Apoptosis/Necrosis versus Cancer as a Defense Mechanism

And Why I Consider N-Acetyl Cysteine Essential for Beating Cancer

by Marc Swanepoel, Naturopathic PhD

All cells require energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). This substance cannot be stored in the cells and at any stage we have enough to last for about 3 to 5 seconds. It is thus a continuous process. A few billion years ago, primitive cells (eukaryotes) evolved the process of producing ATP energy without the use of oxygen by a process of glycolysis. Later on in the evolutionary process, when oxygen became part of the atmosphere, certain types of bacteria evolved a much more efficient way of producing ATP by utilizing oxygen through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). This new process was roughly 20 times more efficient than the glycolysis process.

Approximately two billion years ago, these bacteria and the original eukaryotes fused into a symbiotically functioning and more complex cell system. Researchers now acknowledge that the bacterial component of cells is the cellular mitochondria. All cells, with the exclusion of red blood cells, can have thousands of the mitochondria. These new "symbionts" can switch between the two systems of ATP production, depending on the demands of the cells. During the fetal stage and repair of cell damage, they switch to the ATP production from glucose in the cytoplasm. During the cell differentiation stage, they switch to the OXPHOS system of oxidative ATP production in the cell mitochondria. The switching system itself is controlled by an intricate signaling system that depends on the permeability of the mitochondrial membrane and its influence on the Ca 2+ cycle, the electrical charge across the mitochondrial membrane and other factors. All these factors, in turn, are modulated by the so-called thiol pool of which glutathione is the most important component (the Cysteine in NAC is used to produce Glutathione in the body).

When body cells are under oxidative or nitrosative stresses caused by environmental factors and/or life style, the thiol pool (especially glutathione) normally gets depleted and, with it, the ability of the mitochondria to produce ATP through the OXPHOS system. As a defensive measure, the mitochondrial switch puts the cells into the more primitive way of survival by reverting to the much less efficient enzymatic production of ATP in the cytoplasm. If the aforementioned stresses are chronic, the switch remains in this position and we call the condition "cancer" - identified by the undifferentiated division of cells.

If the cut-off of ATP production by the OXPHOS system is sudden, the cells will die and the process is known as 'necrosis' or sudden cell death. If it is more gradual, the affected cells can 'commit suicide', a process know as 'apoptosis'. Treatments like the acetogenins in Paw-Paw extract, Graviola and similar plants, Cantron, Protocel, as well as certain chemotherapy drugs like Tarceva, have the effect of reducing the ATP in all cells and it is then hoped that the described 'apoptosis' of cancer cells will take place. Because of the fact that the ATP production of ALL cells is reduced, one can feel very tired when using these supplements or chemo treatments.

Another very important fact is that the apoptosis of cancer cells will only take place if the mitochondrial membrane is still permeable and the CA 2+ cycle is still working. In all advanced cancers, this permeability is blocked as part of the defence mechanism of cells and apoptosis CANNOT take place, however much Paw-Paw extract, ATP reducing supplement, or chemo one takes. One can thus see that the treatment will work in some cases where the cancer is at a stage where the mitochondrial switch is still fluctuating between the two methods of ATP production. This 'window of opportunity' is relatively short and when metastases have appeared, it is normally a sign that the mitochondrial membranes are blocked. The only alternative is then to reactivate the mitochondrial switch by getting rid of the oxidative and nitrosative stresses, and by topping up the depleted glutathione. Nothing else will work.

The danger in using substances that will reduce ATP and/or glutathione is twofold. As the reduction of ATP and/or glutathione is not restricted to cancer cells it can (a) result in cells that are not yet cancerous becoming cancerous and (b) result in fungal and bacterial overgrowth that can be dangerous for weakened patients. If one looks up the known side-effects of chemotherapy drugs like Tarceva, for example, one will see that they are all associated with a reduction in energy and the inability of cells to defend themselves against internal pathogens (fatigue, rash, infection, mouth sores, etc). Therefore, a successful treatment of cancer must reverse the process of thiol depletion. Glutathione consists of the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine but it is the cysteine that is normally the limiting factor. It is also important to know that it is the reduced form of glutathione (known as GSH) that is the most important anti-oxidant in the body. The Cysteine component of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) can be used by the body to produce glutathione (in its reduced form - GSH) PROVIDED that certain co-factors like Selenium, Vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, Curcumin (to supply important electronic charges) and plant substances (anthocyanins, flavonoids, etc - supplied by oleander) are also present to activate the enzyme systems that are required in this very complex process. Cysteine-providing substances like NAC are thus ESSENTIAL in reversing the cancer process.

The Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) producing treatments are measures with a very limited period of effectiveness and the added danger that they can induce exactly the oxidative stress situation that causes the cancer in the first place!! The NAC articles mention the role of ROS produced by cancer cells in bringing about apoptosis or cell-suicide (ROS are commonly known as 'free radicals' and are produced in many metabolic processes). NAC produces glutathione and glutathione neutralizes ROS. That is the main reason why the NAC is, according to the orthodox theory, not wanted. The alternative cancer theory sees ROS as the cause of cancer. It is precisely because of the chronic 'oxidative stress' brought on by ROS when there is a depletion of glutathione that cells become cancer cells as an evolutionary protection mechanism . Therefore to advocate the process that (according to the alternative theory of cancer) is the cause of cancer, is to confuse cause with effect and is, in my opinion, very dangerous. And unlike the way it is portrayed in some of the articles, the above information is not based on ancient research, but on research done in the late 80s, the 90s and more recently. I would suggest that people who want to get a better understanding of the alternative theory, read the book by Dr Heinrich Kremer, "The Silent Revolution in Cancer and AIDS Medicine". According to the theory of 'Cancer as a Protection Mechanism' as proposed by Heinrich Kremer, Alfred Hassig, and others, Otto Warburg's suggestion in the early 1920s that cancer was caused by a structural defect in the respiratory chain of the mitochondria (where ATP is produced), was only partially correct. Later research showed that the problem was a FUNCTIONAL defect in the respiratory chain as a RESULT of oxidative stress.

About the author

Marc Swanepoel is a Naturopathic PhD and longtime cancer and HIV pioneer, researcher and crusader.  Among many notable achievements, he is the developer of the oleander-based Sutherlandia OPC supplement line which has been used around the world against cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis-C and much more.

See also:

A Brief Discussion on Oleander's Effectiveness Against Cancer

A Rational Theory of Cancer