Cancer as a Metabolic Disease


 Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s estimated that in 2018 there will be over 1.7 million new cases diagnosed. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t had some encounter with this illness, through family, friendship or personal diagnosis.


Friend, Teacher, Translator.

I first met Rogge, a school teacher and my endearing translator, in 2011 while working with the indigenous Kuna people of Panama to help restore their natural cocoa production. The Kuna have been studied for their ability to maintain healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health well into old age, due to their sacred practice of drinking a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage every day.

In 2014 Rogge discovered that the abdominal pain he was experiencing, and that he suspected was IBS or something relatively harmless, had turned out to be stage IV stomach cancer. His situation was bleak; due to the size of his tumor he wasn’t eligible to undergo conventional treatment. I was heartbroken for my dear friend and felt like I had to do something; I couldn’t just sit there with so much hope and belief in the body’s ability to heal. I invited Rogge and his wife to come live with me in Florida because I knew he would have access to better healthcare, resources and nutritional support to help him manage his cancer. We are so fortunate to have the resources in America and I wanted Rogge to benefit from what should be available to every human life.

Working with Dr. Joe Maroon, a world-renowned neurosurgeon who has extensive experience in neurosurgery, we collaborated together to provide my dear friend the most cutting edge nutritional medicine advice. Dr. Maroon advised a strict ketogenic diet, and while I was not surprised, like a diligent student of healing I quickly took up to learning as much as I could to help my friend. It was a journey of discovery that had such incredible meaning and beautiful purpose for me. Discovering the benefits of a ketogenic diet and its effect on cancer at that time wasn’t a hobby or a light curiosity — it would be a matter of life and death for my friend Rogge and so I took my role in his healing seriously. Together, we applied a strict ketogenic diet and watched as the results came in.

As logical as the diet seemed, it still amazed me and seemed miraculous that Rogge’s tumor shrunk so much that he became eligible for conventional treatment. While living with my family, his quality of life improved vastly! Rogge enjoyed more comfort, freedom, improved strength, stamina and appetite. It was amazing to see a man who was once wheelchair-bound and needing help with basic functions like feeding and taking care of himself to be enjoying more energy and swimming in the ocean every day. Are you smiling now reading this? I smiled watching him own a piece of his life again too.

About a year and a half into making such great progress, Rogge came to me and shared how he was ready to stop chemo because he didn’t want to fight anymore. He wanted to return to his community and live in his mother’s hut where he grew up.

While it was so sad to see him go, I greatly respected his wishes to live his life on his own terms. As he wished, Rogge passed in his mother’s hut, surrounded by the loved ones and community he knew best. While this at first may sound like a sad ending, it’s quite the opposite in fact.

Rogge gave me such a gift in understanding the power that a ketogenic diet can have in the progression of cancer. It was the ketogenic diet that gave him back the energy and clarity of mind to decide that he was ready to stop fighting the cancer. This diet empowered him to make the most important choice about his life. While not all of us will be able to control the circumstances of our death, to have that is a real gift. This was a gift that was given to him by a non-invasive lifestyle that each of us has access to. Incredible isn’t it?

This experience moved me. And while I don’t use the ketogenic diet as an ongoing cancer preventative, I do use it as a therapeutic tool to enhance my metabolic flexibility when I need it.

If you want lasting health and vitality, it’s crucial to teach your body how to become metabolically flexible. You’ll know you’re metabolically flexible when you have the energy and vitality to live the life you want. You’ll sleep well, maintain healthy weight and will be free from the damaging effects of inflammation. You’ll be able to go many hours without food and without suffering the effects of low blood sugar (irritable, lightheaded and “hangry”). It means your body properly responds to insulin, and regardless of whether you are eating fat or carbs, you’ll be able to metabolize them efficiently.

The way I maintain my everyday metabolic flexibility is through the principles I’ve outlined in my New York Times bestselling book, Glow15. In it, I walk you through a 15-day plan to wake up a powerful cellular process in the body known as autophagy, that removes and repairs damaged cellular components that are holding you back from looking and feeling your best, while reducing your risk of chronic inflammatory diseases like cancer, cardiac and neurodegenerative disease.

Health really does begin in the cell. And when you know that, it’s easier to understand why…

Cancer is a Metabolic Disease

My personal experience of witnessing what the ketogenic diet can do for disease through my hands-on journey with Rogge has been instrumental in my understanding of cancer as a metabolic disease, not a genetic disease.

Science and the medical community currently view cancer as arising from genetic mutations that lead to out of control cell growth. The fundamental basis for research grants and drug development are based on this theory.

There is a brave, wickedly intelligent research scientist named Dr. Thomas Seyfried who has been pivotal in providing evidence that challenges this idea of what cancer is. His studies show that when the nucleus of a cancer cell is taken out of a tumor and inserted into a new healthy cell, that cell does not grow into cancer. If it’s not the genetic material causing the cancer, then there must be something else outside of the nucleus giving it signals to grow in this way.

Mitochondria Are the Power Plants in Our Cells

They take in and metabolize nutrients, creating energy-rich ATP for our cells and bodies to use, in a process known as cellular respiration.

Dr. Seyfried’s work shows that normal mitochondria can suppress the formation of tumors. And whatever genetic mutations happen to be present, these are not the actual cause behind the cancer formation.

His work draws from the Warburg Theory of Cancer. Dr. Otto Warburg was a biochemist and leading cell biologist of the 20th century who hypothesized that the driver of cancer is due to the malfunctioning of the mitochondria to do its ever-important job of cellular respiration. Instead, this “sick” cell, reverts to a more primitive form of survival: fermentation.

Fermentation is great for making wine or the nutrient-rich probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kefir, but it’s not great for our cells. Fermentation leads to a buildup of lactate, creating an acidic environment in the body.

The mitochondria in cancer cells that have now switched from healthy cellular respiration to fermentation are structurally damaged. Damaged mitochondria can’t supply our body with the energy it needs, and they produce more reactive oxygen species (ROS). While ROS generation is part of normal physiology — it’s a balance, you don’t want more than your body can handle. Too much and they attack the cell and cause further damage, creating chromosomal damage that leads to genetic alterations, or mutations.

So, then the question becomes, how do we best increase the functioning of healthy mitochondria in our cells and detoxify the damaged ones?


It turns out that fasting is an excellent way to get rid of the damaged mitochondria through autophagy. The principles in Glow15 will help you to learn how to use fasting along with other strategies to turn up your autophagy. I have always been inspired by fasting and have tried just about every type of fasting out there to help with my autoimmune skin condition. The best, albeit most challenging, type of fast for me personally is a 3 to 5-day water fast. Ironically, Dr. Seyfried happens to also encourage using a water fast to help jumpstart ketosis before leading into a strict ketogenic diet.

Fortunately, I do not have cancer and if you are like me and want to utilize his research for prevention and health optimization, you might fare better by doing a ketogenic diet first before attempting an extended water fast. It is more comfortable and tolerable to fast if you are already fat-adapted so your body can easily break down and use fat for fuel. The symptoms of fasting that typically occur the first few days such as headaches, fierce hunger, fatigue etc. are all much softer and easier to navigate and overcome when you have already been using a ketogenic diet effectively. My suggestion is, if you don’t need to fast, then wait until you are fat-adapted before you embark on your first one.

Here’s why fasting is a tool to help heal cancer: When you fast, your body can no longer rely on glucose to power those mighty mitochondria to make energy. Instead, fat reserves start to break down, releasing ketones in the process. However, your mitochondria can use ketones to make energy. Evolutionarily speaking, this all makes sense. Humans needed a way to survive in times of food shortage.

The fascinating thing is, cancer cells can’t use ketones to make energy, just like normal, healthy cells can. When you put yourself into a state of ketosis (either through fasting or on a ketogenic diet, this slows the growth and starves the cancer cells because they aren’t getting their food source — glucose. Tumors will grow faster in the presence of higher blood sugar because they will readily ferment the sugar.

Happy, Healthy Functioning Mitochondria is Your Protection Against DNA Damage and Cancer.

Join me in learning about how to create happy, healthy mitochondria that will act as your foundation for a healthy and vibrant life! I’ll share with you some of my favorite ways, like using the power of polyphenols and intermittent fasting and protein cycling to activate autophagy and say goodbye to damaged mitochondria for good.

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