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What is the role of a healthy metabolism in cancer prevention?

Published by Connealy, MD on June 6, 2024

What is the role of a healthy metabolism in cancer prevention?

Metabolic Health and Cancer:

Metabolism refers to the complex set of chemical reactions that occur within living organisms to maintain life. It is essentially energy production. Our bodies need adequate energy to function properly. Metabolism is so fundamental to our being because it influences every process and cell. For example, it influences our hormones, detoxification, and even how we think. Disease usually occurs as a result of a deficiency or disruption in energy production. When our cells do not have enough energy, they cannot operate correctly, and dysfunction ensues. This can lead to cancer and other conditions.

It is estimated that in the US today only 12% of people are considered ‘metabolically healthy,’ ie: have adequate energy production. This involves processes such as converting food into energy, building and repairing tissues, and eliminating waste products. Cancer is largely a metabolic disease and significant metabolic dysfunction takes place to support its growth and development. Supporting a healthy metabolism is crucial for preventing this dysfunction and the growth of cancer. 

Cancer is a condition characterized by a slow metabolism. It is like aging in that both involve a decline in energy. In healthy cells, energy is efficiently produced through a process called OXPHOS, which uses oxygen in the mitochondria to make ATP, the energy currency of cells. Cancer cells, however, rely on a less efficient process called glycolysis, producing significantly less ATP from glucose. This shift in metabolism, known as the Warburg effect, is central to how cancer cells function differently from healthy cells. Despite their rapid proliferation, cancer cells are formless and unspecialized, while healthy cells become differentiated. Differentiation requires significant energy. The lack of specialization in cancer reflects the cells’ underlying energy decline.

Factors That Interfere With Healthy Energy Production:

  • Lack of essential nutrients: Essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium, are crucial for efficient energy production in cells. Deficiencies can impair metabolic pathways and reduce ATP generation.
  • Toxin & heavy metal exposure: Exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and pesticides, can damage cellular components, including mitochondria, hindering their ability to produce energy.
  • Low thyroid function: The thyroid gland regulates metabolism through hormone production. Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, slows down metabolic processes, leading to decreased energy production.
  • Hypoglycemia: Chronically low blood sugar levels can deprive cells of the glucose needed for ATP production, resulting in increased stress hormones, fatigue, and impaired cellular function.
  • Underlying infections and mold exposure: Chronic infections and exposure to mold can trigger inflammatory responses and oxidative stress, both of which can disrupt normal cellular metabolism and energy production.
  • Mineral imbalances: Imbalances in essential minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and sodium, can affect enzyme function and cellular energy production processes, leading to metabolic disturbances.
  • PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids): Excessive intake of PUFAs can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially damaging mitochondria and affecting energy production.
  • Endocrine disruptors: Chemicals that interfere with hormonal balance, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, can disrupt metabolic processes and reduce the efficiency of energy production in cells.
  • High estrogen: Elevated levels of estrogen can influence metabolic rate and energy production, potentially leading to fatigue and other metabolic issues.
  • High cortisol and stress hormones: Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels can impair mitochondrial function and decrease ATP production, contributing to cellular damage and poor energy levels.
  • Poor digestion: Inadequate digestion and nutrient absorption can deprive cells of the essential nutrients needed for efficient energy production, leading to reduced cellular function and overall energy levels.

A high metabolic rate is associated with various mechanisms that prevent cancer from developing in the body. 

  1. Detoxification: 

The body needs energy to detox. Healthy cellular metabolism enhances the body’s efficiency in processing and eliminating toxins, including those associated with cancer. A high metabolism helps the body chelate, or remove, toxins quickly in several ways: 

  • Increased cellular activity: A higher metabolic rate means that cells, including those involved in detoxification processes, are more active. This can enhance the ability of cells in the liver and kidneys to process and eliminate toxins.
  • Enhanced blood flow and waste removal: High metabolism often leads to increased blood circulation, which helps transport toxins to the liver and kidneys faster, where they can be broken down and excreted.
  • Boosted enzyme production: A high metabolic rate can increase the production of enzymes that play crucial roles in detoxifying harmful substances. These enzymes help convert toxins into less harmful forms that can be more easily removed from the body.
  1. Hormone Balance:

Our hormones significantly influence our metabolism, and metabolic rate, in turn, affects hormone levels. Excessive levels of hormones such as estrogen and cortisol can suppress metabolic function and may contribute to cancer development. Hormonal imbalances can impair thyroid function, which is crucial for cellular energy production. Furthermore, proper thyroid function is necessary for the production of progesterone and other anti-cancer steroids. Emerging research suggests that T3, the active thyroid hormone, helps reduce tumor growth.

  1. DNA Repair:

A fast metabolism is linked to higher enzyme production crucial for DNA repair processes (G6PD). Effective DNA repair helps prevent genetic mutations, reducing the risk of cancer. Although metabolic processes can generate DNA-damaging compounds, a robust metabolism also produces NADPH, a cofactor in metabolic reactions. NADPH functions as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage.

  1. Cell Turnover:

High metabolic rates correlate with increased cellular turnover, which means cells replicate and replace themselves at a faster rate. This rapid turnover can help eliminate potentially damaged cells before they have a chance to become cancerous. Research suggests that mitochondrial function and OXPHOS are correlated with the body’s ability to remove aging, damaged, and cancerous cells.

A Few Tips for Supporting a Healthy Metabolism:

There are several things we can do to support a healthy metabolism and prevent the changes that can lead to cancer. A few of these include:

  • Support healthy thyroid hormone levels: The thyroid gland regulates metabolism, and maintaining healthy thyroid hormone levels is crucial for metabolic efficiency. Ensure proper nutrient intake and address any thyroid issues with your healthcare provider.
  • Eat adequate protein & carbohydrates: Protein provides essential amino acids that are vital for muscle repair and growth, which increases metabolic rate. Carbohydrates provide energy and help regulate blood sugar levels, preventing metabolic slowdowns.
  • Eat high-quality foods: Consuming nutrient-dense foods like grass fed meat and dairy, fruits, vegetables, and eggs supplies the vitamins and minerals necessary for metabolic processes, promoting overall metabolic health.
  • Limit intake of seed oils: Seed oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which can increase oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially disrupting metabolic functions. Limiting these oils can help maintain a healthy metabolism.
  • Reduce stress: Chronic stress raises cortisol levels, which can negatively impact metabolic rate and lead to weight gain. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and adequate sleep supports metabolic health.
  • Ensure adequate sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium intake: These essential minerals are involved in numerous metabolic processes, including enzyme function and cellular energy production. Maintaining proper levels supports a healthy metabolism.
  • Limit exposure to toxins: Environmental toxins and heavy metals can interfere with metabolic processes and overall health. Reducing exposure by choosing organic foods, using natural cleaning products, and avoiding plastics helps support metabolic function.
  • Reduce inflammation and address potential infections: Chronic inflammation and underlying infections can impair metabolism. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods, getting proper medical treatment, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve metabolic health.
  • Balance estrogen and progesterone: Hormonal imbalances can disrupt metabolism. Ensuring a healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone supports metabolic efficiency and overall health. This may involve lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and medical interventions.
  • Prioritize restorative sleep: Quality sleep is essential for metabolic health. Adequate sleep supports the body’s natural repair processes, hormone regulation, and overall energy balance, all of which are crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolism.

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