20140723 - Body Hacking Running on Oil

Now for something quite serious, completely off topic of what I normally write on this blog.

In terms of health, I've had no real problems, now working towards my 37th year. Not everyone I know well has been so lucky. Attempting to help a close friend or family member though a challenging health related issue can be a combination of the hardest and yet most meaningful and rewarding experience. It might require placing your life on hold, living in an ICU room in the hospital, and attempting to learn everything about topics which you either ignored your entire life: like being healthy, or specifics about something which even doctors still know little about. Reading medical journals is quite a bit different than reading papers from SIGGRAPH. Ultimately through this experience you might end up learning something critical for your own well being as well.

Health care in the US is interesting. Given that doctors are both licensed and often sued, doctors often do not have the flexibility to do anything other than the standard of care, even if that standard of care does not work, or even if there are alternative methods of treatment which have had great success in individuals, but have not been proven by case studies. Likewise insurance will flat out refuse to pay for anything other than the standard of care. Case studies are more interesting. Standard of care is based on case studies which are limited to things which can get funding, almost always by major drug companies.

This model is massively broken, often anything which can have an instrumental effect on health or prognosis that is not profitable by drug companies never gets into the standard of care. One obvious example: diet, more on this later. It gets better. If there is a treatment which is proven to work in some individuals in other countries, or even proven in early case study results in the US. The US will not allow you to even choose to use the treatment, it is flat out illegal, even if you have a terminal disease, and the treatment might be critical towards survival. On top of this, case studies are very selective of who they will allow in the study. Something like prior treatment choices can easily invalidate you.

For those who are lucky of getting into a case study, for something that is critical to long term survival, they often have a 50% chance of getting placed in the placebo group (no treatment). On top of this, majority of case studies that I have read about are strictly controlled, either no treatment, or only one treatment. Rarely any moderate combined treatment. Case study participants don't have the option of adding extra treatments, as that would drop them from the study. Often this is running on the failed assumption that a cure to a certain problem can be found with say one new drug. The reality of the situation is that the rare people who survive terminal illnesses survive not through one thing. No conventional case study would ever test the combination of things they did to survive. The end result of this is that case studies often basically insure early death for people in the placebo group.

Summary, in the US if you are facing a terminal illness, this country would rather insure you die, than allow you to selectively by choice try something which might save your life.

As a patient, some of the most critical aspects of treatment end up being your responsibility: diet, supplements, exercise, emotional well being, etc, all of which can have a profound outcome on long term prognosis.

If you are in chemo treatment and ask what you should eat, there is no good answer, because it isn't part of standard of care, because no human case studies have really explored this in combination with the standard treatment. If you walk into the radiation wing of the Duke Hospital, as a cancer patient, they will give you a free donut on certain days of the week. There is great irony in this, in that high glucose levels directly accelerate cancer growth.

The defining characteristic of nearly all cancers is impaired cellular energy metabolism. In the presence of oxygen, normal cells leverage oxidative phosphorylation for energy (respiration). Cancer cells on the other hand have mitochondrial defects which force a switch to less efficient forms of energy metabolism, like glycolysis, which is the breakdown of sugar (fermentation). In this case, cancer cells are relying on glucose to function. Another side effect of damaged mitochondria is that cancer cells also rely on higher levels of glucose to repair free radical damage.

Humans evolved a second energy pathway which the body switches over to using when it runs low on glucose. This second pathway is fueled by ketones which are produced in the liver. Ketones can cross the blood brain barrier and also fuel the brain. When the body switches to Ketosis, the body is actively converting fat into ketones. Cancer cells thanks to mitochondrial defects, cannot function on ketones.

One interesting aspect of cancer, is that it seems like cancer cells are being generated all the time in the body. A regular process in which damaged cells lose the ability to self terminate. Instead the cancer cells live on and start replicating at will. Normally the body keeps them in check and kills off the damaged cells. In this war, when the cancer cells get the upper hand over the immune system, this is what we label as "cancer". The plan of the conventional treatment options is to basically selectively (via radiation) and universally (via chemo) destroy the body. During this extreme stress the cancer cells typically die out faster than the normal cells. My understanding is that chemo only works when the agent is in the cell during division. Since cancer cells divide faster than normal cells, cancer cells die out faster. Healthy and young people can often bounce back after treatment.

The most common problem in cancer treatment is that later in life (some times right after treatment) the cancer grows back, typically much more aggressive than before. The problem being that the first treatment selectively removed the weaker cancer cells, leaving the cancer cells which adapted best to survive under conventional treatment. Often after treatment, patients return to the very life choices which likely enabled the cancer to win the war in the first place. Doctors have no idea on how to treat the root cause of the problem.

For aggressive cancers like say high grade brain cancer, conventional treatment usually just extends out life for a matter of months or maybe a few years. However out of this group, of people labeled with high grade terminal cancers, there are some cases of complete recovery. People who return to regular life and never have problems again. The medical community largely ignores these cases, or even refuses to invest in any kind of research into why they survived. Sometimes these people are the same people who when given a terminal prognosis, decided to skip conventional treatment and do something different.

As a graphics developer, if I learn about the possibility of doing the impossible by seeing just one example (even if it is only partially working), I'm all over that, attempting to learn anything about it, attempting to find out how it works, and then attempting to do a better job. This is my contribution to the field. Something the next generation can work from and in turn end up doing a much better job than me. However for the medical community, with the existence of people for the pass generation beating terminal cancers, where is the insane push for understanding why. If I was in cancer research, why would I waste my time researching the conventional standard treatment which fails for majority if not all terminal cancers? The only logical conclusion is to research those who have successfully survived.

While I don't feel like spending the time to mark up the huge number of things I've been referencing to make this post, I will provide a few links to stories about some of these people. Dr. Fred Hatfield (Dr Squat), this guy is a well know world power lifting champion, very technically oriented, I used to use one of his books as a guide when powerlifting in my 20s. He had 3 months to live because of widespread metastatic cancer. No conventional treatment, survived. Joe Mancaruso, active in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with only one functioning lung. Surviving terminal lung cancer. Ben Williams, PhD, surviving an extremely agressive terminal brain cancer. Just the stores surrounding these peoples' fight and will to live is worth reading as a source of motivation.

One common factor in a bunch of the cases I could find was leveraging ketosis to place the cancer under sever metabolic stress (starving the cancer). Now normal people have a slightly elevated amount of ketones in the morning after fasting through a nights sleep. After breakfast, glucose spikes and the body is again fully adapted to run from sugar. It is possible through diet control to switch over to running in a much deeper ketosis all the time. In fact some societies like Eskimos or Maasai had natural diets which placed them in a constant state of ketosis. This is the path some cancer survivors have been leveraging.

In order to help someone else who wanted to try this form of not medically accepted metabolic treatment for cancer, early this year I decided to run an experiment, and try to shift my body into a constant state of ketosis. I didn't try the fast path of multi-day fasting. Instead I just shifted my diet, from {mostly carbs then protein}, to {mostly fat, with a controlled amount of protein (because too much protein gets converted into glucose), and almost no carbs}. It takes roughly a month before the body converts over. The process is described by most people as horrible, because the body goes through an extremely strong set of sugar withdrawal symptoms. The next challenge is getting used to running on oil. In order to consume the quantity of fat required in the diet, it is very common to supplement with drinking raw coconut oil (this is what I do) as coconut oil is easily converted to ketones. Yes, majority of people exit the diet quickly, as it is hard to tolerate.

Roughly six months later, I'm still on the diet and so is the person I referenced before, and that person is having great success thus far. After trying it, I've decided to just adopt it as change to my lifestyle to promote better long term health. There are a lot of other benefits of being in ketosis, for example, especially if you like sports and activities which leave you injured, ketosis naturally reduces inflammation. Ketosis results in a the lack of sugar and carbs in the diet which results in improved teeth health (was quite a bit difference in experience at the dentist after being on ketosis). I do cheat on carbs once and a while on business trips or business dinners, but I've found after this long of being on the diet, that my body seems to fall back into ketosis quite quickly. My morning glucose levels are around 55-65 mg/dL, which is below the point at which most people feel sick. Under ketosis however it just seems normal. I can still successfully do hard core Kali training on the diet, and overall my endurance has actually improved (I'm always in the endurance training "fat" burning state). However I did loose around 35 lbs, most of that being fat, but a lot of muscle too (wasn't lifting any more either). Ketosis basically eats your body fat, and you loose your desire to eat lots of food on the diet (no insulin spikes).

Anyway, if there is anything to learn from this post, when you or someone you know needs to face an obstacle which appears to be the end of the line. Give it everything you have, be willing to think outside conventional wisdom, and I wish you the best of luck!