The Ketogenic Diet For Cancer – Any Good?
Though the ketogenic diet was originally developed to treat patients with epilepsy, interest in this way of eating has been increasingly discussed recently as we discover more about it.
The ketogenic diet involves the removal of most carbohydrates from the diet, particularly sugar, replacing them with healthy fats and moderate amounts of high-quality protein.
Some feel that the ketogenic diet benefits cancer because cancer cells feed on sugar. It is known that carbohydrates turn into glucose (sugar) inside your body and we know that cancer cells love glucose and need it so badly that without it, they die.
Healthy cells have the ability to adapt from using glucose for fuel to using ketone bodies, which are three different water soluble biochemicals that are produced as by-products when fatty acids are broken down by the liver to be used for energy. Cancer cells lack this ability, so the thinking is that when you reduce carbohydrate intake to only non-starchy vegetables and protein, you effectively starve the cancer.
So is there research to back this up?
A study completed in 2015 titled Growth of Human Colon Cancer Cells in Nude Mice is Delayed by Ketogenic Diet With or Without Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Medium-chain Triglycerides 1
indicated that a ketogenic diet delayed tumor growth in mice.
In another study released in 2015, Mitochondria: The ketogenic diet – A metabolism-based therapy 2 researchers stated that “As metabolic reprogramming from oxidative phosphorylation toward increased glycolysis is a hallmark of cancer cells; there is increasing evidence that the ketogenic diet may also be beneficial as an adjuvant cancer therapy by potentiating the antitumor effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.”
In 2014, Chinese researchers released this study: Roles of caloric restriction, ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting during initiation, progression and metastasis of cancer in animal models: a systematic review and meta-analysis 3 Researchers found that restriction of calories and following a ketogenic diet were effective against cancer in animal experiments.
Dr Mercola wrote an article for his wildly popular website, www.mercola.com, titled The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet And Its Role In Cancer Treatment. Check out that article by clicking the link. Dr Mercola explained the ketogenic diet in detail, and provided a one-hour video interview with Dr Thomas Seyfried. Interesting information. However. Read on.
There Are Some Who Disagree About Efficacy of Ketogenic Diet
Chris Wark, a fellow cancer coach whom I respect and admire, has information on his website to the contrary about the ketogenic diet.
In his article Dr Gonzalez Dismantles Ketogenic Diet For Cancer, Chris states “at first glance, there is some very compelling science that presents the ketogenic diet as a method to starve cancer cells of their primary fuel, glucose, thus killing the cancer.”
It looks as though this way of eating might work in the short term, but not in the long term for cancer patients, according to Dr Nicholas Gonzalez, a New York based physician well known for his alternative nutritional cancer treatment program. Dr Gonzalez agrees that the science is compelling, but the ketogenic diet just doesn’t work for cancer patients. And he should know. Be sure to read Chris Wark’s article and follow the links he provides within the article and watch the video at the bottom of the page between Jonathan Landsman and Dr Gonzalez.
As Chris says, survivors trump science. Every time.
My Personal Experience With the Ketogenic Diet
I’ve tried this diet myself, but it was for weight loss rather than killing cancer. I can honestly say that as counter-intuitive as it seemed to be (bacon and not brown rice?… steak and not oatmeal…?) I felt really well eating this way, and it only took a few days to achieve that. I dropped the ten pounds I’d been trying to lose for years, in just a few weeks. The hardest part is the first three days of the diet while you are trying to break your addiction to carbs. Dr Mercola’s article puts this struggle quite nicely:
“The removal of glucose from the brain elicits the same kind of problems or events as you would if you were addicted to drugs, alcohol, or something like this. You get malaise, headaches, nausea, lightheadedness. You get all the kinds of physiological effects that you would get from withdrawal of any addicting substance. I look at glucose as an addictive substance. It’s an addictive metabolite. Your brain is comforted by having glucose; your body is comforted. And when you break that glucose addiction, you have these particular feelings.”
The good thing is that once you’ve gotten through those first 3-4 days, made the transition from burning carbohydrates to burning fat, the cravings for sugar and junk foods really just disappear like magic and what you’re doing for your body is pretty darned terrific as well.
There Are Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet For Breast Cancer – SHORT Term
There are a few reasons why it would benefit you to eat a ketogenic diet in the short term if you have breast cancer but I would certainly not be using it for long-term survival. There are just not sufficient studies on humans which indicate long-term survival happens with a ketogenic diet.
1. Use the ketogenic diet to lose weight. If your particular breast cancer is fueled by hormones, eating this way helps you to lose weight – and since fat cells make estrogen, you are reducing circulating estrogen. 2. The healthy fats that you consume on this diet help to create healthy cell membranes. 3. Short term, the ketogenic diet helps you feel more energetic.
Foods to Stop Eating on the Ketogenic Diet
- White potatoes in all their forms – baked, french fries, potato chips, hash browns
- Waffles, pancakes
- Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, high fructose fruit juices, Gatorade, etc.
- Breakfast cereals, including oatmeal
- Breads – whole wheat and white breads, bagels, doughnuts, crackers, muffins
- Pasta – all varieties
- Rice – white and brown
- Desserts – ice cream, cake, muffins, etc.
- Ketchup, mustard (unless made sugar free)
- Beer (a small glass of organic wine occasionally is okay)
- Trans-fats such as margarine, and low quality cooking oils
- Pineapple, melons, papaya, mangoes (or if you especially love them, put them in the “foods to eat sparingly” section)
- Sugar, honey, agave
Foods To Embrace on the Ketogenic Diet
- Natural meats – beef, pork, lamb – as unprocessed as possible – and organic or grass-fed always.
- Free range poultry – turkey, duck, chicken, quail, Cornish hens
- Wild game – any
- Any fish – salmon, halibut, trout, sardines, snapper (avoid breaded or fried fish)
- Shellfish – clams, crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, oysters. Avoid imitation crab meat because it contains sugar and other additives.
- Nitrate free bacon, sausage, ham – organic or grass fed or, at the very least, hormone and antibiotic free – avoid sugar cured
- Eggs – organic
- Good fats: organic butter, olive oil, coconut oil, freshly ground flaxseed, avocados
- Dairy products – full cream milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, all hard and soft cheeses, cream cheese, whipping cream, unsweetened yogurt – all raw or organic
- Coconut milk, almond milk
- Nuts – macadamias, almonds, walnuts, pecans
- Leafy green vegetables – lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens
- Snow peas
- Green beans
- Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage
- Seasonings: fresh herbs, sea salt, pepper, soy sauce
Foods To Eat Sparingly on the Ketogenic Diet
- Sweet corn, peas
- Fresh fruits such as apples, pears, oranges, bananas, grapes, cherries, apricots, peaches
- Carrots, beets (remember beet is a potent anti-cancer veggie)
- Dried apricots
- Sweet potatoes
- Legumes, baked beans
- Tea or coffee with milk (black tea, herbal tea, green tea – organic) – sweeten with stevia liquid
- Cashews, pistachios, chestnuts
- Berries: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, gooseberries
- Stevia (liquid)
1. Growth of Human Colon Cancer Cells in Nude Mice is Delayed by Ketogenic Diet With or Without Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Medium-chain Triglycerides — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25773851
2. Mitochondria: The ketogenic diet – A metabolism-based therapy — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25666556
3. Roles of caloric restriction, ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting during initiation, progression and metastasis of cancer in animal models: a systematic review and meta-analysis — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25502434
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-book on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). It is my honor and my goal to help you through this so that you emerge from breast cancer feeling better than before, thriving!
Disclaimer: I am neither a doctor nor a nutrition expert so please consult your doctor or qualified health professional before starting this diet or taking any action that affects your health and well-being.
I am following a ketogenic diet and I have lost maybe 5 pounds since I started in mid June!
I was not a great sugar eater so it was easier for me perhaps to adapt.
Once in a while I miss having some sherbet after doing the dinner dishes but I may please myself with a small square of dark chocolate or 5 or 6 dark chocolate covered almonds.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the ketogenic diet is agreeing with you. I agree with your use of dark chocolate when you are craving a treat – we were not meant to deny ourselves little pleasures, I don’t think. Moderation is the key. Enjoy!
Hi Marnie ,
Thanks for all of your efforts in our struggle with Cancer. I really appreciate this one especially as since I finished my treatment (Radiation only Thank goodness) I have been put on Letrozole . Of course I no longer take Estrogen and Progesterone but have noticed a huge difference in my skin, It is so dry and my face seems to get more wrinkles every day!. I should not complain as I know if this is all I have to worry about I am very, very fortunate.
I am a widow on SSS. only so I cannot afford the expensive things they advertise, so I wondered If you knew of anything to help especially my face. Vanity is such a burden! This diet sounds like it is doable and I need to loose about 20 pounds.
Thanks for your comment! The diet is definitely do-able, I’ve been on it myself from time to time and I actually felt very much better when I eat this way. There are a number of things you can do for your skin, some of which I recommend in my newsletters. You are one of my subscribers, so stay tuned.