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Can Ketogenic Diet Help Cancer Patients & Reduce Chemo Side Effects?

7 min read
ketogenic diets help cancer patients with and without therapy

Ketogenic Diets Help Cancer Patients With and Without Chemotherapy

Have you ever did research on one topic, and found yourself immersed into an entirely different diet?  Personally, I have had success treating Pre-Diabetes with a Ketogenic Diet.  In addition to helping me lose 10 lbs with relatively little effort, it has lowered my blood sugars into the normal range.  However, during my research about Keto and health I came across studies concerning Keto and Cancer.  This immediately caught my attention because my father is currently fighting stage 4 cancer.  Can a Ketogenic Diet Help Cancer Patients?  I had to investigate further, with someone I love fighting for his life.

Disclosure : I am not a doctor and any information give here is for informational purposes only.  Please consult your physician if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Can a Ketogenic Diet Helps Slow Cancer Growth?

When my father was diagnosed with stomach, colon and liver cancer he opted for the Gerson Therapy for 6 months.  This alternative therapy consists of 13 cups of organic juicing (per day), 5 coffee enemas, and some additional supplements.  While, I am all for alternative treatments the cancer was still there after the 6 months.  Additionally, my dad was losing weight, feeling nausea and overall feeling weak in general.  He went in for another PET scan and the cancer was still there, and the tumors had slightly increased in size with two more nodules on his liver.  Oh, by the way my father has colon, stomach, and liver cancer.

So, the next option for him was full high dose chemo therapy.  While, my dad was against this direction at the beginning of his diagnosis he may have came to the grips that chemo may be the only option.  It’s easy to say that you will only take one road on your journey to recovery until the road comes insurpassable..

So, as I was reading about Ketogenic Diet for my own needs, it was then that I started seeing studies about Ketogenic Diets possibly being beneficial in fighting cancer.

Cancer Needs Glucose & Glutamine to Thrive and Prosper

I have always remembered hearing that cancer feeds off of sugar.  However, I never really investigated the best way to fight cancer.  I figured a low carb diet would deprive cancer of the sugar it needs to thrive.  However, there is more to it than that.  Your body can make glucose from eating too much protein in a process called Gluconeogenesis (GNG).  It is defined as “a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from certain non-carbohydrate carbon substrates.”

Well, if you can’t a high carb diet, and low carb diets consists of high amounts of protein which triggers Gluconeogenesis to make glucose, than how do you starve cancer from sugar?  Well, this is where the Ketogenic Diet comes to play, and all of the research on the benefits of Keto and Cancer are rather exciting.

Cancer Studies About the Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet and Cancer

Keto Diets are low carb, but they also only have moderate protein.  When you aren’t eating too much protein your body doesn’t trigger gluconeogenesis and start making glucose in the liver.  Ketogenic Diets are very high in healthy fats.  From my research, I learned that your body doesn’t need sugar as fuel when it has fat.  In fact, your body will enter into a state of ketosis as your body switches from burning glucose as fuel to burning fat as your man source of fuel.  So, when your body is in this state you can function in a healthy way but while in a low sugar state.  This isn’t the environment that cancer needs to grow and thrive!

I’m not touting Keto Diets as a cancer cure or anything like that, but there is research out there that suggests that can be very beneficial!  Many doctors will tell you to just eat whatever you want while undergoing chemo.  While, I agree that it’s imperative that you get your calories to try and keep your weight up while on chemo, doesn’t it make sense to not feed the cancer that your trying to kill?

Ketogenic Diets Can Diminish Chemo Symptoms

I have watched my mother go through chemotherapy treatments.  You will get sick, and there will be side effects.  There is no debating this subject.  All of us have experienced a loved one, or possibly even had personal experience with chemotherapy.  It’s not a novel concept to understand that when your killing both good and bad (cancer) cells the patient is going to experience all sorts of side effect from hair loss, to nausea, and even losing your fingernails in some cases.

There are medications that can help to lessen the side effects, but what about diet?  There are some exciting new Keto / Cancer studies out that are showing a lot of promise! Here is one that I suggest reading :

 the rationale in providing a fat-rich, low-carbohydrate diet in cancer therapy is to reduce circulating glucose levels and induce ketosis such that cancer cells are starved of energy while normal cells adapt their metabolism to use ketone bodies and survive. Furthermore, by reducing blood glucose also levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor, which are important drivers of cancer cell proliferation, drop.

Here is a graph from the study.

ketogenic diets help cancer patients with and without therapy
Ketogenic Diets Help Cancer Patients With and Without Chemotherapy



It appears from this graph, that those with Kidney Cancer should not follow a ketogenic diet.  This could probably have something to do with the amount of protein in the diet, but this is just a guess.  I’m not a doctor, so please do your research.  The graph here just indicates the amount of studies that suggest anti-tumor activities, rather than the level of effectiveness.

For inclusion into the study several parameters had to be met such as :

1 > Advances / metastatic tumor state of solid malignant tumors of different origins.

2 > No actual established therapeutic option available and have not previously undergone chemotherapy

3 > Measurable parameter for follow up (tumor-marker in serum or tumor visible in CT / PET / MRI).

4 > Acceptable general condition (as established by the Karnofsky performance status, or KPS scale)

5 > Lab values had to within nearly normal range.

Please read the full study to view the complete details of the parameters involved.  This doesn’t mean that a Ketogenic Diet wouldn’t be beneficial to you or someone you love if all of these parameters aren’t met, this is for the patients that they allowed to participate in the study.

Here are the rules for the Nutritional Guidelines in this particular study :

1Avoid all types of bread, cake, processed snacks, sweets, potatoes, pasta, rice, polenta, vegetables rich in starch (corn, beans, peas) and cereals.
2Be aware of hidden sources of CHO in sugar sweetened drinks, candy, chewing gum with sugar, milk and milk products, lunch meat and some cheeses as well as in most “low fat” products.
3Fruits are rich in CHO, therefore always calculate the amount and select those which are low in CHO.
4Vegetables are often rich in CHO – but mainly in dietary fiber, therefore calculate the usable CHO only.
5If possible, prefer cold-water fish and meat from grazing cattle as protein sources, because of their preferable fatty acid pattern
6Vegetables and the few fruits allowed should be grown organic
7As nibbles, select oil-rich nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts) and seeds (sunflower), and only occasionally chocolate with very high cacao content (min. 85%).


Keto Diets Help to Reduce Chemo Side Effects

Read here about how ketogenic diets can help to limit the awful side effects of chemo.  Many chemotherapy drugs cause hyperglycemia and patients have to discontinue taking the drugs due to the toxicity being to high.

Why does this happen?

Many cancer drugs cause high blood sugar levels.  This happens because they inhibit pathways which cause insulin to drop.  When the pancreas is unable to keep up, patients have to stop taking the drugs.  Ketogenic Diets are high in fats, and low in carbohydrates.  This can help to boost the efficacy of the chemotherapy and and diminish the side effects.

You Can Eat Foods You Like

One of the reasons why the Keto Diet is so popular is that there are so many different ways to make delicious food.  You can make pizza, tacos, cheeseburgers ect.. as long as you use keto approved ingredients.  Sorry, no traditional bread like what you would get at the grocery store.  You can make all of these delicious foods with just a few ingredients.  For example, “Keto Bread” can be made with 4 ingredients and be in the oven in 5 minutes.  Eggs, coconut oil, almond flour, and butter is all you need to make a simple keto bread. In fact, you can even make Keto Cookies as long as you use approved sweeteners, and of course no sugar!

If your a cancer patient, being asked to abide to a strict dietary protocol is not realistic.  Being allowed foods that are enjoyable makes compliance much easier for the patient.  Keto Diet allows you to possibly inhibit the growth of cancer while still allowing the patient to enjoy their meals.

Conclusion :

Nobody is saying that Ketogenic Diets are a cure-all for cancer.  Not by any means.  However, if someone you love is going through cancer then it’s imperative that they are on a diet that is not only palatable, but also helpful in slowing the growth of cancer.  When there are some studies that indicate that Keto Diets can actually help for chemo to work better, then it seems worth investigating at the very least.

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