Mitochondria and Cancer

Deregulated cellular energetics is one of the main hallmarks of cancer. Several underlying mechanisms of deregulated cellular energetics are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction caused by mitochondrial DNA mutations, mitochondrial enzyme defects, or altered oncogenes/tumor suppressors. Dr. Otto Warburg first proposed that tumor cells, unlike normal cells, exhibit increased glycolytic activity and reduced mitochondrial respiration even in the presence of oxygen. This phenomenon is known as the “Warburg effect.”[1] Warburg first proposed that tumor cells, unlike normal cells, exhibit increased glycolytic activity and reduced mitochondrial respiration. This association between mitochondrial dysfunction and cancer was made as early as 1930.

Cancer cells do have dysfunctional mitochondria, which prevents their use of the citric acid [Krebs] cycle. Consequently, pyruvic acid, the product of glycolysis, which normally would enter the mitochondria for its total combustion into energy, is instead converted to lactic acid. In cancer, the cells abandons normal mitochondria production of ATP and turn to fermentation.

Warburg found that you can reverse fermentation simply by adding oxygen – but only if you do it early enough. He incubated cells in nitrogen, starving them of oxygen for regular but short periods. Starving the cells of oxygen caused them to begin fermentation and that is where cancer begins. Restoring oxygen promptly enabled the cells to recover. (See lesson on Oxygen Deficiency as a Cause of Cancer)

Warburg also said that glucose brings a cell’s ability to use oxygen down. One of the principle ways sugar does this is by creating chronic inflammation in the capillaries and other tissues thus cutting down on oxygen delivery to the cells. When we gorge on the long list of widely available junk foods our cells do not get the oxygen they need to function correctly.

It seems like no matter where we turn these days, we hear the word inflammation because at the heart of almost all diseases is an inflammatory process. It is no surprise since our lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary, and many rely on junk food to sustain themselves. Add in unfathomable stress levels, allergens and environmental toxins, not to mention increasing radiation coming from the environment and medical tests together, plus many pharmaceutical drugs themselves will increase inflammation because they strip the body of alkaline minerals.

Bicarbonate ions neutralize the acid conditions required for chronic inflammatory reactions. Hence, sodium bicarbonate is of benefit in the treatment of a range of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. To reduce and eventually stop destructive inflammations the body needs to be alkalized, which means CO2 levels along with oxygen need to be raised. This is done over the long haul with mineral-rich vegetables, especially green leaf-vegetables and green protein powders such as spirulina, chlorella, and wheat grass or barley grass powder. However, until the inflammation is under control it is often helpful or necessary to use alkalizing remedies such as sodium bicarbonate for almost instant relief of many inflammation symptoms. Baking soda elevates salivary pH and reducing inflammation in the mouthMagnesium is the ultimate anti-inflammatory and so is oxygen

Dr. Philipp Mergenthaler and Dr. Andreas Meisel showed that depriving a cell of glucose, while giving it plenty of oxygen at the same time, blocks glycolysis and therefore forces the cell to revive its mitochondria and use the Krebs Cycle for energy.

Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that, “Cancer cells have been long known to have a “sweet tooth,” using vast amounts of glucose for energy and for building blocks for cell replication. Now, a study shows that lymph gland cancer cells called B cells can use glutamine in the absence of glucose for cell replication and survival, particularly under low-oxygen conditions, which are common in tumors.”

Writing in the Jan. 4, 2012, edition of Cell Metabolism, Anne Le, M.D., and a team of investigators collaborating with the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute, say the finding is critical for developing innovative cancer therapies because it offers “proof of concept” evidence that curbing the growth of B cell cancers can be accomplished by inhibiting a glutamine enzyme called glutaminase. The study also found that when oxygen is scarce, there is enhanced conversion of glutamine to glutathione, an important agent for controlling the accumulation of oxygen-containing chemically reactive molecules that cause damage to normal cells.

[1] Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2016 Jun; 241(12): 1281–1295.

Role of mitochondrial dysfunction in cancer progression