How to keep your energy chain ( electron transport or ETC) running might not be something you think about, but if you are concerned about being healthier, this is an often overlooked area of maintaining health. It came as a huge disappointment to find out that the historical use of a false tooth compartment to hide cyanide tablets (for soldiers and spies) to commit suicide was pure fantasy. Although cyanide hidden in glasses appears to be more likely, the role of cyanide to induce rapid death is indisputable. We are at a time where industrial pollutants are at an all time high and cyanide being one of those pollutants, might not induce a theatrical foaming of the lips and contorted last throws of life (as seen in many an old war movie); however it may induce a slower, less dramatic affect on cell function and efficient biology over time.
Cyanide is certainly ubiquitous in the industrialised environment but unknowingly for many, trying to achieve a ‘healthier’ balanced diet, cyanides are present in many foods favoured by the health conscious.
There are more than 2500 plants associated with cyanide content, these include almonds, millet, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo shoots, and cassava roots (which are a major source of food in tropical countries), cyanides occur naturally as part of sugars or other natural compounds. Cassava consumption (especially so in poorer countries) is associated with the neurological, irreversible disease called Konzo (Nzwalo & Cliff, 2011). Some other major sources of cyanide are:
Seeds/kernels of apples, apricots, plums, peach and nectarine, millet, almonds, flax seed, , spinach, sorghum gluten free flour like cassava often used to replace normal flours. Simply type in cassava poisoning into a search engine and you'll see some cases where dozens of people from the same meal have died from a so called bad cassava. Most likely it was the poor preparation and failure to remove the cyanide from the cassava that lead to these numerous deaths. In one case in the Philippines in 2005, 27 children died in such a manner.
Other cyanide sources include vehicle exhaust, releases from chemical industries, burning of municipal waste, and use of cyanide-containing pesticides (Jaszczak et al 2017) and the more obvious smoking.
Excess cyanide (ions) is able to disrupt the efficient production of energy that is produced through the electron transport chain/mitochondria (energy producing cells) where water, carbon dioxide and energy are end products. The loss of this function often creates a decreased ability to utilise carbohydrate effectively and the result can be an excess of lactate, which diminishes cell function further and creates hypoxia. Lactic acid seems to be getting some praise of late but it is the hallmark of inefficient energy production, as observed in the so called Warburg state seen in cancer (5). As cyanide levels increase cellular death occurs through increased lactic acidosis. This is the death throw that you see our actors who have crunched down on that mythical hydrogen cyanide capsule. It's also observed as a cause of death to the unlucky Private Santiago in A Few Good Men, where he has a rag with cleaning fluid, stuffed into his mouth creating a not to dissimilar occurrence.
You want the truth? You can't handle the truth but it might be that a combination of dietary cyanide and pollutants might not be as healthy as you think.
If there’s a ubiquitous source of cyanide and other pollutants in the environment does it make sense to have plenty of cyanide containing foods? Let’s not take this out of context. Here and there - having foods that have some levels of cyanide in should pose no problem to a healthy individual but what if your diet contains a regular supply and also contains plenty of vegetables that contain goitregens or foods that slow down thyroid function (and also contain cyanide) it may be problematic. Many people seem to promote a diet high in raw green vegetables, nuts, seeds, often low in adequate protein and often deficient in adequate energy/carbohydrate. In this instance the so-called healthy diet, in a highly polluted area becomes a burden not a provider of energy to promote optimal thyroid health, energy and liver enhancer (energy, detox, hormones etc.).
Chris Masterjohn’s report - Thyroid toxins, highlights the out of context suggestions of nutritional science evaluation of compounds in a test tube compared to a real world scenario.
The line that divides nutrients from toxins is often thin and equivocal. Since any given chemical may react in any number of ways in a test tube depending on the other chemicals with which it is combined, it is often possible to prove such a chemical to be both a nutrient and a toxin.
If a diet is to be considered healthy, it should meet the body’s energetic demands without reducing its function. A healthy energy chain ensures that carbohydrate is metabolised efficiently without an excess of lactic acid production.
The abundance of glucosinolates found in broccoli, cauliflower (and other brassica vegetables) and other cyanide like food sources combined with other environmental pollutants may pose substantial problems over time. Heavy metals like mercury, which are also increasing environmentally can decrease selenium and iodine uptake creating another algorithm for decreased function.
Caffeine can be considered a useful compound for preventing excess uptake of metals and may go someway to explain the anti-oxidant and other positive effects observed in neurological degeneration diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia (Liu et al., 2016). Other compounds like methylene blue can be seen in the next diagram that promote a better energy chain.
" As I have shown in my earlier days , one can knock out the whole respiratory chain by cyanide and then restore oxygen uptake by adding methylene blue which takes the whole electron transport chain over between dehydrogenases and O2 ." Albert Szent Györgi
You can also reduce the risk of excess cyanides in foods through heating, boiling and other forms of processing but given that the zeitgeist is as raw, wholesome and as gluten free as one can be, it’s unlikely that this occurs in the upwardly mobile food neurotic.
Jaszczak, E., Polkowska, Ż., Narkowicz, S., & Namieśnik, J. (2017). Cyanides in the environment—analysis—problems and challenges. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 24(19), 15929–15948. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-9081-7
Liu, Q.-P., Wu, Y.-F., Cheng, H.-Y., Xia, T., Ding, H., Wang, H., … Xu, Y. (2016). Habitual coffee consumption and risk of cognitive decline/dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutrition, 32(6), 628–636. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2015.11.015
Nzwalo, H., & Cliff, J. (2011). Konzo: From poverty, cassava, and cyanogen intake to toxico-nutritional neurological disease. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0001051
Masterjohn, C. Thyroid Toxins Report. 2007
Szent Györgi, A. Introduction to a Submolecular Biology. Academic Press. 1960.