Cellular Respiration & Degeneration

The human body is a system of systems (organisms within organisms).  Nothing happens in isolation.  Every event within the organism affects the whole and creates a reaction in the whole.  In the 1920s, Otto Warburg and Albert Szent-Gyorgyi demonstrated that respiratory defects in the cell were essential features of cancer and a whole slew of degenerative conditions.  Degeneration accumulates often slowly over time, where its effects are sometimes unnoticeable until that accumulation starts giving signals that one can notice.  Everything in my research seems to always come back to the respiratory status of the cell – how efficiently it produces carbon dioxide “Respiratory physiology holds the key to the special functions of all the organs, and to many of their pathological changes.”(Ray Peat, ‘Altitude and Mortality’)  This seems to be a sort of “root issue” in accumulating degeneration, but reviving the health of the mitochondria of our cells is interconnected with many hormones in the body, too.  So while there are nutritional implements you can use in helping your cells respirate efficiently, there are other hormone issues in the body as well as thyroid function which can antagonize your efforts.  Thankfully, correcting these antagonizing factors has nutritional and activity implements as well.  Efficient cellular respiration is immediately relevant to issues of both alkalosis (most common) and acidosis in the body.  pH balance within the cellular and extracellular fluid is most dramatically dictated by the cell’s ability to breathe.


A SHORT INTRODUCTION to Warburg, Gyorgyi, & Koch: 

“While Warburg was investigating the roles of glycolysis and respiration in cancer, a physician with a background in chemistry, W.F. Koch, in Detroit, was showing that the ability to use oxygen made the difference between health and sickness, and that the cancer metabolism could be corrected by restoring the efficient use of oxygen. He argued that a respiratory defect was responsible for immunodeficiency, allergy, and defective function of muscles, nerves, and secretory cells, as well as cancer. Koch’s idea of cancer’s metabolic cause and its curability directly challenged the doctrine of the genetic irreversibility of cancer that was central to governmental and commercial medical commitments.  Albert Szent-Gyorgyi respected Koch’s work, and spent years investigating the involvement of the lactate metabolites, methylgyoxal and glyoxal, in cell physiology, but since the government’s campaign against Koch was still active when Szent-Gyorgyi came to the U.S., he worked out many of the implications of Koch’s work relating to cellular oxidation without mentioning his name.”


–  Breathing pure oxygen increases oxygen levels in the body tissue

–  High Altitude deprives your body of oxygen


Cellular Respiration is what gives our body energy – to live and to heal and to build.  When cellular respiration is impaired, we are operating at a lower than ideal energy (metabolism); we are producing lower levels of carbon dioxide.  When we are in the presence of too much oxygen, too much carbon dioxide is lost from the body (respiratory alkalosis).  This same effect is seen in hyperventilation (breathing in oxygen excessively).  A common remedy for hyperventilation is breathing into a paper bag, replenishing carbon dioxide.  When our body is deficient in carbon dioxide, lactic acid is formed – which is both a response to low carbon dioxide as well as a CO2 stealer.  Those experiencing an underactive thyroid often have mitochondrial dysfunction because their body has to produce the adaptive stress hormone ‘adrenaline’ often, which increases lactic acid.  Thus, hyperventilation can be an issue even for the sedentary with thyroid problems because adrenaline is causing lactic acid to form which depletes the body of both oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Even moderate aerobic exercise can raise lactate levels enough to experience “respiratory alkalosis” without sufficient quantities of sugars (fruit juices, table sugar) to counteract the stress hormones and to flood the cells with these CO2-inducing substances.

“By increasing the production of lactic acid and the loss of carbon dioxide, exaggerated nervous stimulation can cause a variety of problems, including generalized vasoconstriction and systemic alkalosis, as well as increased intracellular alkalinity. This metabolic pattern is characteristic of many kinds of stress, including cancer. (Elsewhere, I have referred to this pattern as “relative hyperventilation.”)  The production of lactic acid tends to increase the pH inside the cell, and its excretion can lower the pH outside the cell.” (Ray Peat, ‘Protective CO2’)

The research of Dr. Peat as well as Warburg, Gyorgyi, & Koch show that degeneration is often a by-product of alkalosis (having a pH above 7.45) and that the mechanism of pH regulation is intimately connected with cellular respiration and the different factors which antagonize carbon dioxide production in the body.  While carbon dioxide deficiency (alkalosis) is incredibly common, having carbon dioxide acidosis (carbonic acidosis) is not common at all because the body is naturally protective against even large amounts of carbon dioxide.

“The presence of lactic acid in our tissues is very meaningful, but it is normally treated as only an indicator, rather than as a cause, of biological problems. Its presence in rosacea, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, neurological diseases and cancer has been recognized, and recently it is being recognized that suppressing it can be curative, after fifty years of denial.” (Ray Peat, ‘Altitude & Mortality’)




–  Underactive thyroid (often labeled “hypothyroidism”)

–  Estrogen toxicity (essentially, the “aging” or “shock” hormone) (male or female)

–  High levels of serotonin

–  Low carbohydrate diets

–  Aerobic exercise which does not replenish sugars for mitochondrial energy

What are the effects of estrogen toxicity?  “interference with oxidative metabolism [efficient respiration], formation of lipofuscin (the age-pigment), retention of iron, production of free radicals and lipid peroxides, promotion of excitotoxicity and death of nerve cells, impaired learning ability, increased tendency to form blood clots and to have vascular spasms, increased autoimmunity and atrophy of the thymus, elevated prolactin, atrophy of skin, increased susceptibility to a great variety of cancers, lowered body temperature, lower serum albumin, increased tendency toward edema, excessive blood clotting, miscarriage, cancer, age-like changes in connective tissue, premenstrual syndrome, varicose veins, orthostatic hypotension, and many of the features of shock.” (Ray Peat, ‘Not the Female Hormone:  The Shock Hormone’)

Anti-Estrogenic Steroids in the body are synthesized (in the mitochondria) from cholesterol, vitamin A, and thyroid hormone.  These Anti-Estrogenic steroids are known as:  pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone.  In a nutshell, these combat estrogen toxicity.  Estrogen, if not opposed efficiently and in large amounts, is what causes “aging.”  Of course, estrogen will always be there to ensure that we do age – but the fact that women tend to produce more progesterone (the number one antagonist of estrogen) is interesting when considering the overall longer lifespans of women compared to men.

Steps to mitigate estrogen excess production: 

1.  Live on more carbohydrates in the form of fruits/sugar/honey than on fat and protein.  While saturated fats and high quality protein are crucial for life, their excess creates more of a shift to “glycolysis” (respiratory alkalosis) energy metabolism whereas fruits and sugars generate more carbon dioxide in the body.  Sufficient protein every day is essential as well in detoxifying estrogen.  An ideal I have found for a non-active day is:  100g protein a day, 70g fat a day, and 300g carbohydrates a day.

2.  Avoid “essential fatty acids” (any unsaturated fat) – especially the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in:  all vegetable oils (least in olive oil), nuts, seeds, beans, grains, chicken, turkey, duck, and even vegetables (except for carrots).  In addition to their polyunsaturated fat content, nuts/seeds/beans/grains and vegetables contain anti nutrients (for another blog!)

3.  Vitamins A, D, E & K are anti-estrogenic.

High Serotonin?  As I discussed in a previous blog, ‘Serotonin:  Not the Happy Hormone’, 95% of serotonin excretion happens in the intestines and is preeminent in the stress hormone web:  “serotonin regulates circulation and mitochondrial function, temperature, respiration and appetite, alertness and learning, secretion of prolactin, growth hormones and stress hormones, and participates in the most complex biochemical webs” (Danny Roddy, ‘A Bioenergetic View of Serotonin’) 

Having high levels of serotonin in the body creates “glycolysis” or “respiratory alkalosis” which creates lactic acid in the body and a carbon dioxide deficiency:

“Heart failure, hypertension, muscle hyperalgesia (Babenko, et al., 2000), some panic reactions, and other maladaptive biological events associated with problems of energy metabolism, are promoted by excessive serotonin.” (Ray Peat, ‘Serotonin, depression, and aggression:  The problem of brain energy’)

High Serotonin also impairs sugar oxidation, making sugars a “detrimental” substance for many.

A Few Causes of High Serotonin:  *Tryptophan as supplementation or in excessive muscle meat consumption, fasting, having an under-active thyroid (often labeled ‘hypothyroidism’ and discussed in section on estrogen), *low sodium diets, polyunsaturated fatty acids as mentioned earlier in relation to estrogen, and having *endotoxin issues in the gut from bacterial growth on undigested matter.

*Tryptophan in muscle meats is the only known carcinogenic amino acid.  It creates a stress response in the body, releasing serotonin.  In traditional diets, the entire animal was eaten and more gelatin from feet, skin, etc. was consumed simultaneously with the muscle meat.  Gelatin contains the amino acid ‘Glycine’ which is protective against tryptophan when eaten in tandem with moderate amounts of muscle meat.  The gelatin helps to assimilate all the amino acids more effectively as well.

*Increasing sodium in the diet to levels that may seem excessive can be incredibly restorative – not only for mitochondrial dysfunction, but for all conditions associated with respiratory alkalosis.  People with underactive thyroid lose sodium more quickly than others.

“One way of looking at those facts is to see that a lack of sodium slows metabolism, lowers carbon dioxide production, and creates inflammation, stress and degeneration. Rephrasing it, sodium stimulates energy metabolism, increases carbon dioxide production, and protects against inflammation and other maladaptive stress reactions.” (Ray Peat, ‘Salt, energy, metabolic rate, and longevity’)

*Endotoxins in the gut from bacterial growth on food as it is in process of elimination is likely the largest contributor to serotonin release in the body.  Endotoxins cannot be mitigated completely, but a daily carrot salad [described below] is the best way to reduce endotoxin in the gut.  Decreasing the amount of foods you eat with lignans, and raw fibrous foods (raw vegetables, high-fiber fruits) also decreases the likelihood of bacterial growth.

Steps to mitigate excess serotonin production:

1.  Saturated Fatty Acids like animal fat, butter, and coconut oil are anti-serotonin substances

2.  Avoiding raw vegetables and high-fiber fruits to reduce endotoxin.  If wanting vegetables, boiling them excessively breaks down the lignan but the antinutrients and polyunsaturated fats are still there.

3.  Eating a daily raw grated carrot salad with apple cider vinegar and coconut oil.  The ACV and Coco. oil are not necessary but help absorption.  The carrot is the only known substance to have an antibacterial affect inside the gut and is especially useful for keeping the gut on the low scale of endotoxins.

4.  Keeping muscle meat to a minimum (one meal a day) and when eating, consume with gelatin to block tryptophan.  Gelatin comes in powder forms [Great Lakes brand] or you can eat especially gelatinous cuts of muscle meat.  Gelatin can also be obtained from bone broth.  I just put a couple tablespoons of Great Lakes Gelatin in my coffee when I eat muscle meat because the coffee also inhibits iron absorption from meat as well.

5.  Increasing daily sodium intake.  Seems to taste best when balanced with something sweet – like on fruit or by the tablespoon in orange juice.  Remember that if you suspect your thyroid to be under-active, then you need more sodium than people with normal and even optimal thyroids.  As the thyroid heals, less salt will be needed.  Read my blog on sodium to learn more about the best type of salt.

6.  Avoid Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids – see section on mitigating estrogen to see what these are.

7.  Progesterone supplementation:  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/progesterone-summaries.shtml

8.  Caffeine

9.  Niacinamide (also known as Vitamin B3)





The most optimal state for the body to be in as far as energy, functionality, healing, and mitigating degeneration is in a state of OXIDATIVE METABOLISM.  In this state, the mitochondria of the cell are respirating efficiently and the body is having to release very little lactic acid as a response to carbon dioxide deficiency.  Warburg, Gyorgyi, & Koch demonstrated in the 1920s how “respiratory alkalosis” (producing too much lactic acid) was the foundation for not only degeneration in general, but specifically cancer.  As I outlined very briefly here, there are many mechanisms which contribute to and perpetuate a state of “respiratory alkalosis”:  under-active thyroid (often labeled as ‘hypothyroidism’), excess estrogen, excess serotonin, low-carbohydrate consumption, aerobic exercise, and really any nutritional deficiency.



1.  http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/altitude-mortality.shtml

2.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/serotonin-depression-aggression.shtml

3.  http://www.dannyroddy.com/main/2013/5/21/a-bioenergetic-view-of-high-fat-diets

4.  http://www.dannyroddy.com/main/2013/6/4/a-bioenergetic-view-of-estrogen-not-the-female-hormone

5.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/lactate.shtml

6.  http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/tryptophan-serotonin-aging.shtml

7.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/vegetables.shtml

8.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/gelatin.shtml

9.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/salt.shtml

10.  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturatedfats.shtml

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