Dr. Dominic D’Agostino, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology was investigating the reason why navy seals sometimes suddenly experience seizures underwater when using oxygen rebreathers. His exciting research uncovered much more than just the answer to that question, and offers real hope in the fight against cancer.

The object of his study was to find out what was causing navy seals to have seizures underwater, and how to prevent them. He found that neurons in the brain when subjected to high oxygen and high pressure are overstimulated, resulting in a decrease in brain energy metabolism, and causing the potential for a seizure.

These seizures are similar to those experienced by certain epilepsy patients who do not respond to medication but can successfully control their seizures using a special diet. This diet, known as the ketogenic diet, is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. It has been used successfully at Johns Hopkins hospital to treat pediatric epilepsy and is also effective against several other neurological disorders.

While the brain uses glucose as its primary fuel, it can readily adapt to using ketones for energy when glucose is not available. Like the brain, nearly all healthy cells in the body can use ketones as an alternative fuel source. However, cancer cells do not have this ability. D’Agostino likens them to damaged hybrid engines – they use much higher volumes of glucose than normal cells and lack the ability to transition to an alternative fuel source.

This phenomenon was already observed 80 years ago by Nobel prize winner, Otto Warburg, who demonstrated that cancer cells are damaged in their metabolism resulting in higher sugar uptake. His research was validated more recently by Professor Thomas Seyfried, who proved that cancer is a metabolic disease.

Cancer cells are defective in that they are totally dependent on glucose for fuel, and this defect can be targeted with a variety of non-toxic alternative approaches. Cancer cells thrive in a low oxygen, high glucose environment. High pressures of oxygen are therefore damaging to these cells. D’Agostino explains that when subjected to high levels of oxygen they over-produce oxygen free radicals which damage the cancer cell membrane while being totally non-toxic to healthy cells.

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