Ketosis and Cancer: What's the Connection?
Can the keto diet help fight certain forms of cancer or shrink tumors? Can changing your diet actually reverse the growth of cancer in the body? Some doctors think so.
Recently revered for its weight loss benefits, mood improvements, and success with decreasing the number of epileptic seizures experienced in some people, many doctors are now exploring the ketogenic diet’s ability to have cancer reversing and prevention qualities. Although there are promising studies and many doctors behind this theory, like with any treatment, far more research is needed before doctors can make any definitive decisions or recommendations.
If you haven’t heard about the ketogenic diet, you can dive into the detail on it here. Basically, it’s a very low-carb, high (quality) fat, and adequate protein diet that leads to a metabolic state called ketosis. Essentially, your body begins to use fat and ketone bodies for fuel rather than glucose.
So, what’s the fuss about?
The idea that ketosis – which happens when the body burns fat rather than sugar or glucose for fuel – can slow the growth or in some cases shrink the size of certain cancer tumors comes from a theory about the cause of cancer itself.
In the 1920’s Otto Warburg, a German biochemist noticed cancer cells are fueled different than normal cells. At the risk of oversimplifying this (definitely talk to your doctor and dive into the research!!), he believed cancer cells eat up a ton more glucose than healthy cells do. They need it to thrive and grow.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Your normal cells have the metabolic flexibility to adapt from using glucose to using ketone bodies. Cancer cells lack this ability so when you reduce carbs to only non-starchy vegetables, you effectively starve the cancer.”
“The premise is that since cancer cells need glucose to thrive, and carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, then lowering the glucose level in your blood though carb and protein restriction literally starves the cancer cells into oblivion,” he continued.
Researchers are exploring this theory – that ketosis could prevent, pause or perhaps shrink cancer tumors. In fact, a study at the University of Texas at Dallas restricted blood sugar levels in mice with lung and esophageal cancers by feeding them a ketogenic diet and by giving them a diabetes drug that prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose in the blood. The combination of the diet and diabetes drug didn’t shrink the lung and esophageal cancers in the mice, but it did keep them from progressing.
Other research has shown that beyond lowering blood sugar, the ketogenic diets may also help treat cancer via other mechanisms like lowering calories, reducing insulin and increasing ketones. Could be promising.
With that said, the verdict is still out. There have been a few small studies and case reports in humans to suggest there might be something to this theory. Perhaps a ketogenic diet – low carb, high quality fat and adequate protein – might slow the progression of cancer. However, the research is still in its early stages and a lot more is needed.
Important note: Never, ever delay or avoid conventional medical treatment of cancer, or any disease, in favor of an alternative treatment like the ketogenic diet. You should discuss all treatment options with your doctor.