Ted Talk Tuesday – Starving cancer: Dominic D’Agostino at TEDxTampaBay

Hey guys, I wanted to start a weekly segment on the blog to showcase all of the amazing Ted talks that cover health and wellness from a holistic approach. This segment will include talks from any of the Pillars of Health.

I am not affiliated with any of these speakers, I just wanted to shed light on their approaches and see what key points we can take from them to much us better happier humans.

I hope you all enjoy this addition to the less than frequent posting I have been doing. I am trying to change that, but alas, sometimes life has other plans.

Without further adieu, today I wanted to share Dominic D’Agostino Ted talk with you. Dr. D’Agostino is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida. He also teaches at the Morsani College of Medicine and the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology. If that wasn’t enough he is also a Research Scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC)[1]. He is well known for studying the ketogenic diet. He and his research team looks at “using metabolic therapies for CNS oxygen toxicity (seizures), epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, brain cancer and muscle wasting associated motorneuron diseases and cancer[2].” Check out his papers on Researchgate.

Now that we know a little about Dr. D’Agostino, let’s dive into his Ted Talk! His talk is about Cancer prevention via nutritional therapies, specifically using a high fat, low carb diet to trigger the production of ketones. It is effective because most cancer cells lack the ability to utilize anything other than glucose (sugar) as fuel. The lack of fuel for the cells causes the cancer cell to go through the process of apoptosis (programmed cell death.) As long as the cancer cell has glucose it is able to bypass normal apoptosis[3]. People smarter than I simplify some cancers as uncontrolled growth, due to the lack of proper cell death. Note that this is a very simple look at cancer, this leaves a lot of detail out. If you want to learn more about it check out the book Tipping Over The Truth, it gives a good picture of cancer and its possible treatments.

Here are my notes from the talk:

  • Dr. D’Agostino started out by trying to fix a Navy SEAL diver problem, the answer also lead to a better understanding of neurological diseases and cancer.
  • The problem that the SEAL divers were having dealt with an oxygen rebreather. It was needed for their missions, the side effects however sometimes included oxygen-induced seizures.
  • These seizures occur with no warning, and at the time there was no way to combat them.
  • The source of the seizures was because the neurons in the brain, when subjected to high pressure and high oxygen, were overstimulated. This overstimulation caused a decrease in brain energy metabolism. This causes a potential for a for a seizure.
  • These oxygen-induced seizures are similar to the drug-resistant epileptic seizures. Those who have drug-resistant seizures can utilize a diet to help manage and possibly prevent their seizures.
  • One such example is Mike Dancer. Drugs were able to lessen his seizures, however, it caused unfavorable side effects. He then utilized a Ketogenic diet which mitigated his seizures even further.
  • The [Therapeutic]  Ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrates (2%) and very high in fat (75%), people have used this diet for years to regulate/reduce their body weight, and control/reduce their blood glucose levels.
  • More importantly, the Ketogenic diet has been proven to control seizures when drugs fail.
  • The Charlie Foundation is the largest advocate for the utilization of the Ketogenic diets as a nutritional therapy.
  • The Ketogenic diet is useful for a wide range of neurological disorders, including Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome.
  • Children with Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome, lack the ability to transport glucose into the brain, this means their brains are starved of glucose. This caused the potential for seizures.
  • It is known that the brain can use glucose as its primary fuel, however, it can also adapt to using ketones for fuel.
  • The brain is like a hybrid engine, glucose is used as the primary fuel; if there is not enough glucose in the system it can switch to utilizing ketones as an alternative fuel source.
  • Ketone supplements have been creating for the Navy SEAL divers to exploit their neuroprotective effect, which will help to eliminate the oxygen-induced seizures.
  • A ketone supplement allows you the benefits of a ketogenic diet without having to adhere to the dietary protocol.
  • There are many therapeutic applications for ketones because nearly all healthy cells can as ketones as fuel.
  • Cancer cells, however, lack the ability to use ketones as fuel; they can only be fueled by glucose.
  • Cancer cells also utilize a greater amount of glucose than other healthy undamaged cells.
  • Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize for his experiments that demonstrated that cancer cells are damaged in their metabolism, which results in high glucose uptake.
  • Thomas Seyfried helped validate Warburgs’ hypothesis and proving that cancer is a metabolic disease.
  • In Seyfried’s experiments, he identified that there is a specific metabolic defect in cancer cells that causes glucose dependency.
  • We can target the weakness with a variety of nontoxic alternative approaches.
  • High pressures of oxygen can damage cancer cells. This causes them to overproduce oxygen free radicals, which damages the cell membrane.
  • The level of oxygen that damaged the cancer cells have no effect on healthy cells.
  • These observations inspired the use of the ketogenic diets along with the hyperbaric oxygen (pressurized oxygen) in a mouse study to treat cancer.
  • The outcome of the study offered a promising nontoxic approach to dealing with cancer.
  • Can we manage cancer with non-toxic strategies? So far, it seems that we can.
  • Future treatments for many of these diseases may end up going back to the ancient wisdom given to us by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine.”

There are my notes on this ted talk. I really like Dr. D’Agostino’s take on cancer as a metabolic disease. Because it is when we use that paradigm, instead of seeming as a genetic disease,  that we can start to move the treatment needle in a positive direction.

Can all cancers be beaten my diet alone? No, however, the studies seem to indicate that they can lessen the need for toxic treatments, like chemo.

They also seem to be neuronal protective, which means we can stay sharper longer. Is a Ketogenic diet good for everyone? No one can answer that because only the person undergoing the dietary change can answer that.

At the end of the day, the diet that you should be on is the diet that works for you. Meaning one that will allow you to look, feel and perform your best, while also being able to adhere to it. This will take some self-evaluation on your part, but the results will be greater than the time you put into finding it. In a later post, I will be going into a few ways you can self-evaluation if a dietary change is working for you.


[1]: http://www.dominicdagostino.com/

[2]: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dominic_DAgostino

[3]: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1407.7622.pdf

[4]: https://youtu.be/3fM9o72ykww

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