Cancer. Despite the millions of hours of research, and billions of dollars spent in search of a cure, we still don’t have one. A complicated, elusive disease which has a multitude of causes, cancer can be approached by means of two main theories:

  1. The Somatic, or Gene theory of cancer
  2. The Metabolic theory of cancer

The Somatic or Gene Theory of Cancer

The somatic, or gene theory of cancer has been the driving force behind cancer research and cancer treatment during the 20th, and now into the 21st century, however, evidence is accumulating that as a viable theory, it is sorely lacking. (1) Despite some very significant and hopeful breakthroughs in immunotherapy drugs, the incidences of cancer continue to increase, and along with them, cancer deaths.

  • Cancer is now the second leading cause of death after heart disease. Further, it is expected to surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the near future.
  • 1 in 2 males and 1 in 3 females will experience a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
  • An average of 1600 cancer deaths occur each day in the United States. (2)

The gene theory of cancer proposes that cancer arises when the DNA of the cell (located in the cell’s nucleus) becomes damaged and mutates into a cancerous cell. However, it is estimated that only 5-10% of cancers have genetic causes. And what exactly is damaging the DNA? The nucleus and DNA of our cells have very robust mechanisms of repair, however the mitochondria do not. (3)

The mitochondria, organelles located in the cytoplasm of the cell (surrounding the nucleus) are the energy factories of the cell. Their ability to remain healthy and strong are what give us energy, and ultimately life. So perhaps, we should be paying more attention to our mitochondria in our quest to cure cancer and other chronic conditions.

The Metabolic Theory of Cancer

Thankfully, some researchers and practitioners are doing just that, and thus we have a revitalization of Nobel prize- winning German scientist, Otto Warburg’s metabolic theory of cancer. Warburg’s research showed that it is the initial damage to the mitochondria which in turn damages the cells metabolism, creating an environment in which cancer is initiated. Further, Warburg discovered that all cancers use fermentation to generate energy and proliferate. This is different from the way that healthy cells generate energy.

So, those other 90-95% of cancers are caused not by DNA damage, but by mitochondrial damage. A metabolic approach to cancer focuses on what causes the mitochondrial damage and how it might be repaired. Supporting our Mitochondria The damage to our mitochondria is directly related to how we fuel our bodies, how we interact with our environment, and how we respond to the stress in our lives. Some of the main culprits of mitochondrial damage:

Root Causes of Mitochondrial Damage

  • Chemical and toxin exposure
  • High blood sugar/hyperglycemia
  • High insulin/hyperinsulinemia
  • Radiation
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic stress and unresolved trauma

Damaged mitochondria are the primary initiators of cancer. Healthy mitochondria will maintain a healthy, energetic cell, which will, in turn, support the health of the genome of the cell, allowing the DNA repair process to happen, and promoting genomic stability. (4) A metabolic approach to cancer prevents or mitigates damage to the mitochondria, but even if damage does occur, a metabolic remedy, such as nutrition is recommended and other nontoxic supportive therapies are recommended. (5)

Ways to Support and Repair Your Mitochondria

  • Low-carbohydrate/therapeutic ketogenic diet
  • Calorie restriction
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Elimination of environmental toxins
  • Detoxification of toxins already accumulated by the body
  • Developing stress resiliency
  • Exercise and body movement

The metabolic approach takes effort, but it beautifully gives the power back to the person to take an active role in their health and healing. Author Kelly Turner’s metaphor of a garden is perfect here:

“We are the head gardener in the garden that is our body, soul, mind system” 

It is our work to cultivate that garden by nourishing the “soil” so that the garden can flourish. (6) Much is being written about a metabolic approach to cancer, and I recommend the book “A Metabolic Approach to Cancer” by Dr. Nasha Winter, ND, L,Ac., FABNO, and Jess Higgins Kelley, MNT. It is my go-to primer on this subject and contains many practical steps one can take to support their metabolic health. For a scientific deep-dive on this subject, see the work of Dr. Thomas Seyfried, author of Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.  



  1. Sonnenschein C, Soto AM. Somatic mutation theory of carcinogenesis: why it should be dropped and replaced. Mol Carcinog. 2000;29(4):205-211. doi:10.1002/1098-2744(200012)29:4<205::aid-mc1002>;2-w
  2. Winters, Dr. Nasha, ND L.Ac., FABNO, Higgins Kelley, Jess, MNT, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2017, Chapter 1
  3. D’Agostino, Dr. Dominic, Emerging Applications of Nutritional Ketosis,
  4. D’Agostino
  5. Winters, Higgins Kelley, Chapter 1
  6. Winters, Higgins Kelley, Forward