Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Few people ever consider the fact that every one of our 70-100 trillion cells has to generate energy to function. The title of this blog is “Oxygen, the Spark of Life” and all previous posts have dealt with the chemistry generated by its consumption in oxidation. Those that consider energy synthesis as the mainspring of what “makes us tick” have wondered whether it is chemical or electric energy that provides physical and mental function.
We know, of course, that electricity is indeed generated in the body since we get information from tools such as the electroencephalogram and electrocardiogram. But how is this electric energy generated and does it play a part in thinking or physical activity? Is it a result of function or is it a driving force?
Well, we can get some biologically important information from the research that has been performed in the electric eel, electrophorus electricus. This animal can produce an electrostatic charge of 500 volts to stun or kill its prey. The electric organ is formed by a neuromuscular junction where the message delivered by the nerve is passed to the organ that is being signaled. In the electric eel, this junction has been evolutionally adapted from a mechanism similar to that which we possess. A nerve arising from the brain carries a message that results in the formation of a chemical called acetyl-choline. This is a neurotransmitter, so called because it is released into the neuromuscular junction and takes part in the activation of the organ to which the message is being sent. Without going into the technical details, acetyl-choline is used in the human brain and in many of our nerves in the nervous system. In the electric eel this neuromuscular junction has been adapted to form a condenser, an instrument well known to electrical engineers. That means, of course, that chemical energy, represented in acetyl-choline,in some way enables the transduction of chemical to electric energy. Since this kind of nervous system mechanism is on the same basis in all higher animals we can extrapolate the concept that our nervous system does indeed generate electrical energy, but it is only measured in microvolts since it has not been adapted in the same way as in the electric eel.
We now know that energy is constant. When it is used to perform active function, it is transduced to another form. A simple example is a car. The engine generates energy from the combustion of fuel. The energy is guided through a series of levers (the transmission) to the wheels, enabling the energy to be used in moving the car. At each step of the process, some of the energy is wasted in friction, heat and noise, thus making a car about 30% efficient. That means that about 70% of the energy from fuel is wasted. In Newtonian physics, the chemical energy is transduced to kinetic energy (i.e. movement of the car). The human body has exactly the same problems to overcome but the details are widely different. Chemical energy is generated from food and some of it is transduced to electric energy as noted above. We are, in fact, hybrids like some of the newer cars. Efficiency of the brain/body is assessed at about 70%, very different from the huge loss of energy that occurs in a modern car. We know that acupuncture works and it is quite probable that it is because it stimulates the flow of energy that has been called “chi” for thousands of years. Perhaps this is electromagnetic energy or even a form of energy not yet discovered. The ancient Chinese had developed the concept that “chi” flowed through the channels that they called meridians and that this was the driving force for function. It is beginning to look as though they were dead right. We can begin to understand why some of the therapeutic methods used in Complementary Alternative Medicine use low volt electric tools. It has already been published that low volt electric currents can be used to help fractured bones to heal and various forms of electrotherapy were used by many physicians in the late 19th century.
Another important fact to note is that acetyl choline, a major neurotransmitter as I have already indicated, is generated from the "engines” of our cells. This “engine” is known as the citric acid cycle. Without going into the technical details, the fuel used for this remarkable “engine” is glucose, the sugar that is produced from our foods. It is this that has given rise to the idea that eating sugar is a way to produce “quick energy”. Unfortunately this requires extremely complex chemistry by which the glucose is extracted from food and processed into the “engines” of our cells. That is the reason that we never find sugar in its free form in nature. It is always wrapped up in a root, a stem or a leaf and the fiber is an important part of the processing to create the fuel in its required presentation to the “engine”.
In a previous post I have discussed the fact that eating foods that are high in calorie production and devoid of the vitamins and minerals that enable oxidation (combustion) can be compared with a “choked engine” in a car. The fuel is incompletely burned because the ratio of fuel to oxygen is high. The incomplete combustion produces black smoke from the exhaust and represents unburned hydrocarbons. The same thing occurs if the spark plug is not functioning efficiently. Thus, glucose is to gasoline what vitamins and minerals are to the spark plug and the cylinders. Vitamins “ignite” the fuel and cylinders guide the energy to the transmission. This is achieved by complex chemistry in the body and needs to be understood and used by physicians in order to solve the problems of disease.We defend ourselves from the hostile nature of our environment and that requires energy.
Finally, I want to point out that loss of efficiency in the citric acid cycle “engine” can easily result in a dysfunctional production of acetyl choline. Both branches of the autonomic nervous require this neurotransmitter and I have reason to hypothesize that eating simple sweet carbohydrates is a major cause of dysfunction in this automatic nervous system. Its constantly balanced reactions provide us with the ability to adapt to both phyhsical and mental environmental changes that constitute "stress". I have called the resulting dysfunction “Functional Dysautonomia” and because I have seen so much of it in my practice, I have reason to believe that it is one of the commonest presentations of chronic disease in our culture. It causes a huge number of symptoms and because of our present approach to specialization among physicians, the gastro-intestinal symptoms are referred to a gastro-enterologist, nervous symptoms to a neurologist, and heart symptoms to a cardiologist etc. By recognizing that a patient with Functional Dysautonomia is basically maladapted to the inevitable physical and mental environmental stresses encountered daily, we can begin to see that "psychosomatic" disease really does not exist. It is fundamental biochemistry that requires our attention and as I have pointed out in post after post, oxygen is the key!
It seems to me that an understanding of energy metabolism and the proper use of nutrients is the next paradigm shift in our concepts of health and disease. It is paradoxical that the great Louis Pasteur gave us the first paradigm in the discovery of disease causing micro-organisms. He may well have given us the next paradigm since he said on his death bed “ I was wrong: it is the body defenses that are more important

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