A novel perspective suggesting high sustained energy expenditure may be net protective against cancer

Authors: Peter A Biro, Frédéric Thomas, Beata Ujvari, Christa Beckmann



Energy expenditure (EE) is generally viewed as tumorigenic, due to production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cells and DNA. On this basis, individuals within a species that sustain high EE should be more likely to develop cancer.

Here, we argue the opposite, that high EE may be net protective effect against cancer, despite high ROS production. This is possible because individuals that sustain high EE have a greater energetic capacity (=greater energy acquisition, expenditure and ability to up-regulate output), and can therefore allocate energy to multiple cancer-fighting mechanisms with minimal energetic trade-offs.

Our review finds that individuals sustaining high EE have greater antioxidant production, lower oxidative stress, greater immune function and lower cancer incidence. Our hypothesis and literature review suggest that EE may indeed be net protective against cancer, and that individual variation in energetic capacity may be a key mechanism to understand the highly individual nature of cancer risk in contemporary human populations and laboratory animals.