Ketogenic Diet May Be Key to Cancer Recovery

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Editor's comment: The opinions in the article are Dr. Mercola's. We would suggest that food consumers exercise caution when they decide whether or not to use ketogenic diet to fight cancer.

By Dr. Mercola

To some, a ketogenic diet amounts to nothing less than a drug-free cancer treatment. The diet calls for eliminating carbohydrates, replacing them with healthy fats and protein.

The premise is that since cancer cells need glucose to thrive, and carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, then cutting out carbs literally starves the cancer cells. Additionally, low protein intake tends to minimize the mTOR pathway, which accelerates cell proliferation.

This type of diet, in which you replace carbs with moderate amounts of high quality protein and high amounts of beneficial fat, is what I recommend for everyone, whether you have cancer or not. It’s simply a diet that will help optimize your weight and health overall, as eating this way will help you convert from carb burning mode to fat burning.

Ketogenic Diet May Be Key to Brain Cancer Recovery

The featured video shows Thomas Seyfried, Ph.D, who is one of the leaders in teasing the details of how to treat cancer nutritionally. I am scheduled to interview him shortly and hope to have that interview up later this year. In the video, Professor Seyfried discusses how, as a metabolic disorder involving the dysregulation of respiration, malignant brain cancer can be managed through changes in the metabolic environment.

“In contrast to normal neurons and glia, which transition to ketone bodies (beta-hydroxybutyrate) for respiratory energy when glucose levels are reduced, malignant brain tumors are mostly dependent on non-oxidative substrate level phosphorylation due to structural and functional abnormalities in mitochondria. Glucose and glutamine are major fuels for malignant cancer cells.

The transition from glucose to ketone bodies as an energy source is an ancestrally conserved adaptation to food deprivation that permits the survival of normal cells during extreme shifts in nutritional environment. Only those cells with a flexible genome, honed through millions of years of environmental forcing and variability selection, can transition from one energy state to another.

We propose a different approach to brain cancer management that exploits the metabolic flexibility of normal cells at the expense of the genetically defective and metabolically challenged. This evolutionary and metabolic approach to brain cancer management is supported from studies in orthotopic mouse brain tumor models and from case studies in patients. 

Calorie restriction and restricted ketogenic diets (R-KD), which reduce circulating glucose levels and elevate ketone levels, are anti-invasive, anti-angiogenic, and pro-apoptotic towards malignant brain cancer.”1

Current conventional cancer treatment typically involves chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is a cytotoxic poison, and radiation is devastating to the human body. More often than not, the treatment is what eventually kills the patient. This can no longer be accepted as “the best we can do.” As Dr. Seyfried says:

"The reason why we have so few people surviving is because of the standard of care. It has to be changed, if it's not changed, there will be no major progress. Period."

Metabolic Therapy/Ketogenic Diet Being Investigated as Cancer Treatment

CBN News recently published an article on the ketogenic diet.2 Clearly, many people are realizing that what we have been doing in terms of fighting cancer is simply not working, and we cannot afford to continue in the same way. Prevention must be addressed if we ever want to turn the tide on the growing incidence of cancer across all age groups. But even more astounding, in terms of treatment, is that cancer may respond to diet alone.

“Dr. Fred Hatfield is an impressive guy: a power-lifting champion, author of dozens of books, a millionaire businessman with a beautiful wife. But he'll tell you his greatest accomplishment is killing his cancer just in the nick of time,” CBN News writes. "The doctors gave me three months to live because of widespread metastatic cancer in my skeletal structure," he recalled. "Three months; three different doctors told me that same thing."

Dr. Hatfield was preparing to die when he heard of metabolic therapy, also known as the ketogenic diet. He had nothing to lose so he gave it a try, and... it worked. The cancer disappeared completely, and at the time of his interview (above), he’d been cancer-free for over a year.

 

The video above also features Dr. Dominic D'Agostino who, along with a team of researchers at the University of South Florida studies metabolic therapy. They found that when lab animals were fed a carb-free diet, they survived highly aggressive metastatic cancer better than those treated with chemotherapy. CBN reports:

“'We have dramatically increased survival with metabolic therapy,' [Dr. D’Agostino] said. 'So we think it's important to get this information out.' It's not just lab mice. Dr. D'Agostino has also seen similar success in people - lots of them. 'I've been in correspondence with a number of people,' he said. 'At least a dozen over the last year-and-a-half to two years, and all of them are still alive, despite the odds. So this is very encouraging.'”

How Does Ketogenic Diet Starve Cancer Cells?

Dr. D’Agostino explains how the ketogenic diet can have such a dramatic (and rapid) effect on cancer. All of your body’s cells are fueled by glucose. This includes cancer cells. However, cancer cells have one built-in fatal flaw – they do not have the metabolic flexibility of your regular cells and cannot adapt to use ketone bodies for fuel as all your other cells can.

So, when you alter your diet and become what’s known as “fat-adapted,” your body starts using fat for fuel rather than carbs. When you switch out the carbs for healthy fats, you starve the cancer out, as you’re no longer supplying the necessary fuel – glucose – for their growth. As D’Agostino explains:

"Your normal cells have the metabolic flexibility to adapt from using glucose to using ketone bodies. But cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility. So we can exploit that.”

I’ve previously discussed ways to “starve” cancer, and eliminating sugar/fructose and grains (ie carbohydrates) is at the very top of the list. It’s the most basic step without which few other dietary strategies are likely to succeed. In order to be effective, you must first STOP doing that which is promoting cancer growth (or poor health in general), and then all the other preventive strategies have the chance to really have an impact.

What Makes for a Cancer-Fighting Diet?

Please remember addressing your diet should be at the top of your list. Rather than just adding certain cancer-fighting foods. Naturally, processed foods and soft drinks do not belong in a cancer-preventive diet, as they are loaded with carbs that turn into fuel for cancer cells. Carbs also raise your insulin and leptin levels, and keeping your insulin and leptin signaling healthy is imperative if you want to avoid chronic disease of all kinds, including cancer.

Processed foods may also contain trans fat – the only type of fat you really need to avoid like the plague. They are also loaded with omega-6 fats which the featured otherwise excellent video failed to mention. Increasing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is another potent way to increase your risk of cancer cell proliferation.

What About Protein?

One of my primary mentors in the importance of insulin and leptin, Dr. Rosedale. was one of the first professionals to advocate both a low-carb and moderate protein (and therefore high quality fat) diet. This was contrary to most low-carb advocates who were, and still are, very accepting of, if not promoting, high protein, as a replacement for the carbs.

If you or someone you know is challenged with cancer, the healthiest option may be to replace the carbs with beneficial fats,and limit your protein to high quality organic/pastured sources only. Dr. Rosedale advises 1 gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass which for most people will be about 50 grams of protein a day (or 0.5 grams per pound of lean body weight). While you can take carbs to very low levels in ketogenic diets, you must have some protein every day to replace your body’s requirements. The key is to add healthy fat to replace the carbs and excess protein.

Olives and Olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
Organic raw nuts, especially macadamia nuts, which are low in protein and omega-6 fat Organic pastured egg yolks and pastured meats Avocados

The Fallacies of Fats and Carbs

Coincidentally, Dr. Robert Lustig – another expert on the dangers of high carb diets – was recently interviewed by NPR radio’s Science Friday segment.2 His new book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, tackles the persistent myths about fat that is endangering the health of millions. It’s difficult to know just how many people have suffered poor health because they followed conventional low-fat recommendations, but I’m sure the number is significant.

The fact is that you’ve been thoroughly misled when it comes to dietary advice. Still today, many doctors, nutritionists, and government health officials will tell you to avoid saturated fat and keep fat consumption to below 10 percent while keeping the bulk of your diet, about 60 percent, as carbs. This is madness, as it’s the converse of a diet that will lead to optimal health. As an example, you’ve probably seen the whole grain label, which is certified by the American Heart Association3 of all things. Do whole grains support heart health? Hardly. The following outtake from the transcript addresses this head on:

“Flatow: ...there’s something that came out yesterday released from Harvard... and it talks about one of the most widely used industry standards, the wholegrain stamp. [It] actually identified grain products [bearing the stamp] were higher in both sugars and calories than products without the stamp.

Lustig: Absolutely. And to be honest with you, wholegrain doesn’t mean much... Basically what it means is you start with a whole grain; that is the starch on the inside, the kernel, or the husk or the bran on the outside, and then whatever you want to do with it is perfectly fine. It’s still a whole grain. So if you pulverize it and add sugar to it, hey it’s still a whole grain because that’s what you started with. But you know what? All the benefits you get from whole grain are gone as soon as you pulverize it. So.... what it means is irrelevant because the definition is not helpful.”

Other Lifestyle Factors that Influence Your Cancer Risk

Other lifestyle factors that have been found to have an impact on chronic disease and cancer include:

  • Vitamin D: There's overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in cancer development. You can decrease your risk of cancer by more than half simply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with sun exposure or a safe tanning bed. And, if you are being treated for cancer, it is likely that higher blood levels – probably around 80-90 ng/ml – would be beneficial. To learn the details on how to use vitamin D therapeutically, please review my previous article, Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency. In terms of protecting against cancer, vitamin D has been found to offer protection in a number of ways, including:
    • Regulating genetic expression
    • Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer)
    • Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells
    • Causing cells to become differentiated (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
    • Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous
  • Getting proper sleep: both in terms of getting enough sleep, and sleeping between certain hours. According to Ayurvedic medicine, the ideal hours for sleep are between 10 pm and 6 am. Modern research has confirmed the value of this recommendation as certain hormonal fluctuations occur throughout the day and night, and if you engage in the appropriate activities during those times, you're 'riding the wave' so to speak, and are able to get the optimal levels. Working against your biology by staying awake when you should ideally be sleeping or vice versa, interferes with these hormonal fluctuations.
  • There's a spike of melatonin that occurs between midnight and 1am that you don't want to miss because the consequences are absolutely spectacular. Melatonin is not only a sleep hormone, but it also is a very powerful antioxidant. It decreases the amount of estrogen your body produces, and boosts your immune system. It also interacts with other hormones. So, if you go to bed after 10, it can significantly increase your risk of breast cancer.

  • Effectively addressing your stress: The research shows that if you experience a traumatic or highly stressful event, such as a death in the family, your risk of breast cancer is 12 times higher in the ensuing five years. I believe energy psychology tools are ideal to address stressors in your life. My favorite is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others available as well.
  • Exercise: If you are like most people, when you think of reducing your risk of cancer, exercise doesn't immediately come to mind. However, there is some fairly compelling evidence that exercise can slash your risk of cancer.
  • One of the primary ways exercise lowers your risk for cancer is by reducing elevated insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Additionally, exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold right up to devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer.

    The trick about exercise, though, is understanding how to use it as a precise tool. This ensures you are getting enough to achieve the benefit, not too much to cause injury, and the right variety to balance your entire physical structure and maintain strength and flexibility, and aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. This is why it is helpful to view exercise like a drug that needs to be carefully prescribed to achieve its maximum benefit. For detailed instructions, please see this previous article.

    Additionally it is likely that integrating exercise with intermittent fasting will greatly catalyze the potential of exercise to reduce your risk of cancer and stimulate widespread healing and rejuvenation.

You CAN Beat 'the System'...

Cancer is the second most lethal disease in the US after heart disease (not counting iatrogenic mortality, aka “death by medicine”). We all know that the war on cancer has been a dismal failure. Tragically, conventional wisdom is blind when it comes to cancer prevention and treatment and hundreds of thousands die prematurely every year as a result. They have little to no appreciation of the concepts discussed in this article. But you don’t have to fall into that trap as you know better and can take control of your health and ability to treat cancer in your own hands.

The ketogenic diet, which can be summarized as a high-fat, moderate-protein, no-grain-carb diet, has brought many back to health, even after being diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and given no hope of survival. Hopefully, research by the likes of Dr. D’Agostino will become more widely known. Until then, do your own research and take control of your own health, and that of your family.

Severely limiting sugar/fructose, processed foods of all kinds, sweetened beverages (as well as diet versions), and replacing carbs with healthy fats and high quality protein can do what no medicine can – it can prevent disease from setting in, and may even be the U-turn you’re looking for if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or other chronic disease. Add to that appropriate sun exposure, sleep, effective stress management, and regular exercise, and you’ll be well ahead of the rest of the population.

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