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Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

Publish date:
May 25, 2021
Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat―and what it means for how we should.

The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg―a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs―was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He was also among the most despised figures in Nazi Germany. As a Jewish homosexual living openly with his male partner, Warburg represented all that the Third Reich abhorred. Yet Hitler and his top advisors dreaded cancer, and protected Warburg in the hope that he could cure it.

In Ravenous, Sam Apple reclaims Otto Warburg as a forgotten, morally compromised genius who pursued cancer single-mindedly even as Europe disintegrated around him. While the vast majority of Jewish scientists fled Germany in the anxious years leading up to World War II, Warburg remained in Berlin, working under the watchful eye of the dictatorship. With the Nazis goose-stepping their way across Europe, systematically rounding up and murdering millions of Jews, Warburg awoke each morning in an elegant, antiques-filled home and rode horses with his partner, Jacob Heiss, before delving into his research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.

Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against an absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrives at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbreaking, his work was soon eclipsed in the early postwar era, after the discovery of the structure of DNA set off a search for the genetic origins of cancer.

Remarkably, Warburg’s theory has undergone a resurgence in our own time, as scientists have begun to investigate the dangers of sugar and the link between obesity and cancer, finding that the way we eat can influence how cancer cells take up nutrients and grow. Rooting his revelations in extensive archival research as well as dozens of interviews with today’s leading cancer authorities, Apple demonstrates how Warburg’s midcentury work may well hold the secret to why cancer became so common in the modern world and how we can reverse the trend. A tale of scientific discovery, personal peril, and the race to end a disastrous disease, Ravenous would be the stuff of the most inventive fiction were it not, in fact, true.

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I read the full book and highly recommend it as a great mix of science and history that shows how difficult it is to do good science. The history of Hitler and vegetarian ideology is also really fascinating. The book doesn't cover too much the metabolic press/pulse ideas that are better covered in books like Tripping over the Truth by Travis Christofferson, but it reads similarly to books like The Fourth Fuel: Ketones.

Author Website
Author Location
Sam Apple
Somatic Theory of Cancer
Consensus Cancer Views
Ketone Bodies
Ketone bodies, also known as ketones, are a group of molecules produced by the liver during the breakdown of fatty acids. Ketone bodies are produced in the liver through a process called ketogenesis. This occurs when the body's carbohydrate intake is low, such as during periods of fasting, prolonged exercise, or when following a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. The three main ketone bodies produced by the liver are acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).
Big Cancer
Big Cancer describes the large Cancer industry that generally supports the Somatic Theory of Cancer. Due to this, they typically use surgery, chemo, and radiation to remove cancer, which costs a great deal of money and typically kills the patient faster.
USA History
British History
Important events in British history related to diet and nutrition.
Vegetarian Myth
Cancer is a metabolic disease where the mitochrondria are no longer able to burn fatty acids and instead rely on fermentation of glucose and glutamine. Ketogenic diets have been used to prevent and cure cancer, as they induce a metabolic stress on cancer cells who cannot use ketones as fuel.
Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet involves eating high fat, low carbs, and moderate protein. To be in ketosis, one must eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.
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