We eat to live; cancer cells eat to live also. Macronutrients we consume provide many of the compounds required for metabolism, the sum of all the biochemical reactions in the body. One could say that diet and exercise are the primary influencers of cellular metabolism, and reprogramming energy use, particularly in cancer cells, could be an effective way to curb growth.

Some tumor cells seem to thrive on glucose through a pathway called glycolysis. This was first observed by Otto Warburg in the 1920’s where he proved that some cancers tend to convert glucose, through glycolysis, to lactic acid and this has been termed, the Warburg effect. He noticed that, in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment, cancer cells shift the normal endpoint of glycolysis away the Krebs Cycle (formation of Acetyl CoA) and to a less efficient energy source (Lactic Acid).

This may sound like complicated biochemistry but it’s simple 7th grade biology. Simply put, some cancers gobble sugar, preferring it as its fuel source. There several reasons a growing cancer may prefer lactic acid ranging from a localized relative hypoxia, genetic alterations that tend to push the production of Lactic Acid, and defects in tumor suppressor and/or tumor oncogenes.

Warburg’s original hypothesis suggested that there was a dysfunction in the mitochondria (the organelles inside the cell where all this is taking place) of cancer cells and some theories still exist that blame the mitochondria, but more recent research has shown that most cancer cells don’t have defective organelles but rather it is complexity of the metabolic process that can breakdown for a variety of reasons, including those discussed above.

This video begins to help unravel this complex issue: