Why do we never hear about heart cancer?
Why Cancer of the Heart is So Rare - Part 1
Dr. Stephen Hussey
To understand why cancer in the heart is extremely rare, we must first understand what cancer is. Cancer is a metabolic disease, which means that it occurs when there is a breakdown in normal metabolism that in turn causes shifts in the cell that result in it becoming cancerous. Way back in the 1920’s Otto Warburg and his team discovered that cancer cells stopped relying on what is called oxidative phosphorylation, the main way our cells make energy, and instead relied on what is called glycolysis and lactate fermentation.(r) This is called the Warburg Effect. It basically means that instead of using oxygen to make energy the cells found a way, or were forced to find a way, to make energy without having to use oxygen.
More recently, metabolic researcher Dominic D’Agostino and cancer researcher Dr. Thomas Seyfried have solidified the metabolic theory of cancer. (r,r) Let’s get a better understanding before we move on to the heart. If we look at cancer cells, they have some interesting characteristics. They are anaerobic, meaning they don’t use oxygen, they are acidic, they are rapidly dividing, and they are undifferentiated, meaning they are no particular type of cell but just a general cell. (r) So, we have cancer cells that display this Warburg Effect and have these unique characteristics. But why would the cell decide to have these characteristics and become cancerous? Let’s illustrate this another way.
When a human in conceived the egg and sperm come together to form a zygote cell. That cell implants itself on the side of the uterus. At this point, the cell has no blood supply and therefore no oxygen. Initially this cell grows into what is called a Morula, and then a blastocyst, by rapidly dividing to start the process of growing a fetus. Interestingly, these early dividing cells are anaerobic, (r) undifferentiated, and rapidly dividing. Sounds like cancer. Once the blood supply from the placenta develops are around the 2-week mark, the cells of the fetus start to use oxygen and become aerobic, they start to differentiate into different types of cells, and they have more controlled cell division. The key here is the presence of oxygen.
The question when it comes to cancer is why a cell stops using oxygen and become cancerous. Well, the structures in our cells that allow our cells to use oxygen to break the chemical bonds in our food to make energy for our bodies are called our mitochondria. These structures are very good at oxidative phosphorylation, provided they do not become damaged. Every time our mitochondria make energy we also make a waste product called a free radical, kind of like a car makes and exhaust when burning fuel. These free radicals can be damaging to our bodies if not taken care of. Normally, our bodies make what are called antioxidants that immediately take care of these free radicals.
However, if we are not careful how we live our lives then we can end up creating an abundance of these free radicals that can overwhelm the cells. Excess free radicals can be caused by toxin exposure, (r) relying on carbs for fuel, (r) inflammation, and high blood sugar. (r) When this happens, it can cause damage to the mitochondria. (r) Since the mitochondria are what allow us to us oxygen to make fuel now the cell cannot use oxygen anymore. If it can’t do this, it can’t survive. This triggers the cell to turn on oncogenes in the DNA of the cell that instruct the cell to become anaerobic, undifferentiated, and rapidly dividing cancer cells, the only thing it knows how to do to survive. When faced with the situation of not being able to use oxygen the cells must either die or become cancerous. It’s sort of a survival mechanism. The cancer solution keeps the tissue alive short-term, but it is obviously not a good long-term solution.
So, as I mentioned there are many thing that can cause excess free radicals in our bodies that damage our mitochondria. One is the large amount of toxins our bodies are exposed to on a daily basis. Everything from heavy metals, to plastics, to artificial fragrances. According to Herbert Needleman, who spent his life studying the effect of chemicals on children, at least 70,000 new chemical compounds have been invented and dispersed into our environment since 1950, and many of them can act as free radicals directly. But even worse than toxins, free radicals can increase dramatically when our cells become too reliant on burning carbohydrates for fuel instead of fatty acids and ketones. (r,r) This is where everything starts to relate to the heart.
The cardiac myocytes are the most mitochondrial dense cells in the body, (r) this is because of the massive amount on energy the heart needs and the large amount of oxygen it uses. Most of our organs prefer to burn fat for fuel, but especially the heart. (r) When other organs are forced to burn predominantly glucose for long periods of time then the sequence of events described above can start to happen and result in cancer. However, if the heart is forced to burn predominantly glucose then something far worse and potentially fatal can happen, a heart attack.
Because of this, the body has built in mechanisms that make sure the heart is never forced to burn predominantly glucose for fuel. One is the direct delivery of the fatty acid carrying chylomicrons from digestion through the lymphatic system to the veins that drain into the heart. (r) Secondly, the heart has a direct signaling pathway to fat cells (r) that I believe allows it to mobilize fats when glucose burning becomes to prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a situation where the heart could still be forced to burn predominantly glucose. It has to do with an imbalanced stress response signal to the heart cells.
The control of the balance of the autonomic nervous system in cardiac cells, and many other cells, relies on two messenger molecules called cAMP and cGMP. cAMP levels rise in the heart cells when we have a stress response and cGMP levels rise when we are in a relaxation state. The only difference is that when it comes to cGMP, the relax molecule, something else is also needed to increase its levels. That something else is nitric oxide, NO, which is produced in the walls of arteries. These two molecules—cAMP and cGMP—keep each other in check within heart cells, they should always balance each other out. When we experience a stressful response and the nervous system causes spikes in cAMP within the heart then cGMP, provided there is enough NO, also has an increase just to keep the system more in balance.(r) This is depicted in the image below.
But the system can become unbalanced. When we have prolonged periods in our life with many surges of stress responses that increase levels of cAMP and not enough stimulation of the relax response and CGMP, then we can lose the ability to effectively balance these two states. We can get stuck in our stress state. This is called decreased vagal tone because the vagus nerve is the nerve that carries these signals. When this happens the failsafe within the cardiac cells is that those consistently high levels of cAMP are balanced by also rising levels of cGMP. But remember that cGMP can only do this if NO is present. If NO gets depleted, it is really bad news.
We can get depletion of NO by having lots of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are damaging because they have an unpaired electron and they do not like to be unpaired. Because of this, the free radicals go running around the body, like the looney tunes Tasmanian devil, trying to find another electron to make a pair. It can steal them from tissues and cause damage to the tissue. But another place it can find an electron is NO. (r) If NO is uses to neutralize these free radicals too much it can decreases the NO available for cGMP simulation.
Now that we have set the stage, it is time for the big event. When humans experience decreased vagal tone for long periods of time while also experiencing decreases in NO levels, this can cause a surge in the stress response and subsequent elevation in cAMP in our heart cells without the balanced rise in cGMP. This is shown in the image below.
When this happens the cascade of events that is a heart attack plays out. The sudden unchecked rise in adrenaline from the stress response has been shown to cause an increase in lactic acid production within cardiac cells. (r,r,r) This happens because the heart usually prefers to burn ketones—a product of burning fat—but in this situation the body thinks it needs to burn energy quicker to get away from a threat. Since it is quicker to burn glucose the heart cells revert to burning it rather than burning the more efficient and preferred energy source of ketones. (r,r) Burning glucose causes the build-up in lactic acid and hydrogen ions within the heart cells. This is similar to when you do a sprint or a hard, fast workout, lactic acid builds up in the muscles causing the muscle to have that burning feeling.
When this happens in a muscle in the legs or arms we can just stop moving it and the lactic acid and hydrogen ions will move along stopping the build-up an burning feeling. Since the heart can’t just stop contracting the lactic acid quickly builds up causing a major problem. The presence of acid in the heart tissue causes swelling in the area of tissue forced to burn glucose. (r) This swelling creates a higher pressure in the tissue than there is pressure from the blood flow into heart tissue and therefore prevents the blood from reaching the cells. This explains why nearly 100% of heart attacks happen in the left ventricle. The left ventricle is under the most pressure and is more suseptible to any changes in pressure casued by this edema. Without blood, this leads to dysfunctional cells walls and heart tissue death. In other words, a heart attack.
So, while cancer is a change in metabolism due to damage to our oxygen using mitochondria, which then forces the cell to become cancerous to survive short-term, a heart attack is a forced change in metabolism due to an imbalanced stress response and depletion of NO due to excess free radicals. They are both forced shifts in metabolism just in different tissues and using a slightly different mechanism. Because a forced change in metabolism in the heart immediately results in a heart attack, there is never a chance for the heart cells mitochondria to become damaged enough to force the cells to become cancerous. The heart attack beats them to the punch and kills the cells before that happens. That’s why we don’t see cancer in the heart, only heart attacks.
Why Cancer of the Heart is So Rare - Part 2
First off, I want to thank all those scientists who did the research that fuel this post. I also want to give credit to Dr. Thomas Cowan who laid out many of the ideas I discuss in this post. All I have done is use those ideas to explain why cancer of the heart is a rare occurrence.
In my first post on this topic I approached things from a metabolic standpoint. I discussed the metabolic theory of cancer that was originally proposed by Otto Warburg and improved upon by Dr. Thomas Seyfried. I discussed how the heart is special in that, unlike other tissues in the body, it will preferentially burn fatty acids and ketones even when glucose is present. Then, I ultimately discussed that the reason the heart is metabolically special in this way is because the body does not want it to have to burn predominately glucose, as that can lead to a heart attack. This knowledge, combined with the metabolic theory of cancer and the fact that heart cells cannot divide like other cells can, then gave us insight into a metabolic reasoning as to why heart cancer is so rare.
If the series of events I discussed in the first post happen (not fat adapted, depletion of Nitric Oxide, and an Autonomic Nervous System imbalance) then the heart is forced to burn more glucose than it wants and instead of this resulting in cancer, the heart cells just die of ischemia and there is no chance for cancer to develop. But there is another special characteristic of the heart that we must discuss to fully understand why heart cancer is few and far between.
This time we are going to look at things from a physics perspective. In some of my other posts I have discussed how water can hold energy and that when the water in the body has enough energy it can form a gel-like phase of water. In my post called “Why Don’t We See Atherosclerosis in Veins?” I discussed how these properties of water can protect our arteries, and in another post called “Is the Heart Really a Pump?” I discussed how the formation of gel-like water in our arteries creates the flow of blood and that the heart is not the sole, or even primary, mover of the blood. But the cardiovascular system is not the only place that this gel water forms. It is what makes up the cellular matrix (cytoplasm) inside each and every one of our cells, including the heart cells.
Dr. Gerald Pollack is the foremost authority on this gel like water in the body and his book Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life is recommended reading for anyone interested in this topic. It has been long thought that the cause of cancer is due to genetic mutations in the DNA that instruct the cell to become cancerous. But some interesting research has thrown some serious doubt at this theory. Researchers have found that if you take the damaged DNA of cancer cells and put them into the nucleus of a cell with healthy cytoplasm then those cells do not become cancer cells. And vice versa, if you take the healthy cytoplasm of a non-cancerous cell and transplant that into a cancerous cell that has cancerous DNA damage, the cell becomes non-cancerous. So perhaps the key to cancer is in the cell cytoplasm not in the nuclear DNA.
So, let’s talk about gel water and the cytoplasm. First off, it makes sense that the water in our cells is a gel. If you think about what something filled with water feels like, like a waterbed, it is very unstructured, and it sloshes around very easily. That is not what I feel like when I push into my skin. The tissue of my body have some give to them, but they also have some structure to them as well. This is because my cells are composed of water in the gel-like state we know as 4th phase water, or EZ water, or structured water. It has many names.
If you remember from when I talked about the formation of this gel-like water in the arteries, it required energy to the system to do it (sunlight, grounding, vortexing) and it required that the water be next to a hydrophilic surface. The lining of the artery was the hydrophilic surface that allowed the formation of this water in the vascular system. In the cells, there are a few hydrophilic surfaces that facilitate this process. One of them is the lipid (fat) by-layer of the cell membrane. The membrane is formed by lipids that arrange themselves in a way that the hydrophobic ends meet each other, and the hydrophilic ends point to the inner and outer walls of the cell.
But what about the water in the middle of the cell that would also the gel to form throughout the whole cell, where does its hydrophilic surface come from? It comes from proteins, as they are also hydrophilic. Think about Jell-O, or bone broth after it has been made and stored in the refrigerator. What you need to make Jell-O it is water and gelatin that contains collagen protein (sugar, unfortunately, is also included but not needed for gel formation). You mix the water and gelatin together, heat it up to denature (unfold) the proteins so they have more hydrophilic surface area for the water to interact with, and then as it cools it forms a gel. Again, this is the same process that happens with good gelatin containing bone broth after you cook it and then store it in the fridge, some of it becomes gelatinous.
Now, the cell has plenty of proteins and plenty of water, but not near the heat needed to denature the proteins. It denatures them in another way. It does this using ATP, our bodies energy currency. As we will see, ATP, in a way, is not really our bodies energy currency. However, it plays a role in creating our true source of energy by denaturing the proteins in the cytoplasm so that they can interact with water so the water can maintain the gel-like state needed for proper cell function.
We must pause here and revisit the metabolic theory of cancer. This theory states that cancer happens when the cell cannot use oxygen and instead of burning the energy from our food through oxidative phosphorylation it is forced to use anaerobic glycolysis. This gives the cancer cells their characteristic anaerobic (no oxygen) and acidic qualities (because this process produces lactic acid). But what is also important here is that the cells make much less ATP through glycolysis than they do using oxidative phosphorylation. Only two ATP molecules are created via glycolysis and thirty-six are created via oxidative phosphorylation. You can imagine that with much less ATP to unfold proteins in the cell, that the ability of the water to maintain its gel state suffers. This is the link to the metabolic theory of cancer and what happens next.
The formation of the gel within the cells is very important for maintaining many characteristics of healthy cells. One of them is its charge. When the gel forms in the cells it excludes sodium and keeps it outside of the cell and accumulates potassium bringing it into the cell. (8,9) Also, this gel forms by splitting one hydrogen from the water molecule. The gel is made up of the negatively charged oxygen-hydrogen molecule that is left and the extra hydrogen is pushed out of the cell. This creates an energy gradient giving the cell its charge, its energy. (10) This is very similar to how the formation of EZ (gel) water in the arteries that creates an energy gradient that drives blow flow. You see, ATP is not the direct energy currency, but it plays a vital role in maintaining the charge that gives the cell its energy.
What this charge does for the cell is create appropriate spacing between it and other cells. The distribution of sodium and potassium creates a ring of negative charge around the cell. All the positively charged hydrogen ions that are now in the extracellular space will attract the cells to the extracellular space but provide a buffering sections to maintain a healthy spacing to the cells.
Now, let’s say this whole system breaks down. Let’s say that our cells become so metabolically deranged and are forced to use anaerobic glycolysis and therefore can’t provide enough ATP to unfold protein to form the gel water in cells. Or let’s say that metabolism is optimal, but we are not supplying enough energy to the water in our cells (sunlight, grounding, vortexing) to allow it to form the gel even if the proteins are unfolded. Or what if both happen? When these things happen the gel breaks down, we lose the proper distribution of sodium and potassium, and therefore the cell loses its charge.
As a consequence, the cells can no longer maintain proper spatial awareness and start to become clumped together very tightly. Instead of the nice gel-filled properly spaced cells giving us the feel of normal healthy tissue, we start to get tightly packed together cells that give us the feel of a hard tumor. It has been shown that water is less structured, or gel like, in tumor cells. When this situation gets bad enough the cells are forced to survive the only way they know how, by rapidly dividing uncontrolled cell division of these unhealthy, gel-depleted, cancerous cells.
This also explains the damaged DNA we see in cancer. The gel formation is also essential for the proper division of cells to form new cells. Without the gel matrix there, which allows for proper spindle formation as well as DNA transcription and translation, we end up with the well-known cancer cell characteristics of varied numbers of chromosomes, abnormally synthesized proteins, and mutations. DNA mutations don’t cause cancer, they are a result of rapid cell division in a broken down gel environment that is the process of the cell becoming cancerous.
Now that we have that background information on how cancer occurs, we can ask why this doesn’t happen in the heart very often. The heart has two characteristics on its side helping it out in this regard. The first we mentioned at the beginning of this post, and I went into detail about in the first blog post I did on this topic. This is the idea that the heart is metabolically special in the sense that it has mechanisms in place that give it priority to the fatty acids we eat (chylomicrons package the fat we eat and deliver it more or less directly to the heart via the lymphatic system), and it has mechanisms (direct signaling pathways to fat cells) in place that allow it to predominantly burn fatty acids. This keeps the metabolism optimal (oxidative phosphorylation) to ensure that enough ATP is produced so that heart cells can denature proteins and maintain their gel. Further, even if the gel system breaks down and a heart cell is forced to become cancerous, heart cells cannot divide and therefore die in the form of ischemia rather than became cancer (as was the conclusion in my first post on this topic).
But the heart has another advantage as well. According to the Heart Math Institute the heart is the most significant source of electromagnetic energy in the body. They say that is produces the “largest rhythmic electromagnetic field of any of the body’s organs”. We all think of the brain as the highest source of electric activity, but the heart’s electrical field is about 60 times greater than that of the brain when measured on an electrocardiogram (ECG). The electric field of the heart can be detected on any surface of the body and can be detected up to three feet away from the body. Pretty crazy stuff.
Not only does this clue us into how our emotional state, interpreted through our emotion sensing organ of the heart, can affect every aspect of our physiology, but it also tells us the other advantage that makes cancer so rare in this organ. The heart is very good at establishing and maintaining a charge. Remember, the formation of the gel cytoplasm is cells is dependent on the water having an energy source (sunlight, grounding, vortexing). The heart being so electromagnetically strong gives it the ability to provide its own energy source so to speak. Given the metabolic advantage that it has to keep it producing enough ATP to unfold proteins, and the electrical advantage it has to keep the water in the heart cells energized, this is why heart cancer is so rare. It is all quite fascinating!
The fact that the heart has this protection is great (though heart cancer does still occur), but unfortunately the other tissues of the body do not. So, I want to end by discussing the strategies to we can use to maintain proper metabolism and sufficient energy to the rest of our body’s cells.
The first is a ketogenic diet. Evidence shows that fueling our cells with fat and ketones is more efficient, meaning that it will produce more ATP and less oxidative stress. This does not mean that we have to stay in ketosis all the time, though I choose to, but it does mean that we need to stay metabolically flexible. To do this we have to restrict carbohydrates often enough and for long enough to shift our body over to burning fatty acids and ketones.
The second is that we must do things to energize the water in our body so that it can form the gel in our cells. The best ways to do this are exposure to infrared light (sunshine, infrared sauna), direct contact with the Earth (grounding, go camping), and consuming water and food in its freshest form (because water in the cells of the food we eat is structured too). For water, this would be natural spring water from the Earth, and for food, this would be eating it as soon as possible after it was harvested or killed. The things we eat are also made up of cells that have this gel and therefore energized water, but it will start to lose that energy the longer it takes to be eaten. This is one reason I try to eat as local as possible so that my food gets to me quicker.
Putting all this together always makes me marvel at the intelligence of how the body works, and how well our physiology works within the environment of nature. Removing the body from its natural environment is a recipe for dysfunction, illness, and poor quality of life. Luckily, all we have to do is take strides to recreate that natural environment within the confines of our modern lifestyle.