If there was a single treatment that I could give to my cancer patients, one that is free of charge for life, tremendously effective and much safer to have than not have, that would be exercise.
Conversely, I have never seen any more widespread threats to duration and quality of life than these three risky behaviors: reckless driving, recreational substance abuse and a sedentary lifestyle. Reckless driving, fortunately, is relatively rare, as most of us seem to be able to stay in our lane and stop at the red lights, with some remarkable and hair-raising exceptions on our roads and highways.
However, the most common major reckless behavior of our time, sedentary lifestyle, is casually indulged by a majority of 21st century Americans. It is casually indulged, as if there were no victims to this behavior, and as if no harm is expected to come of it. Both assumptions are false, for the following reasons.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, broken up into any intervals, of any combination of sports or other movement, for every living person. To state the obvious but incomprehensible: This means you -regardless of who you are, your age, your pathetic excuses or your health condition. This recommendation is for Americans of both genders and every last generation even at the extremes, and it is seconded by the Centers for Disease Control.i The benefits of long-term exercise have been known throughout human history. Hippocrates warned circa 400 BC, “Eating alone will not keep a man well. He must also take exercise.”ii
I cannot tell you how many sedentary people come in to me amazed when they do not get better, having not comprehended my many exhortations to move and to move frequently, and that their very lives depend on it.
Yet contemporary Americans are content to leave sports to star athletes and youthful up-and-comers. Only 1 in 5 Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. The rest are literally time bombs for chronic disease. Worse yet, nearly half of high school students – at or near peak physical performance of their lives – do not have a weekly PE class.iii
The recklessness of not exercising includes a greatly increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, as exercise is now known as the most effective intervention against onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. This poses a threat not only to the wellbeing and quality of life of the individual, but to his safety and that of his family. Likewise, the older woman who chooses not to exercise has increasingly brittle bones, a life-threatening hip fracture waiting to happen. Pre-diabetes and full-blown Type II diabetes are far more prevalent among the sedentary, because lack of exercise impedes blood sugar metabolism.
The most stubbornly sedentary among us may be asking why humans are cursed with exercise as a pre-requisite and co-requisite of good health. I may as well ask why I was cursed with having to nag people to move day after day and decade after decade, in order to help them to get well.
But it is not only these diseases that are very high risk for those with a sedentary lifestyle. Cancer is more likely to strike the sedentary than the non-sedentary. There you have it – the cause of cancer:
In an experiment with mice that were genetically disposed to age prematurely, Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Ontario, divided the mice into two groups. The first group of mice were sedentary. The second group were coaxed on a treadmill three times per week. As expected, the sedentary mice had weaker hearts, thin fur, worse hearing and were shivering in a corner. The healthy mice had sleek coats, ran around their cages, reproduced. However, with regard to cancer, when the mice were sacrificed at the end of the study, half of the sedentary mice had tumors. None of the active mice had any tumors at all.iv None!
There could not be a more stark contrast between a group that’s high risk for cancer and a group that’s low risk than these sedentary versus active mice.
In my clinic, I exhort people to exercise, and I see all kinds of people. Some are already on their treadmills or other exercise of their choice. The majority tell me they don’t exercise much, and that they don’t mind going for a walk in the cool weather. Here in the Phoenix area, some consider cool weather to be only the six months from mid-October to early April. So I often hear from patients that they don’t want to walk, or haven’t been walking because it’s too hot.
We look for other forms of exercise that they would be willing to do. We talk about in-home equipment, such as weights and stationary bikes. I tell them that if they live close to a tennis court, they’ll play more tennis than me, or if they have a pool, that would be a great option. Very many of my cancer patients find any exercise anathema, and content themselves with making plans for future exercise, rather than getting up today to start moving. Sometimes the late-stage patients decide that they want to spend their days in a wheelchair, rather than the walker that we agreed on. I almost always hate to see this, because, unless they are willing to lift weights and do some aerobic exercises while in the chair, I think the very act of starting to spend time in a wheelchair is going to shorten their lives.
But I am not giving up on any of my patients. The ones in wheelchairs should lift cans of soup or similar weights, for 10 to 20 reps, 3 times per day. The mobile patients should find ways to get to the 150 minutes or more. I exercise about 270 minutes per week, and encourage that for the more fit ones.
Then there are those who insist that, either by laziness or inconvenience or distaste, they will not exercise, I tell them that they need to get into my hyperbaric chamber (HBOT) instead – a more expensive, and possibly not quite as good, alternative to exercise. I recommend this second alternative, the HBOT, so that we can at least accomplish the major benefit that exercise confers in fighting cancer – the benefit of oxygen.
Oxygen uptake is perhaps the best benefit of exercise to a cancer patient. Intense exercise maximizes oxygen uptake. Oxygen at the cellular level is absolutely necessary to nourish our cells, to produce energy, to disassemble and eliminate waste products from our cells, to balance pH and to enhance our immune function. These are essential tasks for the cells of non-cancer and cancer patients alike. These tasks are necessary in the tissue of the cancer patient that we are trying to protect from metastasis, as well as for the tissue already damaged by cancer.
Decreased blood and oxygen flow to vital organs create the setting in which cancer takes its very first stab at the body. In fact, a carcinogen, as defined by Otto Warburg, is a substance that deprives a cell of oxygen, and that causes that cell to convert from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism – the metabolism of cancer cells. This, as Warburg showed almost 100 years ago, is the initial cause of cancer. He studied many carcinogens, and found that what they had in common, every single one, was the ability to block the cell’s uptake of oxygen.
When you consider all the wasted research dollars and time attempting to chase quickly mutating genes to try to associate one more with cancer than others, with vanishing results, as one expensive lab test cannot reproduce another, the answer was right there all the time, and it is this:
All cancer arises from oxygen deprivation to the cells. All carcinogens have in common that they deprive cells of oxygen. And the first part of the cell damaged is not the DNA, not the genes, not at all. The first part of the cell that is damaged is the mitochondria, site of oxygen utilization and the electron transport chain.
Warburg said, “Cancer has only one prime cause. The prime cause of cancer is the replacement of normal oxygen respiration of body cells by an anaerobic cell respiration.v
Cancer seems to be an “obligate anaerobe,” that is, that it requires to some extent an oxygen-free environment.vi To the extent this is true, it makes cancer treatment easier. Our solution: provide oxygen to the patient. How do we do that? If the sedentary patient sits comfortably while hooked up to an oxygen tank, this is not the best way to aerate the body. Only the blood flow and increased lung work induced by exercise will get oxygen efficiently used in the body.
The point of all that effort is to get oxygen into the cell. Let’s examine what happens when a normal cell receives increased oxygen. Oxidative phosphorylation is the primary metabolic pathway. The electron transport chain is engaged, as well the citric acid cycle, and the mitochondria are able to function in providing energy to the cell, to carry out cell functions, to thrive, eliminate wastes and reproduce.
In a cancerous cell, which is a formerly normal but now damaged cell, cellular respiration has converted to anaerobic. When these cells are oxygenated, the remaining normal mitochondria in the previously damaged cell are able to return to normal function and resume metabolism as a normal cell.
Another oxygenating treatment that we do at my clinic is ozone. Whereas oxygen is found in nature as O2, which is two oxygen molecules covalently bonded together, ozone is O3. When we combine ozone with the cancer patient’s blood, in a short time the O3 breaks into O2 and a single O, which then is attracted to and grabs any nearby anaerobes. This includes not only viruses and bacteria, but also cancer cells, destroying them.
Cancer cells have been shown in numerous studies to die in the presence of even a small amount of ozone. One study showed lung, breast and uterine cancers dying at only 0.3 to 0.8 parts ozone per million, with the higher concentration killing more of the cancer cells.vii
Likewise, hyperbaric oxygen therapy works similarly, yet more effectively. By increasing pressure of room air in a closed environment, more oxygen from the room air is forced into the body and into the blood. By Henry’s law, we know that pressure increases the plasma concentration of a gas. In the case of 1.3 atm of room air, the resulting concentration of oxygen in the plasma is increased by 50%.viii HBOT treatments have been a wonderful boon to natural health care, with very far ranging effects from neurological repair of many kinds, its most lauded and noteworthy effect, to wound-healing and the disruption of cancer metabolism.
i American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/acsm-in-the-news/2011/08/01/acsm-aha-support-federal-physical-activity-guidelines.
iii Oaklander M. The new science of exercise. Time: The Science of Exercise. http://time.com/4475628/the-new-science-of-exercise/
vi DeClerck K, Elble RC. The role of hypoxia and acidosis in promoting metastasis and resistance to chemotherapy. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed) 2010;15:213–225. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20036816
viii Efrati S, Golan H, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can diminish fibromyalgia syndrome. Plos One. 2015; 10(5): e0127012. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127012