#386 Otto Warburg and PET Scans

And Hot Spots of Glucose Metabolism

Otto Warburg was a really smart guy. He won the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his discovery of the fact that cancer cells create energy in a weird way. (And, he was nominated for a couple other Nobel Prizes as well — which is a hard thing to achieve.)

I’ll quote our UPS driver, Wes, for the short story on Warburg’s discovery: “Cancer loves sugar.”

You might have heard about that before, eh?

Cancer loves sugar.

<– That’s an indisputable fact.

And, we have Warburg to thank for that distinction. In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of cancer and it’s known as “the Warburg effect.”

Warburg saw that cancer cells have dysfunctional metabolism and that, essentially (and without going into the intricate biomechanics), they preferentially feast on sugar.

Which, btw, is why someone with cancer gets a PET scan.

As you may know, PET scans are used to detect cancer growth (or, what’s known as “metastasis”). Has cancer spread from its origin to other places in the body? Let’s get a PET scan and find out…

Pop quiz: Do you know what a PET scan actually measures? How does it help us detect whether or not the cancer has spread?

Q: What’s your guess? …

A: In short, a PET scan helps us find hot spots of glucose metabolism.

You show up, drink glucose with a radioactive dye and then we watch that glucose go through your body to see what, if anything, lights up.

Again: Cancer cells preferentially feed on sugar. Therefore, that radioactive glucose will bring us right to an active cancer tumor.

Which is why, for the weeks leading up to my brother’s PET scan, the mantra was, “Flip the light switches OFF!”

Everything we did was aimed at cutting off cancer’s preferred fuel — making any potentially active glucose metabolism hot spots (aka active tumors) go DARK.

Good news: It worked.

The PET scans came back, as I just shared, looking so good that the oncologist and his team wouldn’t have known my brother had stage IIb pancreatic cancer after looking at the scans unless he knew the backstory.

So, Today’s +1. Remember Otto Warburg, the fact that cancer loves sugar and flipping the light switches of your PET scans OFF!

P.S. When we walked in for my brother’s first appointment with his oncologist, there was a candy bowl right next to the sign-in sheet in the reception area. Apparently, Dr. Candy (as we may have briefly called him) didn’t get the memo from Dr. Warburg. (Or, from Wes our UPS driver.)

Although our kind and earnest doctor only had a few days of nutrition in medical school, you’d think this lesson would’ve made it on the agenda at some point in his advanced oncological training, eh?

I might have politely delivered the Warburg memo (with a playful fist bump) in our first appointment when I questioned why there was a candy bowl in his reception area. Good news: We were planning to take a picture of that candy bowl a week later for the documentary we’re working on and we were very happy to see that it was removed.

P.P.S. To bring that point home: As I told my brother, eating candy while getting chemo is like feeding cancer with your right hand while you try to kill it with chemo in the left arm. That makes NO SENSE.

P.P.P.S. We’re working on a documentary with my dear friend Pat Solomon. Pat created the documentary Finding Joe (about Joseph Campbell and the modern hero’s journey that I happen to be in along with Deepak Chopra, Laird Hamilton and others). Pat told me that his neighbor literally walks to McDonald’s on the way to chemo and drinks a big soda during treatments. I don’t know what to say about that other than I’m not sure how that doesn’t qualify as malpractice.

Oh, yah! Almost forgot. It’s because nutrition doesn’t matter. Who cares about energy metabolism when it’s all about the genes, right? 😕

On that note, apparently the Warburg memo got lost in the mail en route to the American Cancer Society as well. Apparently they recommend you simply focus on eating whatever tastes good, including (I kid you not) (and I quote): using “ice cream as a topping on cake.” Yah. Solid strategy. (Cruise over here to see just how bad their current recs are.)

P.P.P.P.S. We’re setting records on P.S’es here. We’ll talk about it more later, but one of the main things we focused on with my brother was getting his fasting glucose levels Optimized.

Short story: When he checked in to the hospital, he was at 145+. That’s essentially diabetic. In the 5 weeks between his surgery and his PET scan, he dropped it all the way down to 93—which is well within normal range. We’re now targeting the 80’s which is where you want to play if you’re dealing with something like cancer.

(Note: That astonishingly fast correction of blood glucose levels was achieved with no medications. Unless you count food as medicine like we do and as Hippocrates recommended 2,500 years ago.)

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