Ketogenic Diet To Enhance Cancer Outcomes

When it comes to cancer, there are many different schools of thought on the best treatment and lifestyle approaches to take.

Diet is an important health aspect to consider in regards to improving cancer outcomes and quality of life of individuals with cancer.

Contrary to long-held beliefs, cancer is now viewed as a symptom of dynamic abnormal cellular processing and signalling rather than as a static lump of abnormal tissue.

This is where lifestyle and dietary changes, in addition to Complementary Therapies, can help to normalise cellular function in order to reduce or reverse dysfunctional cell changes.


Fundamental Dietary Guidelines For Cancer

Sugar Must Go

Research shows that cancer cells depend on a steady sugar supply to produce energy and to continue growing and dividing.

In addition, sugar and insulin, which is elevated in the blood when you eat a high carbohydrate diet, can promote cancer cell growth.

Restricting the amount of sugary, sweet carbohydrates in your diet may therefore help reduce cancer proliferation.

Natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia could be used in moderation as an alternative to sugar during cancer treatment (and for general health maintenance).  

Alkalise The Body

An acidic metabolic environment in the body is pro-carcinogenic and has numerous direct and indirect effects on cancer proliferation as cancer cells thrive in an acidic terrain.

Unfortunately, standard Western diets and lifestyles are highly acidic and pro-inflammatory.

Therefore, in cancer food intake should be geared towards systemic alkalisation, eg. high vegetable and fruit intake.

Some supplements may assist with this process to shift metabolic acidosis to a more alkaline state.

Muscle Tissue and Bodyweight Should be Maintained 

Any diet designed to support the health of cancer patients should aim to attenuate malnutrition and tissue wasting as much as possible.

Malnutrition has long been known to be associated with adverse outcomes in cancer patients.

Fat and muscle loss occuring in cancer (known as cachexia) reflects a catabolic state of metabolism which is caused by an abnormal physiological response to tumour presence and is generally accompanied by fatigue and weakness.

Reduced appetite and food intake is also often to blame for negative energy balance causing cachexia (eg. less calories ingested than expended on a daily bases).


Ketogenic Diet For Cancer 

A diet that ticks all of these boxes and has been found to offer further health benefits specifically for cancer is the Ketogenic diet.

A ketogenic diet restricts the amount of carbohydrates you can eat as a method of reducing blood glucose (sugar) and insulin levels.

Energy is instead obtained from the metabolism of dietary protein and fats.

The amount of calories eaten on a daily basis should not be reduced since it is important to maintain a healthy bodyweight.

The process of energy conversion from fats results in the formation of ketones as a harmless by-product, hence the diet being called Ketogenic.

Most cancer cells cannot derive energy from ketones, however ketones can act as a source of fuel for healthy cells so the rest of the body can continue to function normally.

Basic dietary guidelines for the Ketogenic diet include eating lots of fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, low carbohydrate fruits, meat, chicken, fish and other protein-rich foods.

In addition, you may be able to utilise low carbohydrate, high protein meal replacements and beneficial fat supplements to reduce inflammation, support energy production and maintain wellbeing during cancer treatment.

Coconut oil may also be beneficial for individuals with cancer as it contains certain types of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs); MCTs are easily digestable, “good” fats that can help support energy production.


The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet for Cancer 

Ketogenic diets have long been prescribed for Epilepsy due to stabilising effects on nerve cell function.

In cancer, the very low carbohydrate nature of a ketogenic diet effectively “starves” cancer cells as they rely on a constant supply of sugar for fuel and cannot usually metabolise ketones for energy.

The Keto Diet Can Reduce Cancer Cell Growth and Progression

Supporting research includes animal studies where ketogenic diets have been found to slow the progression of cancer and/or cause cancer regression in animal studies.

Preliminary research on humans with advanced cancer has found that ketogenic diets can contribute to stabilisation and even regression of tumour growth.

Low carbohydrate intake also benefits metabolic health as blood sugar and insulin levels are relatively unaffected by protein and fat intake.

This means there is less chance of developing or exacerbating insulin resistance or diabetes, common precursors and adjuncts of cancer.

As previously mentioned, a potential concern of using a ketogenic diet for cancer patients is the possibility of causing excessive weight-loss.

Interestingly the inclusion of plenty of protein and fats in this diet, specifically health-promoting fats such as Omega 3s at therapeutic doses have actually been found to reduce and prevent cachexia in cancer.

Positive results from a recent study on advanced cancer patients following a ketogenic diet showed that the patients only lost 4% of their body weight during the trial.

Long-term safety and efficacy of ketogenic diets has previously been shown in trials involving epileptic and obese patients.

Recently, a preliminary study involving a small group of trial participants with advanced cancer has shown the ketogenic diet to be well-tolerated for 1-3months by most participants.

Additional trials to investigate long-term safety and feasibility of a ketogenic trial in cancer are currently underway.



Further Reading: