Cell Energy and Cell Functions

Cells manage a wide range of functions in their tiny package — growing, moving, housekeeping, and so on — and most of those functions require energy. But how do cells get this energy in the first place? And how do they use it in the most efficient manner possible?

Where Do Cells Obtain Their Energy?

An illustration shows a flowering plant adjacent to the sun. An inset box in the lower left corner shows a close up view of a single leaf. In this box an arrow points from the sun to the leaf's surface.

Figure 1: For photosynthetic cells, the main energy source is the sun. For photosynthetic cells, the main energy source is the sun.© 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved.

Cells, like humans, cannot generate energy without locating a source in their environment. However, whereas humans search for substances like fossil fuels to power their homes and businesses, cells seek their energy in the form of food molecules or sunlight. In fact, the Sun is the ultimate source of energy for almost all cells, because photosynthetic prokaryotes, algae, and plant cells harness solar energy and use it to make the complex organic food molecules that other cells rely on for the energy required to sustain growth, metabolism, and reproduction (Figure 1).Cellular nutrients come in many forms, including sugars and fats. In order to provide a cell with energy, these molecules have to pass across the cell membrane, which functions as a barrier — but not an impassable one. Like the exterior walls of a house, the plasma membrane is semi-permeable. In much the same way that doors and windows allow necessities to enter the house, various proteins that span the cell membrane permit specific molecules into the cell, although they may require some energy input to accomplish this task (Figure 2).

A series of four photomicrographs show an amoeba engulfing a yeast cell.
Figure 2: Cells can incorporate nutrients by phagocytosis. This amoeba, a single-celled organism, acquires energy by engulfing nutrients in the form of a yeast cell (red). Through a process called phagocytosis, the amoeba encloses the yeast cell with its membrane and draws it inside. Specialized plasma membrane proteins in the amoeba (in green) are involved in this act of phagocytosis, and they are later recycled back into the amoeba after the nutrients are engulfed.© 2006 The Company of Biologists All rights reserved.

Today we do not have enough nutrients in our food some times we need a substitute and we use in our Centre a very powerful product called Laminine.

The bioactive peptides in Laminine stimulate the dormant stem cells to utilize the phyto amino acids and marine protein to repair damaged aged cells.

How Do Cells Turn Nutrients into Usable Energy?

Complex organic food molecules such as sugars, fats, and proteins are rich sources of energy for cells because much of the energy used to form these molecules is literally stored within the chemical bonds that hold them together. Scientists can measure the amount of energy stored in foods using a device called a bomb calorimeter. With this technique, food is placed inside the calorimeter and heated until it burns. The excess heat released by the reaction is directly proportional to the amount of energy contained in the food.

A two-part graph compares the energy efficiency of an oxidation reaction when it occurs in several sequential steps versus a single step.

Figure 3: The release of energy from sugar. Compare the stepwise oxidation (left) with the direct burning of sugar (right). Through a series if small steps, free energy is released from sugar and stored in carrier molecules in the cell (ATP and NADH, not shown). On the right, the direct burning of sugar requires a larger activation energy. In this reaction, the same total free energy is released as in stepwise oxidation, but none is stored in carrier molecules, so most of it will be lost as heat (free energy). This direct burning is therefore very inefficient, as it does not harness energy for later use.© 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved.

In reality, of course, cells don’t work quite like calorimeters. Rather than burning all their energy in one large reaction, cells release the energy stored in their food molecules through a series of oxidation reactions. Oxidation describes a type of chemical reaction in which electrons are transferred from one molecule to another, changing the composition and energy content of both the donor and acceptor molecules. Food molecules act as electron donors. During each oxidation reaction involved in food breakdown, the product of the reaction has a lower energy content than the donor molecule that preceded it in the pathway. At the same time, electron acceptor molecules capture some of the energy lost from the food molecule during each oxidation reaction and store it for later use. Eventually, when the carbon atoms from a complex organic food molecule are fully oxidized at the end of the reaction chain, they are released as waste in the form of carbon dioxide (Figure 3).

Cells do not use the energy from oxidation reactions as soon as it is released. Instead, they convert it into small, energy-rich molecules such as ATP and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), which can be used throughout the cell to power metabolism and construct new cellular components. In addition, workhorse proteins called enzymes use this chemical energy to catalyze, or accelerate, chemical reactions within the cell that would otherwise proceed very slowly. Enzymes do not force a reaction to proceed if it wouldn’t do so without the catalyst; rather, they simply lower the energy barrier required for the reaction to begin (Figure 4).

Two schematic plots are shown side by side, comparing the amount of activation energy required to support an un-catalyzed reaction (left) versus an enzyme-catalyzed reaction (right). Total energy is the label on the y-axis.

Figure 4: Enzymes allow activation energies to be lowered. Enzymes lower the activation energy necessary to transform a reactant into a product. On the left is a reaction that is not catalyzed by an enzyme (red), and on the right is one that is (green). In the enzyme-catalyzed reaction, an enzyme will bind to a reactant and facilitate its transformation into a product. Consequently, an enzyme-catalyzed reaction pathway has a smaller energy barrier (activation energy) to overcome before the reaction can proceed. © 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved.
Figure 5: This is a sample showing the fast uptake of the nutrients in Laminine within minutes. Test is done with NilasMv available in our clinic.

What Specific Pathways Do Cells Use?

A diagram shows the basic structure of the energy molecule adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP).

Figure 5: An ATP molecule ATP consists of an adenosine base (blue), a ribose sugar (pink) and a phosphate chain. The high-energy phosphate bond in this phosphate chain is the key to ATP's energy storage potential. © 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved.

The particular energy pathway that a cell employs depends in large part on whether that cell is a eukaryote or a prokaryote. Eukaryotic cells use three major processes to transform the energy held in the chemical bonds of food molecules into more readily usable forms — often energy-rich carrier molecules. Adenosine 5′-triphosphate, or ATP, is the most abundant energy carrier molecule in cells. This molecule is made of a nitrogen base (adenine), a ribose sugar, and three phosphate groups. The word adenosine refers to the adenine plus the ribose sugar. The bond between the second and third phosphates is a high-energy bond (Figure 5). The first process in the eukaryotic energy pathway is glycolysis, which literally means “sugar splitting.” During glycolysis, single molecules of glucose are split and ultimately converted into two molecules of a substance called pyruvate; because each glucose contains six carbon atoms, each resulting pyruvate contains just three carbons. Glycolysis is actually a series of ten chemical reactions that require the input of two ATP molecules. This input is used to generate four new ATP molecules, which means that glycolysis results in a net gain of two ATPs. Two NADH molecules are also produced; these molecules serve as electron carriers for other biochemical reactions in the cell.

Glycolysis is an ancient, major ATP-producing pathway that occurs in almost all cells, eukaryotes and prokaryotes alike. This process, which is also known as fermentation, takes place in the cytoplasm and does not require oxygen. However, the fate of the pyruvate produced during glycolysis depends upon whether oxygen is present. In the absence of oxygen, the pyruvate cannot be completely oxidized to carbon dioxide, so various intermediate products result. For example, when oxygen levels are low, skeletal muscle cells rely on glycolysis to meet their intense energy requirements. This reliance on glycolysis results in the buildup of an intermediate known as lactic acid, which can cause a person’s muscles to feel as if they are “on fire.” Similarly, yeast, which is a single-celled eukaryote, produces alcohol (instead of carbon dioxide) in oxygen-deficient settings.

In contrast, when oxygen is available, the pyruvates produced by glycolysis become the input for the next portion of the eukaryotic energy pathway. During this stage, each pyruvate molecule in the cytoplasm enters the mitochondrion, where it is converted into acetyl CoA, a two-carbon energy carrier, and its third carbon combines with oxygen and is released as carbon dioxide. At the same time, an NADH carrier is also generated. Acetyl CoA then enters a pathway called the citric acid cycle, which is the second major energy process used by cells. The eight-step citric acid cycle generates three more NADH molecules and two other carrier molecules: FADH2 and GTP (Figure 6, middle).

The chemical reactions for three energy-generating metabolic processes are drawn on top of aschematized image of a mitchondrion, showing the site of action for each biochemical process.

Figure 6: Metabolism in a eukaryotic cell: Glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation Glycolysis takes place in the cytoplasm. Within the mitochondrion, the citric acid cycle occurs in the mitochondrial matrix, and oxidative metabolism occurs at the internal folded mitochondrial membranes (cristae). © 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved.

The third major process in the eukaryotic energy pathway involves an electron transport chain, catalyzed by several protein complexes located in the mitochondrional inner membrane. This process, called oxidative phosphorylation, transfers electrons from NADH and FADH2 through the membrane protein complexes, and ultimately to oxygen, where they combine to form water. As electrons travel through the protein complexes in the chain, a gradient of hydrogen ions, or protons, forms across the mitochondrial membrane. Cells harness the energy of this proton gradient to create three additional ATP molecules for every electron that travels along the chain. Overall, the combination of the citric acid cycle and oxidative phosphorylation yield much more energy than fermentation – 15 times as much energy per glucose molecule! Together, these processes that occur inside the mitochondrion, the citric acid cycle and oxidative phosphorylation, are referred to as respiration, a term used for processes that couple the uptake of oxygen and the production of carbon dioxide (Figure 6).

The electron transport chain in the mitochondrial membrane is not the only one that generates energy in living cells. In-plant and other photosynthetic cells, chloroplasts also have an electron transport chain that harvests solar energy. Even though they do not contain mitochondria or chloroplasts, prokaryotes have other kinds of energy-yielding electron transport chains within their plasma membranes that also generate energy.

How Do Cells Keep Energy in Reserve?

When energy is abundant, eukaryotic cells make larger, energy-rich molecules to store their excess energy. The resulting sugars and fats — in other words, polysaccharides and lipids — are then held in reservoirs within the cells, some of which are large enough to be visible in electron micrographs.

Animal cells can also synthesize branched polymers of glucose known as glycogen, which in turn aggregate into particles that are observable via electron microscopy. A cell can rapidly mobilize these particles whenever it needs quick energy. Athletes who “carbo-load” by eating pasta the night before a competition are trying to increase their glycogen reserves. Under normal circumstances, though, humans store just enough glycogen to provide a day’s worth of energy. Plant cells don’t produce glycogen but instead make different glucose polymers known as starches, which they store in granules.

In addition, both plant and animal cells store energy by shunting glucose into fat synthesis pathways. One gram of fat contains nearly six times the energy of the same amount of glycogen, but the energy from fat is less readily available than that from glycogen. Still, each storage mechanism is important because cells need both quick and long-term energy depots. Fats are stored in droplets in the cytoplasm; adipose cells are specialized for this type of storage because they contain unusually large fat droplets. Humans generally store enough fat to supply their cells with several weeks’ worth of energy (Figure 7).

Three panels of electron micrographs (A, B, and C) show different storage molecules in three types of cells: glycogen in an animal cell, starch in a plant cell, and lipids in a single celled organism, an amoeba.

Figure 7: Examples of energy storage within cells. A) In this cross section of a rat kidney cell, the cytoplasm is filled with glycogen granules, shown here labeled with a black dye, and spread throughout the cell (G), surrounding the nucleus (N). B) In this cross-section of a plant cell, starch granules (st) are present inside a chloroplast, near the thylakoid membranes (striped pattern). C) In this amoeba, a single celled organism, there is both starch storage compartments (S), lipid storage (L) inside the cell, near the nucleus (N). Scale bar in B and C = 1µm. Creative Commons B) © 2011 PLoS. Qian H. et al. (2011) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019451. C) © 2011 PLoS. Letcher P. M. et al. (2013) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056232. A) Bamri-Ezzine, S. et al. (2003) doi:10.1097/01.LAB.0000078687.21634.69. All rights reserved.


Cells need the energy to accomplish the tasks of life. Beginning with energy sources obtained from their environment in the form of sunlight and organic food molecules, eukaryotic cells make energy-rich molecules like ATP and NADH via energy pathways including photosynthesis, glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation. Any excess energy is then stored in larger, energy-rich molecules such as polysaccharides (starch and glycogen) and lipids.


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The Cancer Industry: Hype vs. Reality (John Horgan)

Today I’m giving a talk at my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, titled “The Cancer Industry: Hype Versus Reality.” The talk focuses on the enormous gap between the grim reality of cancer medicine in the U.S. and the upbeat claims made by the cancer industry and its media enablers. Below are points I plan to make in my talk, which expand upon ones I’ve made in previous posts.—John Horgan


First, some basic facts to convey the scale of the problem. Cancer is the second most lethal disease in the U.S., behind only heart disease. More than 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and more than 600,000 died. Over 15 million Americans cancer survivors are alive today. Almost four out of ten people will be diagnosed in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Cancer has spawned a huge industrial complex involving government agencies, pharmaceutical and biomedical firms, hospitals and clinics, universities, professional societies, nonprofit foundations and media. The costs of cancer care have surged 40 percent in the last decade, from $125 billion in 2010 to $175 billion in 2020 (projected).

Research funding has also surged. The budget of the National Cancer Institute, a federal agency founded in 1937, now totals over $6 billion/year. That is a fraction of the total spent on research by nonprofit foundations ($6 billion a year, according to 2019 study), private firms and other government agencies. Total research spending since Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer” in 1971 exceeds a quarter trillion dollars, according to a 2016 estimate.

Cancer-industry boosters claim that investments in research, testing and treatment have led to “incredible progress” and millions of “cancer deaths averted,” as the homepage of the American Cancer Society, a nonprofit that receives money from biomedical firms, puts it. A 2016 study found that cancer experts and the media often describe new treatments with terms such as “breakthrough,” “game changer,” “miracle,” “cure,” “home run,” “revolutionary,” “transformative,” “life saver,” “groundbreaking” and “marvel.”

There are more than accredited 1,200 cancer centers in the U.S. They spent $173 million on television and magazine ads directed at the public in 2014, according to a 2018 study, and 43 of the 48 top spenders “deceptively promot[ed] atypical patient experiences through the use of powerful testimonials.” A 2014 study concluded that cancer centers “frequently promote cancer therapy with emotional appeals that evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs, or insurance availability.”


What’s the reality behind the hype? “No one is winning the war on cancer,” Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia, asserts in her 2019 book The First Cell: And the Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last. Claims of progress are “mostly hype, the same rhetoric from the same self-important voices for the past half century.” Trials have yielded improved treatments for childhood cancers and specific cancers of the blood, bone-marrow and lymph systems, Raza notes. But these successes, which involve uncommon cancers, are exceptions among a “litany of failures.”

The best way to measure progress against cancer is to look at mortality rates, the number of people who succumb to cancer per unit of population per year. The risk of cancer grows with age. (Although childhood cancer gets a lot of attention, Americans under 20 years old account for less than 0.3 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths.) Hence as the average life span of a population grows (because of advances against heart and respiratory disorders, infectious disease and so on), so does the cancer mortality rate. To calculate mortality trends over time, therefore, researchers adjust for the aging of the population.

With this adjustment—which, keep in mind, presents cancer medicine in a more favorable light–mortality rates have declined almost 30 percent since 1991. This trend, according to cancer-industry boosters, shows that investments in research, tests and treatments have paid off. What boosters often fail to mention is that recent declines in cancer mortality follow at least 60 years of increases. The current age-adjusted mortality rate for all cancers in the U.S., 152.4 deaths per 100,000 people, is just under what it was in 1930, according to a recent analysis.

The rise and fall of cancer deaths track the rise and fall of smoking, with a lag of a couple of decades. Cigarette consumption in the U.S. more than doubled between 1930 and the early 1970s and has fallen steadily since then, according to the nonprofit site Our World in Data. Smoking raises the risk of many cancers but especially of lung cancer, which is by far the biggest killer, accounting for more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Over the past two decades lung-cancer mortality has dropped, but it still remains higher than it was in the 1960s, especially among women, according to Our World in Data. A 2006 analysis concluded that “without reductions in smoking, there would have been virtually no reduction in overall cancer mortality in either men or women since the early 1990s.”


Research has linked cancer to many internal and external factors, notably oncogenes, hormones, viruses, carcinogens (such as those in cigarettes) and random cellular replication errors, or “bad luck.” But with the notable exception of the smoking/cancer link, which led to effective anti-smoking measures, that knowledge has not translated into significantly improved preventive measures or treatments. Clinical cancer trials “have the highest failure rate compared with other therapeutic areas,” according to a 2012 paper.

Pharmaceutical companies keep bringing new drugs to market. But one study found that 72 new anticancer drugs approved by the FDA between 2004 and 2014 prolonged survival for an average of 2.1 months. A 2017 report concluded that “most cancer drug approvals have not been shown to, or do not, improve clinically relevant end points,” including survival and quality of life. The authors worried that “the FDA may be approving many costly, toxic drugs that do not improve overall survival.”

Costs of cancer treatments have vastly outpaced inflation, and new drugs are estimated to cost on average more than $100,000/year. Patients end up bearing a significant proportion of costs. More than 40 percent of people diagnosed with cancer lose their life savings within 2 years, according to one estimate.

Immune therapies, which seek to stimulate immune responses to cancer, have generated enormous excitement. Two researchers won the 2018 Nobel Prize for work related to immune therapies, and a new book, The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, claims that they represent a “revolutionary discovery in our understanding of cancer and how to beat it.”

According to a 2018 report in Stat News, drugs firms aggressively market immune therapies, and patients are “pushing hard to try them, even when there is little to no evidence the drugs will work for their particular cancer.” A 2017 analysis by oncologists Nathan Gay and Vinay Prasad estimated that fewer than 10 percent of cancer patients can benefit from immune therapies, and that is a “best-case scenario.”

Immune therapies trigger severe side effects, and they are also extremely expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies, a bestselling history of cancer, reported in the New Yorker last year. “Subsequent hospital stays and supportive care can drive the total costs to a million dollars or more,” he writes. “If widely prescribed, immune therapies “could bankrupt the American health-care system.”


The cancer industry, aided by celebrities who claim that tests saved their lives, has convinced the public that screening for cancer is beneficial. The earlier we can detect cancerous cells, the more likely it is that treatment will succeed. Right? Wrong. One of the most significant findings of the past decade is that many people have cancerous or pre-cancerous cells that, if left untreated, would never have compromised their health. Autopsies have revealed that many people who die of unrelated causes harbor cancerous tissue.

Tests cannot reliably distinguish between harmful and harmless cancers. As a result, widespread testing has led to widespread overdiagnosis, the flagging of non-harmful cancerous cells. Overdiagnosis leads in turn to unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Gilbert Welch, a physician whose 2011 book Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in Pursuit of Health helped bring overdiagnosis to light, recently called it “an unfortunate side effect of our irrational exuberance for early detection.” Overdiagnosis is more insidious than false positives, when tests erroneously indicate the presence of cancer. Biopsies can overturn false positives but not overdiagnoses.

Mammograms and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests have led to especially high rates of overdiagnosis and overtreatment for breast and prostate cancer. A 2013 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international association of experts that assesses medical procedures, estimated that if 2,000 women have mammograms over a period of 10 years, one woman’s life will be saved by a positive diagnosis. Meanwhile 10 healthy women will be treated unnecessarily, and more than 200 “will experience important psychological distress including anxiety and uncertainty for years because of false positive findings.”

Another nonprofit medical group, theNNT.com, has spelled out a disturbing implication of these data. (NNT stands for “number needed to treat,” which refers to the number of people who must receive a treatment for one person to receive any benefit. Ideally, the number is 1.) The NNT notes that some overdiagnosed women might “die due to aggressive therapies such as chemotherapy and major surgery.” Thus any benefit from screening “is balanced out by mortal harms from overdiagnosis and false-positives.” Breast-cancer specialist Michael Baum, who helped found the United Kingdom’s breast-screening program, has advocated abandoning such programs, which he believes might cut short more lives than they extend.

As for PSA tests, a federal task force of medical experts estimates that 1.3 deaths may be averted for every 1,000 men between the ages of 55 and 69 tested for 13 years. But for every man whose life is extended, many more will experience “false-positive results that require additional testing and possible prostate biopsy; overdiagnosis and overtreatment; and treatment complications, such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.” A 2017 analysis by the task force estimated the ratio of beneficial PSA tests to false positives and overdiagnosis to be as high as 1/240.

A 2013 meta-analysis by Cochrane Group found “no significant reduction” in mortality resulting from PSA tests. “The strategy of routinely screening all men with PSA tests leads to interventions that are not saving lives and may be causing harm,” the NNT stated. The discoverer of the prostate-specific antigen, pathologist Richard Ablin, has called the PSA test a “profit-driven public health disaster.”


Studies of tests for a specific cancer generally look at mortality attributed to that cancer. Mammograms are thus deemed effective if women who get mammograms die less often from breast cancer than women who do not get mammograms. This method can overstate the benefits of tests, because it might omits deaths resulting, directly or indirectly, from the diagnosis. After all, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can have devastating iatrogenic effects, including heart disease, opportunistic infections, other forms of cancer and suicide.

Therefore some studies measure “all-cause” mortality.  A 2015 meta-analysis by epidemiologist John Ioannidis (renowned for bringing the scientific replication crisis to light) and others found no reductions in all-cause mortality from tests for cancer of the breast, prostate, colon, lung, cervix, mouth or ovaries for asymptomatic patients.

In a recent editorial in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, Ioannidis and four co-authors argue that cancer screening (especially mammograms and PSA tests) does more harm than good and should be abandoned. They expect this proposal to be met with “fierce opposition.” Screening they note, “is big business: more screening means more patients, more clinical revenue to diagnostic and clinical departments, and more survivors in need of care and follow‐up.”

Cancer boosters commonly point to improvements in survival rates, the length of time between diagnosis and death. Survival rates for some cancers have indeed grown as a result of more widespread and higher-resolution testing, which detects cancer earlier. But as a 2015 analysis points out, in general people do not live longer as a result of early detection. They simply live longer with a diagnosis of cancer, with all its harmful emotional, economic and physiological consequences.

Using survival rates to promote tests is an example of what critics of mammography have called “tortur[ing] the data to make it confess to what one knows to be the real truth.” What the data on screening actually suggest is that millions of men and women have endured the trauma of cancer diagnoses and treatments unnecessarily. That strikes me as a case of monstrous malpractice.


The aggressive, can-do American approach to health care isn’t working when it comes to medicine in general and cancer medicine in particular. The U.S. spends far more per capita on health care, including cancer care, than any other country, but higher expenditures have not led to longer lives. Quite the contrary. Europe, which spends much less on cancer care than the U.S., has lower cancer mortality rates, according to a 2015 study. So do countries such as Mexico, Italy and Brazil, according to Our World in Data.

The American approach fosters corruption. According to a 2019 essay in Stat News by oncologist Vinay Prasad, many cancer specialists accept payments from firms whose drugs they prescribe. This practice, Prasad agues, “leads us to celebrate marginal drugs as if they were game-changers. It leads experts to ignore or downplay flaws and deficits in cancer clinical trials. It keeps doctors silent about the crushing price of cancer medicines.”

Last year The New York Times and ProPublica reported that top officials at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center “repeatedly violated policies on financial conflicts of interest, fostering a culture in which profits appeared to take precedence over research and patient care.” Sloan Kettering’s chief medical officer, Jose Baselga, “failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug and health care companies in dozens of articles in medical journals.” Baselga left Sloan Kettering to become head of cancer research at the drug firm AstraZeneca.

The desire of oncologists to produce monetizable findings might also compromise the quality of their research. A 2012 examination of 53 “landmark” cancer studies found that only six could be reproduced. The so-called Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology has examined 14 more recent highly cited studies, and has confirmed only five without qualification.


So what’s the solution to all these problems? Some health-care experts espouse “conservative medicine” as a way to reduce health-care costs and improve outcomes. In “The Case for Being a Medical Conservative,” a manifesto published last year, four physicians (including the aforementioned Vinay Prasad) urge colleagues to recognize the human body’s “inherent healing properties and to acknowledge “how little effect the clinician has on outcomes.” Physicians will thus protect themselves “against our greatest foe—hubris.”

Medical conservatives happily adopt new therapies “when the benefit is clear and the evidence strong and unbiased,” the authors emphasize, but many alleged advances “offer, at best, marginal benefits.” Conservative cancer medicine, as I envision it, would engage in less testing, treatment, fear-mongering, military-style rhetoric and hype. It would recognize the limits of medicine, and it would honor the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

Physicians cannot bring about a shift toward conservative cancer medicine on their own. We consumers must help them. We must recognize the limits of medicine and the healing capacities of our bodies. We must resist tests and treatments that have marginal benefits, at best. We may never cure cancer, which stems from the collision of our complex biology with entropy, the tendency of all systems toward disorder. But if we can curtail our fear and greed, our cancer care will surely improve.

A final note: I’d like to thank experts I’ve cited above—John Ioannidis, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Vinay Prasad, Azra Raza and Gilbert Welch—as well as Cochrane and theNNT.com for their blunt, courageous assessments of cancer medicine. People and groups like these represent our best hope for health-care reform. We just have to listen to them.

Further Reading:

Meta-Post: Posts on Cancer

Can Lifelong, Invasive Screening Eradicate Cancer?

Is Medicine Overrated?

Dear “Skeptics,” Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More


John Horgan

John Horgan directs the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology. His books include The End of Science, The End of War and Mind-Body Problems, available for free at mindbodyproblems.com.

Sound Affects: Sound Therapy, Altered States of Consciousness and Improved Health and Wellbeing by Lyz Cooper MA, MSc, FICNM

Sound Therapy, the Altered States of Consciousness and Improved Health and Wellbeing

by Lyz Cooper MA, MSc, FICNM


A study using a specific method of sound therapy (Himalayan singing bowls, transitioning to Gongs, transitioning to crystal singing bowls, transitioning to therapeutic percussion) was delivered in two ways – by a live soundbath, where subjects lay on the floor and received around 35 minutes of sound, and by a recording of the same which was available online. The focus of this research was to answer the following questions.

  1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across what domains?
  2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
  3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC?

Data was analysed by a test known as a Chi Square analysis to gauge significance. Statistically significant, highly significant and extremely significant data was produced in the domains of Physical Relaxation, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Positive Mood, Insightfulness, Disembodiment and Unity across both live and recorded studies. These findings have far-reaching implications for the use of sound therapy, specifically sound induced altered states of consciousness (ASC) going forward.

Introduction and Context

Over a 20 year period of working with therapeutic sound using techniques developed by myself, many people receiving sound therapy treatments have received benefit from life-limiting health issues such as anxiety dis-orders, chronic pain, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome to name a few. The thousands of case studies undertaken by our students and the team at The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) have highlighted common experiences that individuals receiving treatments and relaxation sessions share. These include seeing colours pulsing behind closed eyes, floaty feelings and feeling deeply relaxed, reduced anxiety and muscle tension, losing a sense of time and/or having spiritual or mystical experiences, to name a few. Some of the above effects indicate that these individuals were entering an altered state of consciousness (ASC). An ASC is a natural everyday occurrence that happens when the brainwaves go into a lower frequency across many areas of the brain, resulting in day-dreamy sensations. These 􏰀screen-saver􏰁 modes that we go into during the day enable the system to rebalance and result in chemical balance and mental refreshment if we allow them to continue for long enough, however because normal everyday life does not give us opportunity to remain in this state for long enough our brain and body do not have enough time to balance.

On looking at previous studies it was shown that different relaxation methods result in different depths of ASC. A study undertaken by Dietrich (2013) showed that the depth of ASC was greater in meditation than hypnosis, p.238. Travis & Shear (2008) conducted a study using EEG which showed three different styles of meditation produced different effects. (Travis & Shear, 2008). Another study, this time focusing on Transcendental Meditation conducted by Wallace, (1970) led him to

suggest that meditation induced a fourth state of consciousness that was different from waking, dreaming and non-dreaming sleep. (Wallace, 1970; Banquet, 1973, in Deane & Shapiro p.228-231). There was very little research on sound-induced ASC and nothing which measured the depth at which an ASC is experienced and little that suggested the benefits of sound-induced ASC.

A study by MacLean et al., (2011) in McGlothlin et al., (1967, et al., 2011, p.1453) suggested that altering consciousness may help nurture a positive culture, encourage openness and result in an increased appreciation of music, the arts and nature. This was suggesting that a greater level of wellbeing was noticed in those that had altered their consciousness – the􏰂 had 􏰀ope􏰃ed thei􏰄 􏰅i􏰃ds􏰁.

The researchers in the above named research used a questionnaire which gave me the basis upon which I could create an effective way of measuring responses to the sound. I began a study which asked the following questions.

  1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across what domains?
  2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
  3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC?


To first identify whether there was a difference between live and recorded therapeutic sound two studies were undertaken – a live study comprising 15 people who received a soundbath relaxation session lasting approximately 35 minutes (I would have liked to have worked with more people but time was short). The sounds played during the soundbath session were recorded and made available online for 64 participants that volunteered to take part. Participants of the recorded study were asked to listen through headphones.

Information was gathered using a 6 point Likehart scale questionnaire which asked people to score their experience from 1 (not at all) to 6 (extremely – more than at any time). This questionnaire was an amalgamation of several questionnaires used in previous studies to measure ASC (mostly using hallucinogens). The questionnaires were a version of the OAV by Dittrich et al., (1998-2010) adapted from the original by Studerus et al (2010), the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) Hood, (2003) Revised by MacLean et al (2012) and additional questions relating to health and wellbeing were added by myself. The 65 questions asked were grouped within the following domains. Anxiety, Positive Mood, Experience of Unity, Spiritual Experience, Insightfulness, Disembodiment, Impaired Control and Cognition, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Emotional Observations and Physical Relaxation.


These findings provide further understanding of the depth at which live therapeutic sound compared to a recording is experienced. On the whole the experience in a live study seemed to be more emotionally moving, with participants being able to put their experience into words and experiencing joy. This may be due to the presence of the instruments and that vibrations can be felt travelling through the body, whereas the recorded sound seemed to create deeper introspection and a deeper ASC. This is rather like comparing being at a live concert to listening to an MP3 recording – the former is more rousing, and the latter more immersive. Both groups seemed to benefit from the relaxing effect of the sound and lost their usual sense of time and space.


Question Asked

Live Study


Online Study


Experience of Unity

Everything seemed to unify into a oneness





Positive Mood

I experienced profound peace and tranquillity within




I had feelings of joy







I gained insightful knowledge that was experienced at an intuitive level






I felt as though I were floating






Complex Imagery

I saw scenes rolling by behind my closed eyes





Audio-Visual synesthesiae

Noises and sounds seemed to influence what I saw





Elemental Imagery

I saw regular patterns behind closed eyes






I saw colours behind my closed eyes





page3image1478245552 page3image1478249696page3image1478246720


The experience cannot be described adequately in words





I could not do justice to my experience with words







page3image1478628320page3image1478628944 page3image1441539920page3image1441467312page3image1441538672page3image1441539328

Transcendence of time and space

I lost my usual sense of time





I lost my usual sense of space









I was in a realm with no space boundaries





page3image1441688992page3image1441687104 page3image1441549616page3image1441549280page3image1441480176page3image1441480960

Physical Relaxation

My muscles felt relaxed





Physical tension drained from my body






My breathing felt relaxed and steady





Key – BORDER = borderline
NS = not statistically significant
* = statistically significant
** = highly statistically significant
*** = extremely statistically significant


This research could be improved with a larger study, and a more balanced live-online ratio. Some ofthe 􏰆uestio􏰃s asked 􏰇ould 􏰈e 􏰄efi􏰃ed fu􏰄the􏰄, fo􏰄 e􏰉a􏰅ple the 􏰆uestio􏰃 􏰀ph􏰂si􏰇al pai􏰃 disappea􏰄ed􏰁was asked and would only apply if there was physical pain in the first place. Also some participants in the live study commented that they could not relax as much as they wanted to because they were uncomfortable laying on the floor, so this would need to be addressed in future studies.

Future Implications

I see this research as providing a useful platform for our work at The British Academy of Sound Therapy going forward. Altered State Therapy has been used in conventional healthcare setting for mental health conditions as well as drug and alcohol misuse due to the mental relaxation that an ASC creates which enables a softening to be experienced, a loosening of the boundaries and of any control related issues. This loosening was also observed on the physical level with the relaxation of muscles and the draining of physical tension being reported. I see further research being beneficial that explores stress-related imbalances and chronic pain, as well as exploring the enhanced creativity that ASC can bring – I intend to undertake more research into these areas in the near future. It would also be beneficial to test other therapeutic sound techniques, such as those for invigorating and uplifting the system for example.


Banquet (1973), Spectral analysis of the EEG in meditation, Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, v.35, 2, 1973, pp 143–151

Clarke, D (2011) Music, phenomenology, time consciousness: meditations after Husserl. In Clarke, D and Clarke, E. (2011) Music and Consciousness, philosophical, psychological and cultural perspectives. Oxford University Press: Oxford

Dietrich, A (2002) Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypo- frontality hypothesis. Consciousness and Cognition v.12 (2003) p.231–256

Dietrich, A. (2004), Neurocognative mechanisms underlying the experience of flow, Consciousness and Cognition, V13 (2004) p.746-761

Digman, J. (1990), Personality Structure: Emergence of the five-factor personality model, Annual Review of Psychology, V41(1990) p. 417-440

Dittrich, A. (1998), The Standardized Psychometric Assessment of Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) in Humans, Pharmacopsychiatry 1998; 31: 80-84

Dobkin de Rois, M. (2003), The role of Music in Healing with Hallucinogens: Tribal and Western Studies, Music Therapy Today Vol IV (3), June 2003

Griffiths, R. Johnson, M. Richards, A. Richards, B. McCann, U and Jesse, R (2011) Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: Psychopharmacology (2011) 218: p. 649–665

Griffiths, R. Richards, W. McCann, U and Jesse, R (2006) Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance, Psychopharmacology (2006) 187:p.268–283

Hubner, C. (2007), EnTrance: Entrance to wider worlds or mystification of mere relaxation? Music Therapy Today: Vol.viii, (2) July 2007, p.257 – 293.

Fischer, R. (1973), A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States, Leonardo: Vol 6 (1) p. 59-66

Jorg, F. (2007), Researching musc and altered states in therapy and culture, Music Therapy Today, v. (3), 2007. p 306-323.

Klein, B (2010) The 5D-ASC Test for Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness PhD student, General Psychology, Walden University paibeiramar.org/Walden_papers/Tests&Meas_5D-ASC.doc [Cited 12.04.13]

Koen, B. Barz, G, Brummel-Smith, K (2008) Introduction: Confluence of Consciousness in Music, Medicine and Culture. In The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology. p.5 – 17. New York: Oxford University Press.

MacLean, K. Johnson, M. Griffiths, R (2011) Mystical experience occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness. Journal of Psychopharmacology: 25(11), 1453-1461

Shapiro, D. (1980) Meditation: Self Regulation Strategy and Altered State of Consciousness. Andine Publishing Group: New York.

Studerus, E. Gamma, A. Vollenweider, FX (2010) Psychometric Evaluation of the Altered States of Consciousness Rating Scale (OAV). PLoS ONE 5(8):e12412 p.1 – 19

Travis, F. Shear, J. (2008), Focussed attention, open monitoring and autonomic self-transcending: Categories to organise meditation from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Consciousness and Cognition, V19 (2010) p1110 – 1118



The Science and Alchemy of Sound John Beaulieu, N.D.,PH.D

This paper is based on a hypothesis that explores the ancient archetype of the Perfect Fifth, a sonic interval, and its potential importance in the applications of sound healing in modern stress science. Go directly to the paper for more info and references. 

An interval in sound is a precise space between two tones. The Perfect Fifth is a precise tonal relationship defined by a 2/3 ratio that was believed in ancient cultures to have profound healing qualities. The Perfect Fifth is also an archetype that repeats itself over and over to create a vibrational field that gives rise to everything we know. Its healing qualities, well known in the ancient times, will be presented in case histories and in a review of research in modern biochemistry and neuroscience that makes the case for the healing power of sound, strongly suggesting the need for more research.

The purpose of this paper is to learn from and be inspired by the great teachers of the past and to better understand their way of conceptualizing the universe and healing in the light of modern science. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part presents an understanding of interval of a Perfect Fifth and ancient sound healing principles. The second part presents “the Alchemy of The Perfect Fifth.” Part three presents “The Perfect Fifth and Sound Healing” and introduces case histories and scientific insights on the mechanisms by which these ancient sound healing practices work.


One must keep in mind that the great teachings and practices of the past are often expressed in metaphors and stories that have been passed down over hundreds and even thousands of years and that are very different from our modem scientific language. Often one cannot be sure who the authors are, their exact time of publication, or even if their stories have been changed during the course of history. This paper does not pretend to know “the truth” of the past. Instead, it examines literature from the past and asks how it might be understood in the light of modern evidence-based healing practices.

For example, Manly P. Hall relates a Pythagorean story in his book, The Therapeutic Value of Music.

“Ancient Story”

“A demented youth forced his way into the dwelling of a prominent judge who had recently sentenced the boy’s father to death for a criminal offense. The frenzied lad, bearing a naked sword, approached the jurist, who was dining with friends, and threatened his life. Among the guests was a Pythagorean student. Reaching over quietly, he plucked a fifth upon a lyre which had been laid aside by a musician who had been entertaining the gathering. At the sound of the fifth, the crazed young man stopped in his tracks and could not move. He was led away as though in a trance.”2

This same story could have been told again in a new modern context. In the Manly P. Hall story the person uses a lyre tuned to Pythagorean intervals. In my own story I use tuning forks tuned to Pythagorean intervals.

This story suggests that sound based on Pythagorean tuning can be used as part of a healing process. In order to better understand sound healing in the context of modern science and evidence based clinical practice, additional research is needed. It is also necessary to honor the traditions and practices of those healers who came before us.

“The Perfect Fith”

The mathematical discovery of the Perfect Fifth as an archetype based on mathematics is credited to Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician.


He used an instrument called monochord to demonstrate the relationship between sound and numbers.





   In yoga, the Perfect Fifth is the divine dance between Shiva and Shakti





In Greek astrology, the Perfect Fifth is the light of the Sun that illuminates the whole cosmos.




The Chinese philosophers, Lao Tzu referred to the Perfect Fifth as the sound of universal harmony between the forces of king and yang represented by the image of the Tao.




The Mundane Monochord by Robert Fludd, often referred to as the World Monochord, is a graphic summary of Pythagorean Universal Sound principles based on a Perfect Fifth, principles that are important to this day. The World Monochord illustrates Pythagorean harmonic principles mapped to elements, planets, angelic kingdoms, and the hand of God.



Scientific Discussion today about Sound and Vibration

Research suggests that when individuals listen to music and/or sounds that are safe and enjoyable, they will experience peripheral vasodilation, warming of the skin, a decrease in heart rate and an overwhelming sense of well-being.38 In 2003 John Beaulieu and colleagues published a peer-reviewed paper in Medical Science Monitor suggesting the physiological pathways through which sound and music work.  Specifically, it discussed how sound and music had the ability to bypass the limbic system and amygdala and go directly to the core brain resulting in the release of anandamide, an endogenous endocannabinoid, which causes the release of cNO in immune cells, neural tissues, and human vascular endothelial cells.



Representative connections among the limbic-hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, demonstrate that these centers are linked to vascular tone regulation. This pathway suggests how nitric oxide spiking may exert a level of top-down control of vasomotor activity and circulatory tone. The positive reaction to a nitric oxide wave is reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, greater pain tolerance, overall lowering of metabolism, and a greater sense of well-being and ability to adapt to stressors. Sound also plays a role in the management of stress and anxiety also through its ability to increase or decrease both cortisol and norepinephrine and by its related ability to decrease arousal due to stress. It affects the immune system by stimulating the production of IgA and NK cells.

When this happens, patients will report an experience of inner warmth and a deep sense of well- being. Psychologically, they will be more positive and better able to cope with their environments, resulting in the continued neutralization of the stressors that were inhibiting natural cNO production in immune, nerve, and endothelial cells. The patients will experience less distracting physical and emotional pain due to the release of endocannabinoids and will be more able to focus and talk about what is most important to them.

In technical terms, Nitric Oxide is a “gaseous diffusible modulator” that moves through the entire body and central nervous system in waves of gas. The release of Nitric Oxide counteracts the negative effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine. The presence of norepinephrine results in a racing heart, high blood pressure, anger, anxiety, and greater vulnerability to pain. The positive reaction to the nitric oxide wave is increased neural plasticity, reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, greater pain tolerance, and overall lowering of metabolism. Psychologically, this leads to less anger, a strong sense of purpose, and a greater sense of well-being, leading to an increased ability to adapt to stressors.

In general, when the frequencies are used with healing intention  (Acoustic Restoration Therapy™), their effect is quick and can be integrated with and will enhance every therapy.  Relaxing on our Acoustic Water Beds, just for a moment, will stimulate the above physiological and psychological processes. It is a way of shifting gears with a patient and then moving on to the next patient, knowing that the sound will serve to enhance whatever therapies the patient is receiving.

Relaxation Room at IHCNM