Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 5/29/22
Cancer seems ever present in our lives and it is rarely a welcome companion. Our understanding of what cancer is has evolved and changed over the last few decades – which is good! If you regard cancer as your enemy – know thy enemy! I recently read Dr Jason Fung’s book The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery after listening to him on a podcast. In this post, I will share what I learned from this amazing book and how I think we can all use this information to be proactive at avoiding cancer through our Wellness Lifestyle.
In this post:
What Is Cancer?
Dr. Fung takes us through 3 different paradigms built to try and understand cancer. Scientists and researchers have uncovered information and gradually built up one paradigm which then gets displaced with a better one. As with any new development, it takes time for new research and development to reach the general public. To prevent cancer, we need to understand it and use our fabulous human brain to out-think it.
- Cancer Paradigm 1.0 ~ Cancer as Excessive Growth ~ In this paradigm, cancer is regarded as unregulated growth of cells that are hurting you. This paradigm offers nothing to explain cancer’s presence or the reasons for the uncontrolled growth. Medical solutions that are created using this paradigm involve weapons of cellular mass destruction: cutting out the cells (surgery), burning out the cells (radiation), and poisoning (chemotherapy). The idea here is to wage war on the cancer by killing it faster than the weapons kill the rest of you. It was a great advance and saved lives. Perhaps you know someone affected by this paradigm?
- Cancer Paradigm 2.0 ~ Cancer as a Genetic Disease ~ In this paradigm, cancer’s uncontrolled growth is regarded as a genetic issue. The causal link between specific genetic mutations and certain types of cancers was the focus of research. When the first link was found, celebrations were in order. When the 100th link was found, researchers wondered when they would stop finding cancer supporting genes. Scientists became baffled at how similar cancer cases were but how different the people were genetically. The rate of possible genetic mutations related to cancer started to grow like cancer! Even though drugs were developed to address these genetic links, this was not an avenue that was going to provide a straight and narrow path to preventing cancer. You might not even be aware of this paradigm until now.
- Cancer Paradigm 3.0 ~ Cancer as a Cellular Adaptation to Our Internal and External Environment ~ Following up on the genetic research done relating to paradigm 2.0, the concept of epigenetics and the cellular environment took over in the attempt to understand cancer. Epigenetics is the field where our daily lifestyle and environment affect which genes are activated and which ones are silenced (called gene expression). When scientific researchers with no previous cancer knowledge were brought into the cancer game, some fascinating things were discovered. Cancer is not about our nature (like in Paradigm 2.0), cancer is about our nurture – what we do every day. The rest of this post is about Cancer Paradigm 3.0 and how it relates to your long, rich, cancer-free life.
Cancer researcher D.W. Smithers said in 1962: ” Cancer is no more a disease of cells than a traffic jam is a disease of cars”. Yes you need good cars – well tuned, undamaged, optimally functioning cars (and cells). When trying to not have traffic, it is more important to look at how the cars interact with each other, the roads, and their environment. Cancer starts with a seed (a damaged cell) and spreads because the soil (your body) provides everything needed for cancer to thrive. Don’t give cancer good soil. Be a bad host!
Transformation of a Cell Into Cancer
Everyone and everything gets cancer. It is older than humanity. Wow! The origins of cancer match historically and genetically with the beginnings of multi-cell life.
Single Cell Life and Behavior
Before oxygen existed in the Earth’s atmosphere, there were various types of single celled organisms floating around generating their own energy without oxygen’s presence. As more cells began to use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make energy, they spit out oxygen as a waste product. Mitochondria, cells with DNA of their own, developed the ability to turn oxygen into energy but the Earth’s environment sent them to hide inside non-oxygen using cells for protection. Our modern day cells therefore have the ability to generate energy from oxygen (thank you mitochondria) or without.
Single cell organisms are selfish by nature. They live, grow, and breed for and by themselves. There is no advantage to helping out a neighboring cell. They are all about their own survival and procreation. They replicate themselves at all costs because that is their entire purpose in living. It never stops trying to grow until all resources it can find disappear. Competition is life.
Multi-Cell Life and Behavior
Single cells started hanging out in small colonies. Those colonies allowed cellular collaboration and specialization to develop. Each cell did a part of the job so that the group as a whole benefited. Intracellular communication and division of labor allowed large complex organisms to develop – like you! Humans have over 200 types of specialized cells and boy are we complicated!
In order for a multi-cell organism to function well, cooperation rules. Each individual cell must comply with the multi-cell social rules, be willing to sacrifice itself for the good of the organism, and do its specialized job very well. The organism as a whole lives, grows, and breeds because of cooperation. Individual cells inside the multi-cell organism do not compete with one another. It is not nice.
Cancer’s Reversion to Single Cell Behavior
Cancer Paradigm 3.0 explains that every single cell within the human or other living body has the innate ability to be cancer if it chooses to revert back to its single cell behavior patterns. Something breaks down the multi-cellular cooperation and sends cells into single cell survival mode. That something is a systemic attack on every cell that blocks communication and encourages the cells to revert to their original single cell programming. They switch to survival mode and the multi-celled organism be damned!
What could send such a message? Cellular damage of a chronic but sublethal amount. Something harmful but always present. Something you do not know about on a human level but feel on a cellular level. Cells are damaged from something (we call them carcinogens) but are trying desperately to still function and to stay alive.
Dr Fung is clear: Cancer is not a mistake. Cancer is not random. Cancer is not stupid. Cancer fancies itself as the ultimate survivor against the oppression which is the toxic environment inside you.
Cancer Cells are Desperate for Survival
Cells have needs. I wrote a post all about the needs of your cells. Cancer cells steal nutrients to grow, kill neighbor cells to stay alive, breed as much and as fast as possible when resources are available, invade neighboring territory in order to expand, and do not want to die. They are willing to change how they operate in order to live. They learn and evolve. They are very hard to kill. To stop cancer, you either have to be meaner or smarter than the cancer cell.
For you as a multi-celled organism, it is better to tell the cancer cells that they are safe, that nothing is trying to kill them, remove the source of chronic stress and damage, support repair and healing, and focus on prevention. Bring them back into the fold of the multi-celled organism. But how?
How Do Cancer Cells Behave?
Cancer cells operate differently than normal cells quite intentionally in order to survive. Cancer cells have the same 4 hallmarks that single celled organisms do:
1: Cancer cells grow like crazy
They grow amazingly well. Cancer cells are greedy for food and use all 3 of our internal nutrient sensors to assess when and which types of nutrients are available and for how long. These nutrient sensors can be shifted through your daily actions to support cancer growth or to diminish it. The 3 nutrient sensors are:
- Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) is created in the liver and rises within minutes of eating carbohydrates. IGF-1 is highly connected to your level of insulin, the hormone that takes glucose (sugar) from your bloodstream and puts it into your cells for use. Cancer cells have more than the normal amount of insulin receptors so they can eat more and grow better.
- mTOR is created as a response to eating protein but it is also a potent carrier of information about all nutrients and cellular stress levels. mTOR works for 18-30 hours and stimulates cell growth when high. Cancer cells love high mTOR levels.
- AMPK is an overall nutrient sensor for the cell indicating how much energy (ATP) the cell has left. When a mitochondria makes energy, AMP is used up to make ATP. When the cell uses that ATP up, AMP is left over. A low ATP level means you have only a little stored energy and so your AMPK level is high. A high AMPK level will lower your mTOR and stimulate the production of new mitochondria to make more ATP in the future. AMPK senses and controls growth over the timescale of weeks.
2: Cancer cells avoid death
Cancer cells avoid the body’s instructions to die. Cells are programmed to die and have their materials recycled into new cells under specific highly regulated conditions. Cancer cells have figured out a way to bypass these conditions. Cancer cells effectively turn off your body’s ability kill them by hiding under a cloak of “normal” cells or by hitting the “kill switch” on your T cells – taking away the power of your immune system. They effectively become invisible to your immune system.
In general, cell death or apoptosis occurs if the cell is exposed to toxin, viruses, radiation, heat, and insufficient oxygen. The signal to begin apoptosis comes from the mitochondria. Damaged mitochondria are unable to send the signal to begin apoptosis. If insulin or IGF-1 is present, this growth factor will stop a cell from beginning apoptosis.
3. Cancer cells produce lactic acid which damages their local environment
Cancer cells select to make energy using an inefficient chemical process that generates lactic acid as a byproduct. Lactic acid is local pollution created by the cancer cell on purpose! This causes several problems.
- Lactic acid builds up around the cancer cell and creates cellular stress and oxygen starvation for its neighbors. This puts the cells in a fight for their life. Cancer kills its neighbors by acidifying the neighborhood.
- Because the surrounding cells die, your immune system sends a strong inflammatory response to the area to stimulate healing by bringing growth factors to the area. Because the surrounding area is oxygen poor, the only cells that will grow in the area are cancer cells. Cancer now has new friends that like the same environment.
- Lactic acid correspondingly stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in the area to bring the oxygen levels back up. Yay new blood for the cancer cells!
- The same chemical reactions that create the lactic acid also generate new building blocks for the new cells – and fast. Cancer cells can produce energy and building blocks for new cells faster than normal cells but they require 10X the amount of glucose (sugar) to do so.
- The inflammation response generated to deal with the lactic acid inhibits the immune cells that would normally target and kill cancer cells.
4: Cancer cells move around the body
Inside a multi-celled organism, every cell has a place and a job. Heart cells all stay together to form a heart. They are connected physically together and perform a united function. You do not find brain cells wandering around in your lungs or pancreas when they get bored. They stay put inside the hollow created for them in the extracellular matrix – your fascia.
A cancer cell purposely ignores the cell community which is you. Cancer cells know they are more likely to live if they can move around the body looking for optimal homes. The lactic acid produces damages the extracellular matrix around the cancer cell and allows it to break free and invade the rest of the body and seek out that better home.
Cancer cells are so eager to live that they send cellular scouts out to find a more optimal home as soon as they can. Most of the scouts die but occasionally one finds a good home elsewhere in the body, replicates, and sends messengers back to headquarters with directions and an invitation to visit. Metastasis has occurred and it happens incredibly early. Sometimes so early that neither location has actually grown into a tumor, created a problem, or otherwise been detected. Cancer grows wherever it determines to be the optimal place at the time and it is “everywhere” at once.
8 Lifestyle Adjustments to Lower Your Risk of Cancer
If a damaged cell is ignored and left to fend for itself, damage continues to build and the risk of the cell turning cancerous rises. Dr. Fung indicates that improvement and reversal of a cell’s nature is possible if:
- the damaging exposure decreases or disappears completely
- the cell gets support from the multi-cell organism to repair and heal
- the immune system is enabled to see the damaged cell and dispose of it
What can you do to be proactive about being a good multi-celled organism and a bad host for cancer? Focus on cellular health using these 8 lifestyle adjustments:
- Remove environmental toxins from your body and environment that create chronic stress to your cells. Stop hurting your cells! I have ideas to share with you once I hear your story.
- Improve your internal detoxification abilities because you are exposed to more toxins than you know and heck – you make your own cellular trash just to stay alive! I would love to help you detox better.
- If you are overweight, lose some. Obesity is a problem of too much growth and is intimately linked to cancer, another problem of too much growth. I know this is easier said than done and weight often does not shift until you reduce your body’s toxic load and reset some of your systems.
- Support low insulin/IGF-1 levels in order to avoid or reverse Type 2 Diabetes, keep chronic inflammation down, and to minimize feeding cancer cells.
- Encourage proper cell death (autophagy) through occasionally limiting nutrients – particularly protein – in order to limit growth. Consider a protein fast one day a week.
- Eat to support high AMPK and low mTOR levels that minimize growth – time restricted eating (eating only when the sun is up or less hours) other forms of intermittent fasting do that in addition to increasing autophagy and mitophagy (the breaking down of damages cells and mitochondria). Fasting puts normal cells into a protective more while it stresses the cancer cells that always in growth mode.
- Exercise to raise AMPK and lower insulin levels because your muscles require energy – get yours daily!
- Supplement with functional mushrooms to modulate your immune system, provide anti-oxidants, encourage proper cell death, and so much more!
If you find yourself or a loved one staring at a cancer diagnosis, look into immunotherapy. This new technology removes the blinders that cancer put on your killer T cells. Immunotherapy can be done independently for some cases. When it is part of a team of cancer fighting tools, the entire team works better. Remember cancer is constantly changing, so we must adapt too. We can outlast and out-think cancer when we understand it.
Work With Me on Your Wellness Lifestyle
If you are seeking help with your wellness and are concerned about preventing cancer, I would love to talk more with you. I specialize in helping people create and maintain a Wellness Lifestyle. I offer:
- Detoxification tools and support
- Movement classes to support your exercise goals
- Nutrition education
- Access to local, organic foods that support your wellness
- Functional Mushroom Extracts and Custom Supplement Subscriptions to optimize your overall health status