. His interest in dry fasting was spurred by its ability to restore and regenerate neural tissue after exposure to radiation. ”

    See also his YouTube channel, and his really interesting talk on Mars.

  7. Canadian Friend says:


    I have been plagued with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 1996, which is more than just fatigue, it is mainly a lot of body pain, general malaise, cramps, diarrhea, feeling exhausted even after resting or after a night of sleep, deep brain fog and about a dozen other strange symptoms.

    Although I am not cured, I am much less sick now…in part because the day I started avoiding sugar ( not completely as I cannot consume artificial sugar they cause me headaches and more digestive problems ) my symptoms became less intense.

    If I cheat and eat cake and ice cream and stuff like that that is full of sugar, after a day or two my symptoms start getting bad again.

    Even though Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not a type of cancer ( actually nobody knows yet what it is…I think it is caused by molds, fungus and that type of pathogens, and sugar feeds those pathogens ) sugar has a huge negative effect on it.

    In short; sugar is bad…unless you eat it in tiny amounts and not often.

  8. rhoda klapp says:

    But there are genes which are associated with cancer, BRCA1 and 2, for instance.

    And there are families who don’t seem to get cancer. Me and my four siblings, all of a pretty advanced age, haven’t had it. As one is supposed to have a one-in-three chance of getting it in your lifetime five people not getting it is a one-in-sevenish chance if my arithmetic is correct. May mean something. It’s not through healthy lifestyles. I’ve been diagnosed with both lymhpatic and pancreatic cancer but wrongly both times.

  9. E.M.Smith says:


    Watch the video. He addresses this. IF I understand his assertion correctly, it is that some genes make it easier for a cell to become a cancer; but they are not causal. Else, how could the cell have not been cancer for most of the cells for most of your life? But it still requires the mitochondrial disfunction to make the transition. That make the mitochondria primary cause.

    Oh, and a side note:

    Remember that there is the nucleus DNA and there is the Mitochondrial DNA. Mutations in the mitochondria itself can break the mitochondria and turn it to anaerobic metabolism. I think when he says cancer is “not a genetic disease”, he is specifically talking about the nuclear DNA of the cell. So for any “cancer associated mutation” it is important to ask if it is in the nucleus or mitochondria.

  10. Clay Marley says:

    When my wife’s breast cancer metastasized, they would run PET scans periodically to find any other tumors. The PET scan works using a fluid “contrast” that the cancer tumors take up aggressively, and a radioactive tracer.

    Eventually, I asked what this contrast was, that the cancer cells take up so aggressively.

    The answer: glucose.

    Wish I had known that 10 years earlier.

  11. The True Nolan says:

    @Clay Marley: “Eventually, I asked what this contrast was, that the cancer cells take up so aggressively.
    The answer: glucose.”

    Wow… just wow. I don’t know if that can be called a “smoking gun”, but it certainly sets off a lot of alarm bells. Good question, good catch.

  12. Clay Marley says:

    When my wife was getting chemo for her cancer, they would sit her down in a nice comfy chair, hooked up for a few hours to an IV dripping chemo poison. They had reading material and snacks in that room. The snacks were all, as you might expect, high in carbs and sugar.

    The oncologist had a dietician, but the answers were typical ADA and AHA answers: high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low in saturated fat.

    I started a keto diet about a year before my wife died. It made a huge difference in my health. But too late for her. Her oncologist told me there was nothing we could do through diet.

    I get that one cannot starve a cancer by eliminating carbs. Your body makes whatever glucose it needs even if you eat no carbs at all. But I am sure low carb will reduce cancer risk and slow the progression significantly.

  13. The True Nolan says:

    Hey Clay, sorry to hear about your wife’s struggle. I had cancer back in 2001, and though I had surgery and radiation, I am glad to have passed up the chemo experience. I think if I had cancer today, I would start with a low carb, no sugar, high fat diet, and fasting. Most forms of radiation and chemo are based (so I am told) on the idea that “sure this stuff is bad for you, but the cancer cells are maladapted and they will die before the healthy cells.” If that is true, why not just try starvation as a system stressor? A friend of mine died of leukemia a month or so ago. I was his health surrogate, so was involved in some of his care. He was a staunch “do what the doctor says” person, but it was clear that every time he had a round of chemo he would look worse and worse. When they took him off the chemo, literally within 24 hours he would start looking and feeling better. His doctor told him that the reason he came down with leukemia is that he was taking an over the counter zinc supplement…

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