In economics, if you want less of something, there are two ways of making that happen: decreasing demand for it, or choking off supply. When you choose the latter, the demand forces prices higher. We have seen this happen with petroleum products. As the government halted the Keystone pipeline and drilling on federal lands, the supply of oil and oil based products reduced. Prices climbed, and people started to think twice about taking that long road trip. The higher prices caused money to flow to other countries instead, as they stepped in to sell us their oil, because demand got higher than the available supply.
When supply is reduced, the demand will look for alternatives. With energy, the assumption is that consumers will switch to electric vehicles. But the charging facilities are competing for petroleum anyway, as well over half the electricity production in the US comes from fossil fuels. So a battle ensues, demand increases further, and some of us will sacrifice travel to save on rising fuel costs. This “battle” for resources is similar to the battle in the body when cancer is present, as it demands resources at an alarming rate. Next to glucose, cancer loves the amino acid glutamine, and it will fight for it.
Cancer has many appetites, and its demand on resources is very high. It grows very rapidly, requiring lots of energy to continue that growth. When the tumor is choked of sufficient energy to maintain its rapid growth, it starts looking for alternative energy sources. Through epigenetics, where cells alter their behavior in response to different environmental stresses, cancer cells start using glutamine for energy. Cancer can break down glutamine and release energy in the process, making it an alternative energy source. So, conventional therapy is targeting glutamine uptake inhibitors as a way to slow cancer growth, so that the glutamine doesn’t reach into the cells. This was the focus of a study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, conducted at Stanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. The researchers noted that cancer tumors use a cellular pump called SLC1A5 to bring increasing levels of glutamine into their cells, and become “addicted” to glutamine. They tested one drug that inhibits the ability of SLC1A5 to bring glutamine into cells. They then noted reduced tumor growth in cultured cancer cells as well as in test subjects. Choking off the supply of glutamine to the cancer cells did slow their growth. The study didn’t mention what the drug did to the rest of the body, however, which also needs glutamine.
Glutamine is a “non essential” amino acid, meaning that the body can produce it when needed: it can use glucose-derived carbon and free ammonium to synthesize it. As it is an amino acid, it is one of the building blocks of protein. It is a vital source for immune cell fuel, particularly white blood cells. Generally, a healthy body will produce sufficient glutamine without getting more through diet. Even with major exercise, where protein is needed to build muscle, more glutamine is not needed because the body can recycle old protein and provide other fuel sources for the muscles so that they do not turn to glutamine as a fuel source.
Glutamine is involved in the Krebs cycle, which is a complex metabolic process that produces energy. All cells utilize glutamine, not just cancer cells, because it provides nitrogen atoms needed for the building of DNA and RNA. Since it is a valuable part of cell metabolism, blocking cells from taking it in could have serious consequences. When the body is starved for glutamine, it will turn to muscle tissue that it can break down to produce more.
Glutamine, although classified as a “nonessential” amino acid because the body can manufacture it, is quite vital to the body. It can be used to make other nonessential amino acids, but the reverse is not true, so there is no substitute for glutamine. If cancer cells are completely deprived of it, they cannot substitute and will eventually die. An article published by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stated it this way: “Inconveniently, normal cells need glutamine too. Therefore, drugs that affect glutamine levels in the entire body are too toxic to use as cancer therapy.” Glutamine is involved the production of DNA and also bringing in other amino acids to the cell.
So, we all need glutamine. However, excess glutamine is potentially harmful, even if it is not fueling cancer in your body. It is a load on the liver, and cases of glutamine-induced hepatoxicity (liver toxicity) have been reported. Dairy products, eggs, and meat generally provide high levels of glutamine, and since glutamine supplements are very popular with weight-lifters and easily obtained, supplementation could also pose a risk of glutamine overload.
Let your body decide
We know that cancer hogs glutamine. The last thing we need to do is give it plenty of what it wants. Meat, dairy, and glutamine supplements just feed the tumor’s addiction. While the body also needs glutamine, which we can’t ignore, we certainly don’t need to help the cancer out with extra supply. At least make it work to satisfy its addiction.
As a general rule, if the body can make something and has the means to do so, it doesn’t need your help. Let your body determine how much is needed and let it make that amount. Giving higher levels of any natural substance in your body could overload it. Supplements are popular, but too much of a good thing is not good anymore. This is where balanced plant-based diets excel: they provide the building blocks that your body needs without jamming excess into it. Animal products, on the other hand, are quite capable of over-providing iron, protein, and cholesterol, among other things. Excess of these are no longer helpful — they are a load that the body has to eliminate or store.
When you provide your body with too much of a valuable substance such as glutamine, you are making the body “lazy”. Excess weight and many toxicity problems stem from consuming too much food of the wrong type. Most of us will have some cells in our body go cancerous in our lifetimes, yet the immune system handles them before they multiply sufficiently to become a tumor, and we never know we had cancer. Leaving high levels of glutamine in your body provides a convenient fuel for the cancer to multiply rapidly, possibly faster than the immune system can stomp it out — then you do have diagnosable cancer. It’s a matter of balance. In modern society, we have convenient food that we did not have to expend much energy to get, that is far from what we would collect in the wild if we do not have industrialized farming and food preparation, and that caters to taste much more than health. These foods are great imbalancers which stress our bodies as they attempt to compensate for the overloads. Animal products are the basis for many of these convenience foods.
For someone with cancer, which is better? Consuming lots of glutamine and taking a glutamine uptake inhibitor, or slashing the amount of glutamine consumed? Both reduce the ability for the cancer to get the glutamine it craves. Drugs aren’t specific to just tumors — they affect your whole body. And in doing so, the pathway that they attempt to break for the cancer is also broken for the rest of your body. Studies have shown that cancer craves glutamine, and starving it of that fuel source chokes cancer growth. Fine. So let’s take that information and recognize that we can reduce glutamine by just dropping animal products, thereby helping our overall health while restricting the glutamine levels for the cancer naturally.
Glutamine is the second fuel choice for cancer. Before that is glucose. The first thing to limit with cancer is sugar. We know that cancer then goes for glutamine. Limiting both to just what our body needs simply makes sense. While fighting cancer is complex, limiting what it craves is a good step.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Do you feed a cold and starve a fever or do you starve a cold and feed a fever? You starve every single pathogen — and why? Because every living cell requires food to grow and multiply. What are cancer cells? They are your cells, and being living cells they need food to grow, multiply and spread. The food sources are glucose and glutamine. Everyone knows that cancer eats sugar and you have to clean up your diet if you are going to heal from any major pathogen like cancer, but what everyone doesn’t know is that glutamine acts like sugar to the cancer cells and will cause the same amount of rapid growth. As we stated above, glutamine is a necessary amino acid for cellular metabolism and without it you would not thrive, but since it is non-essential your body will make as much as it requires, and that is why anyone who has a major health challenge like cancer should not eat animal protein — because it is extremely high in glutamine. When you switch to a plant based diet you tremendously decrease the amount of glutamine coming in through the diet, and adding to that a low glycemic plant based diet is the double win because you just shut off all food to the cells that are growing the fastest. This gives your immune system time to catch up. Over these last 36+ years of treating patients I have seen tumors shrink and go away doing the treatments, diet and lifestyle changes — all verified on scans. But I have also seen patients think they are all well now and they go back to their old diet and tumors can reappear very quickly. So what is the moral of the story? Starve cancer forever while feeding the healthy cells of your body the food that nourishes them.
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