Is there such a thing as ketogenic diet cancer treatment? Is it a more effective way to battle cancer than conventional treatments? And how safe is using it in additional to traditional methods?
The ketogenic or keto diet is an ultra low-carb eating plan. It was originally created in the early 20th century as a treatment for epilepsy. A true ketogenic eating plan is medically supervised. But these days, it’s more of a self-prescribed lifestyle for weight loss.
There’s growing interest in keto not just for body composition change but also as a cancer treatment. There are some studies showing promising results for a ketogenic diet cancer treatment. But some experts suggest the eating plan may actually cause the terminal disease.
Does The Keto Diet Cause Or Cure Cancer?
The short answer is: both, maybe.
Recent preclinical trials (studies on mice or rats) and small studies on people do suggest keto kills cancerous cells. But some experts question how healthy the keto diet plan is. For starters, when you start limiting carbs to almost none per day, you can develop so-called “Keto flu.”
More seriously, there’s concern that following keto for too long can lead to side effects such as dehydration. Long-term keto concerns also include substantial changes to the blood’s chemistry.
Moreover, keto diets are high in fat. Many doctors believe high-fat diets contribute to heart disease. Because the ketogenic diet calls for moderate protein intake, some experts have concern that eating red meat increases cancer risk.
There’s even research that shows a link between the ketogenic diet cancer eating plan and the growth of certain tumors (but thus far, that link has only been shown in mice.).
However, the flip side is also true. Studies on animals show that a keto diet shrinks tumors. There’s even been a few studies on a small number of people that suggests keto can help with certain types of malignant brain tumors.
“Certain types” is the keyword here. The preliminary research suggests the ketogenic diet for cancer only works for certain types of abnormal cells. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, don’t try to self-treat by following the keto diet.
Consult with your oncologist or at least a functional medicine doctor trained in nutritional therapy.
To be sure, no conclusions can be made at this time. Yet, the early-stage research is promising. Certain types of cancer can be treated with the keto diet. But the research thus far suggests going keto in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments works best.
Keto Cancer Therapy: Work With A Dietician, Don’t Go It Alone
Certain cancers and cancer medicines may not be good for a keto diet. That’s because they make it difficult to digest proteins and fats. These two macros comprise about 90% of the keto diet, with fat being the larger of the two (approximately 70% of all calories should come from fat on the keto diet).
As a result, if you’re eating a lot of fat, you may develop digestive problems.
But as of 2018, 10 of the 24 clinical studies suggest a ketogenic diet has anti-tumor effects. And of those 24 studies, seven showed that keto had no effect on tumors.
Only one study suggested the keto diet can cause tumor formation.
How Does The Ketogenic Diet for Cancer Work?
When you starve your body of carbs, ketones are made by your liver. Ketones, which are fatty acids, become your body’s primary source of fuel instead of sugar.
Cancer cells feed on sugar. But the keto diet starves these cells of their favorite fuel. When following a keto diet, you enter a state called “ketosis.” This is when your body is burning fuel instead of sugar.
The keto diet not only lowers high blood sugar. It also reduces insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels.
But as you eat more and more sugar, your body needs to produce more insulin. High levels of insulin can lead to cancer.
Keto Diet & The Warburg Effect
About 100 years ago, the German scientist, Otto Warburg, noticed that cancer cells eat more sugar—glucose—than healthy cells. Warburg also noticed that abnormal cells get their sugar fix differently than normal cells.
You can say that cancer cells ‘elbow’ their way to the sugar buffet. This behavior is known as “The Warburg Effect”. Thus, the point of the ketogenic diet for cancer is to neutralize the Warburg effect.
And by eating lots of natural fat, a moderate amount of protein, cancer cells essentially starve. For cancer cells, it’s sugar or bust. Tumors “spit out” ketone bodies; they can’t—or don’t want to—use this these fatty acids as fuel.
Cancer cells not only eat more sugar, they also have more insulin receptors than healthy cells. This is why over 50 drugs have been developed to block these receptors.
But according to one study on the ketogenic diet for cancer, these drugs are hit-or-miss. And sometimes, they have toxic side effects. Not only that, the drugs can lead to really high levels of blood sugar.
Keto Diet & Chemotherapy
One study researched the effectiveness of the keto diet in combination with or without low-dose chemotherapy. The particular cancer in the study was “neuroblastoma” This type forms in the nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest, or spinal cord. It’s the third most common childhood cancer.
The study found that the growth of these cancerous cells was significantly reduced by a ketogenic diet. The particular diet consisted of a specific ratio of macros. It also used calorie restriction. In general, the keto lifestyle is not concerned with counting calories.
The study found that a diet consisting of 25% medium-chain triglycerides (example: MCT oil) and 75% long-chain triglycerides led to a stronger anti-tumor effect.
These findings confirm that not all keto diets are the same. And not all cancers are the same. Therefore, don’t go on a keto diet without first consulting with a medical professional.
Ketogenic Diet Cancer Success Stories
It’s quite easy to find success stories. Just type that phrase into the search bar. But if it’s scientific proof you’re looking for, there are several studies that support the effectiveness of using a keto diet for treating cancer.
Thus far, research on glioblastoma, a particular brain tumor, is promising. In addition, there’s good evidence (at least 3 studies) for prostate, colon, pancreatic and lung cancer.
There’s also a study on prostate cancer that suggests a keto diet is effective as a preventative. And as of the end of 2018, there had been one study showing the keto diet has anti-tumor effect on breast, stomach, and liver cancers.
A study published in Nature analyzed treatments for mice with pancreatic cancer. The best one: a ketogenic diet cancer treatment. The researchers concluded the keto eating plan kept both blood sugar and insulin levels in check. The ultra low carb diet also prevented tumors from growing.
This doesn’t suggest, however, that the keto diet for cancer is the only therapy. The researchers used a ketogenic meal plan to block spikes in blood sugar, so that the cancer drugs can work.
In fact, in the study, it was shown that some mice on a keto diet who didn’t take the cancer drug had faster-growing leukemias.
Ketogenic diet foods
Even though vegetables belong in the carbohydrate macronutrient category, don’t eliminate them on a keto diet. It’s very important to consume low-starch veggies at most meals.
Brussel sprouts are a great example. There’s only about 4 net grams of carbs in a handful of sprouts. ,
But the ultimate pleasure for most people on a keto diet is being able to eat high-fat foods.
This includes cheese, whole eggs yolks, olives and olive oil (as well as other oils high in polyunsaturated fat), avocados, macadamia nuts as well as other nuts, seeds and butters derived from them.
Grass-fed meat is also keto-friendly. So, too, is wild salmon, mahi mahi and other fish and seafood.
Fruit should be kept to a minimum. Berries have lots of nutrients but are relatively low in sugar.
As for dairy products, grass fed butter and cream are keto staples.
If you don’t think you can live without pasta, try the zero-carb substitute, Shirataki noodles. And if you’d rather die than be without bread, so-called Paleo breads made with coconut or almond flour can be enjoyed in moderation.
Keto & Coconut Oil for Cancer
One natural fat that’s popular on the ketogenic diet for cancer is coconut oil. Coconut oil contains the MCT, lauric acid. At least one study suggest lauric acid causes cancer cells to commit suicide.
However, for a small number of people, the high amount of saturated fat in coconut oil may be unhealthy.
Wondering if sweet potatoes are keto-friendly? The answer is, no, they’re not. Even though sweet potatoes are nutritious, the high amount of carbs could metabolize into sugar. You don’t want any starchy vegetables, especially high-carb tubers like potatoes, to potentially feed cancer cells.
Needless to say, don’t eat or drink anything with added sugars. If you love wine, you can occasionally have a low carb wine. Bottom line: keep net carbs between 20-50 per day.
Ketogenic diet for cancer meal planning
Don’t rely on keto menus that you can print from blogs. If you’re interested in ketogenic diet cancer menu, consult a registered dietician, clinical nutritionist or other expert.
Ketogenic Diet Recipes
Let’s suppose you have poor health insurance. Best case scenario, you can at least get an initial consultation with an expert who can tell you that your particular cancer may be improved with a keto diet.
Just remember that the best therapy may be a combination of low carb and a cancer drug.
Key takeaways for using keto for cancer
The long term effects of a ketogenic cancer diet aren’t yet known. Clinical trials are needed before we can say for sure that starving cancer cells of carbs is effective.
That being said, the early research is promising. More ketogenic diet cancer trials are needed. How effective keto is on cancer depends on the type of cancer. Some studies suggest a link between a keto diet and tumor growth.
The research is encouraging. But the jury is still out.