Cancer is a dreaded disease that is a leading cause of mortality worldwide. Cancer also negatively affects the quality of life of patients. Moreover, cancer therapy can produce several side effects, which can further affect the patient’s day-to-day life. In such a scenario, adequate nutrition is a crucial element for cancer patients. A proper diet can boost the patient’s overall health, thereby improving the patient’s quality of life. Evidence suggests that a ketogenic diet could be beneficial for cancer patients and assist with cancer therapy. This article will discuss how a ketogenic diet could be the best diet for cancer patients.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet, nicknamed the keto diet, is a very low carbohydrate and high-fat diet. This form of diet requires strictly avoiding most types of carbohydrates and sugars. In the keto diet, the carbs and sugars are replaced by high amounts of fats and proteins (1).
When the body doesn’t have sufficient stores of carbohydrates and sugar, fats are used as an alternative source of energy. Thus, the fats are burned out, leading to the production of molecules of ketones and fatty acids by the liver. This process is known as ketosis. Ketosis usually occurs 3-4 days after carbohydrates are eliminated from the diet. The ketones produced during ketosis supply the body with energy (1,2).
Role of a Ketogenic Diet in Cancer Therapy and Why it could be the best diet for Cancer Patients
Most cancer cells share one unique property: They use glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates to grow. This means that cancer cells get their energy and nourishment from carbohydrates. Thus, consumption of large amounts of carbs or sugar can generate more energy and nourishment for cancer cells leading to their growth and multiplication (3,2).
In a ketogenic diet, due to the lack of carbohydrates, the body is put on a fasting state. In this state, glucose-dependent cancer cells are ‘starved,’ as there isn’t sufficient glucose in the body. The energy produced by the body in a ketogenic diet can be utilized by the normal cells of the body but cannot be used by cancer cells, which are solely dependent on glucose for their energy (2).
When cancer cells are deprived of energy or ‘starved’ over time, they can’t grow rapidly or multiply. These cells may even possibly shrink in size when they are not supplied with the energy needed to sustain them. Therefore, a ketogenic diet can be highly beneficial for cancer patients, as it provides sufficient energy for the normal functioning of the body but deprives cancer cells of their energy (2). In this way, a ketogenic diet can prevent the rapid growth of tumors and the progression of the disease. Also, over a period of time, a ketogenic diet can help reduce tumor size by starving the cancer cells. This can alleviate the patient’s symptoms and improve the overall quality of life of the patient.
Relationship Between Ketogenic Diet and Cancer Therapy: Scientific Studies
Scientific studies conducted on animal models (animal studies) indicate a promising link between a ketogenic diet and certain types of cancers. Animal studies conducted on advanced brain cancer (primary aggressive brain cancer) indicate that a ketogenic diet has the potential to augment the current treatments available for brain cancer (4). These studies are yet to be translated into human clinical trials. But there is potential for the future.
In a case study published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010, a 65-year-old woman with brain cancer (glioblastoma) was treated with standard therapy accompanied by a ketogenic diet (5). Following surgery (incomplete resection of the tumor), the patient was put on a strict ketogenic diet and followed-up for two months. During this period, the tumor size decreased substantially, and no tumor tissue could be found using MRI-imaging (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). At this stage, the ketogenic diet was stopped. After 10-weeks, the patient was checked again for any residual tumor tissue. Unfortunately, at this time, tumor recurrence was noted on MRI imaging. Thus, a strict ketogenic diet could help in tumor regression in brain cancer patients. However, further research is needed on this subject (5).
Ketogenic diet is effective in ‘starving’ cancer cells that can lead to regression of tumor size. At the same time, a ketogenic diet can prevent the growth and multiplication of tumor cells. In this regard, a ketogenic diet could be a highly beneficial adjuvant to conventional cancer therapy. However, further scientific research is required to validate the effectiveness and efficacy of the ketogenic diet for various types of cancers.
1.M.D.Anderson, University of Texas, https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/the-keto-diet-and-cancer–what-patients-should-know.h00-159223356.html
2. Tan-Shalaby J. Ketogenic Diets and Cancer: Emerging Evidence. Fed Pract. 2017;34(Suppl 1):37S–42S.
4. Schwartz KA, Noel M, Nikolai M, Chang HT. Investigating the Ketogenic Diet As Treatment for Primary Aggressive Brain Cancer: Challenges and Lessons Learned. Front Nutr. 2018;5:11. Published 2018 Feb 23. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00011
5. Zuccoli G, Marcello N, Pisanello A, et al. Metabolic management of glioblastoma multiforme using standard therapy together with a restricted ketogenic diet: Case Report. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:33. Published 2010 Apr 22. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-33