Mainstream cancer treatments are expensive, have loads of horrible side effects and for some people and some cancers, not all that effective. What if a ketogenic diet is effective, and if so, how does it work?
It's been known since the early 1920s that most cancer cells have abnormal metabolisms, and thrive exclusively on blood glucose (sugar) for energy. This is because they have broken mitochondria, the cellular organelle from which cellular energy is made. In contrast, normal cells can use either blood sugar or other fuels called ketone bodies for fuel. Ketones are the byproducts of the breakdown of fats in the body. The important thing to understand is that because of their broken metabolism, cancer cells are vulnerable to any diet which sharply lowers blood sugar.
Dr. Otto Warburg, one of the twentieth century's leading biochemists, discovered this preference for glucose in cancer cells. His hypothesis that cancer cells are only able to use glucose (blood sugar) for fuel is called the Warburg Hypothesis. Recent research and some new information on cancer cell metabolism and metabolic treatments has brought Dr. Warburg's hypothesis back into focus.
Dr. Thomas Seyfried, the author of a book and a 2010 paper called Cancer as a Metabolic Disease writes: "Emerging evidence indicates that impaired cellular energy metabolism is the defining characteristic of nearly all cancers regardless of cellular or tissue origin."
The main idea behind the use of a ketogenic diet to treat cancer is to deprive the cancer cells of the glucose and other fuels they need to survive, and provide support for the mitochondrial respiration processes in healthy tissues.
The huge advantage of this treatment protocol is that unlike mainstream chemo and radiation therapies, the ketogenic diet is non-toxic to the rest of the body, and actually supports the health of normal cells. When glucose or blood sugar is lowered via the diet, normal cells can switch to burning ketone bodies for fuel (ketone bodies are created in a process called ketosis) and survive quite nicely, while the cancer cells are starved of the glucose they need to grow.
Because there is so little information available about using a ketogenic diet for cancer treatments, I have written an eBook which explains in more detail how and why the ketogenic diet works for cancer treatment and gives details on how to implement the diet. It's based on Dr. Seyfried and Dr. Dominic D'Agostino's work at the University of South Florida.
In addition, the use of a ketogenic diet in conjunction with standard treatments is currently being explored in several trials funded by the National Cancer Institute, and more studies are being approved as interest in this "metabolic therapy" grows.
It isn't always successful, but as the newest research is showing, ketosis can be beneficial for many cancer cases. And as an added benefit, using ketogenic diets in cancer treatments actually supports and strengthens the patient's overall health.
In this paper titled "Targeting energy metabolism in brain cancer with calorically restricted ketogenic diets" the authors conclude:
"The CRKD (calorie restricted ketogenic diet) is effective in managing brain tumor growth in animal models and in patients, and appears to act through antiangiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and proapoptotic mechanisms."
Translation: Calorie restricted ketogenic diets were effective in stopping the growth of brain tumor in both animals and humans, and they seem to work by stopping the tumor from creating new arteries for supplying itself with blood, reducing inflammation, and restoring the normal cell death mechanisms. (Cancer cells are known to have the ability to avoid the normal mechanisms by which damaged cells die).
And in this paper, Dr. Eugene Fine of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine hypothesizes that ketone bodies stop cancers by changing the availability of energy processes in cancer cells. A preliminary paper from Dr. Fine's team was published and the summary of results states:
"Preliminary data demonstrate that an insulin-inhibiting diet is safe and feasible in selected patients with advanced cancer. The extent of ketosis, but not calorie deficit or weight loss, correlated with stable disease or partial remission."
There's a podcast interview with Dr. Fine here.
The diet prescription for those with cancer is basically the same as any ketogenic diet, in that it is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb protocol. However, there are some differences. Calories and certain foods which are insulin stimulating are also restricted and certain target levels of ketones and blood sugar must be met.
As Dr. Thomas Seyfried describes in his book "Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer", there are target ranges of blood glucose levels and ketone levels that are optimal for stopping the growth of the cancer.
Dr. Seyfried recommends implementing a restricted ketogenic diet and balancing blood sugar and ketone levels in a ratio he calls the glucose to ketone ratio, or the G/K index. He spoke about using a ketogenic diet to treat cancer at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium. And here's a recent independent paper highlighting that an increase in the uptake of glucose in nonmalignant human breast cells "activates known oncogenic pathways to induce malignant phenotype" (i.e. cancerous cells), which reinforces the idea that an increase in the cellular burning of sugar, a process called glycolysis, is a factor in the activation of cancer.
Checking blood sugar and ketones levels requires using a blood sugar and blood ketone meter. There are many different brands of blood sugar meters, and just recently, several brands of blood ketone meters have been put on the market. The Precision Xtra Advanced Diabetes Management System or the Nova Max Plus Blood Glucose Monitoring System brands offer a meter which can track both blood sugar and blood ketones with different strips. Be aware that the ketone strips are expensive.
There's an comprehensive article here by Dr. Seyfried et al on how a ketogenic diet is implemented in cases of certain kinds of cancer.
Miriam Kalamian, a nutritionist with a practice focused on educating and supporting implementation of the Ketogenic Diet for cancer and other metabolic diseases offers phone consultations. And I would also recommend that your doctor or a knowledgable nutritionist be involved as much as possible in the implementation of a ketogenic diet for cancer.
I have written an eBook with more information about using a restricted ketogenic diet to destroy cancer. It's available here, or click on the book cover image.
For more information about other research being done on cancer treatments using ketogenic diets, here's the results of a search on cancer treatments that I did on PUBMED using the terms "ketogenic and cancer". As you can see, there are over 7 pages of studies listed.
In addition, Dr. Georgia Ede has an excellent article here on treating cancer with diet.
Dominic D'Agostino, Ph.D , a research scientist who specializes in cancer and mitochondrial disease research, has a blog here on which he discusses the research for using a ketogenic diet for cancer treatments.
The Single Cause Single Cure organization has been formed to provide funding for metabolic therapy research.
I'm a self-taught nutrition writer freely offering information about nutrition and health with the hope of helping others feel better and live longer. No outside entity pays or influences me with respect to site content. If this information has helped you, consider donating to get the word out. Your donations to support these efforts are greatly appreciated, and gratefully accepted.
Cancer patients aren't given many options in the mainstream medical standard of care. My hope is that the ketogenic diet will give back some control to those struggling with a cancer diagnosis.