The Keto Diet and Cancer

My journey with the Ketogenic/Low Carb lifestyle has been from purely from a fat loss/ weight management standpoint, starting this voyage nearly 2 years ago and 80 lbs heavier. Desperate for anything that would work I came across a documentary on Netflix, the Magic Pill… and it inspired me to make a change. A large part of success in any regimen in my opinion is education…. education about nutrition, education about your body, the more you know about the food you eat and the effects it has on your body the more equipped you’ll be to make smart decisions that support your goals…. and you can apply that to any lifestyle…Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean etc.

The longer I’m living this low carb lifestyle, the more I want to understand about the Ketogenic diet and it’s effects on the human body. Recently I posted about the Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy and I was fascinated by the history of the Ketogenic, and the medical uses for it.

Diving a little deeper, I’ve seen and heard reports that the Ketogenic Diet has been linked to Cancer as a possible treatment for certain types of Cancer…. I had to know more. Before I get started…. I don’t have cancer and I don’t advocate that the Keto diet is some sort of cure-all or create some false hope for anyone suffering from this disease. What I DO want is to understand why some people in the medical profession are looking at the Keto diet for purposes aside from weight management and what effect they propose the Keto diet has on cancer.

This topic is like an onion and each layer that you remove reveals another layer. I’ve highlighted (3) noted and celebrated figures from the past and the present and some of their contributions surrounding the keto diet and cancer. This is by no means a comprehensive list as any Google search will attest to, but when I started looking into this topic, these (3) figures jumped out at me.

Otto Warburg

Otto Heinrich Warburg (8 October 1883 – 1 August 1970), was a German physiologist, medical doctor, and Nobel laureate. His research was hailed as a major breakthrough in our understanding of cancer. In 1923, he hypothesized that the primary cause of cancer was a dysfunctional metabolic process causing cancer cells to utilize large amounts of energy (glucose). Warburg’s discovery, now termed The Warburg Effect, was that cancer cells preferentially take up an excess of glucose and convert it to lactate for energy (ATP) production. This dependence on glucose allows oncologists to use positron emission tomography (PET) scans to locate tumors within a patients body. By mixing radiolabeled dye with sugar (glucose) they can follow where the highest amount of glucose is being consumed in the body. https://charliefoundation.org/keto-for-cancer/

The Warburg effect, is estimated to occur in up to 80 percent of cancers. It is so fundamental to most cancers that a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which has emerged as an important tool in the staging and diagnosis of cancer, works simply by revealing the places in the body where cells are consuming extra glucose. In many cases, the more glucose a tumor consumes, the worse a patient’s prognosis.

Thomas Seyfried, PHD

Thomas N. Seyfried received his Ph.D. in Genetics and Biochemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1976. He did his undergraduate work at the University of New England (formally St. Francis College) and also holds a Master’s degree in Genetics from Illinois State University, Normal, IL Full Biography on Tomseyfried.com

Professor of Biology at Boston College, author of  “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease“. Dr. Seyfried takes up where Otto Warburg left off, believing that Cancer is not a genetic disorder, but a metabolic disorder (A metabolic disorder occurs when the metabolism process fails and causes the body to have either too much or too little of the essential substances needed to stay healthy. Our bodies are very sensitive to errors in metabolism – Healthline.com). This has significant implications to the treatment and prevention of cancer including non-toxic cancer therapies like the Ketogenic Diet among others.

Dr. Seyfried can be seen below in a lecture titled “Cancer: A Metabolic Disease with Metabolic Solutions”, it’s a little long winded  (54:40) and in depth … but it’s a lecture from the professor of Biology at Boston College…it’s supposed to be, but worth the time invested.

 

Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer – by Thomas Seyfried PHD

 

Book Synopsis: The book addresses controversies related to the origins of cancer and provides solutions to cancer management and prevention. It expands upon Otto Warburg’s well-known theory that all cancer is a disease of energy metabolism. However, Warburg did not link his theory to the “hallmarks of cancer” and thus his theory was discredited. This book aims to provide evidence, through case studies, that cancer is primarily a metabolic disease requiring metabolic solutions for its management and prevention. Support for this position is derived from critical assessment of current cancer theories. Brain cancer case studies are presented as a proof of principle for metabolic solutions to disease management, but similarities are drawn to other types of cancer, including breast and colon, due to the same cellular mutations that they demonstrate.

 

Dominic D’Agostino, PHD

Research Scientist, Inst. Human and Machine Cognition, Associate Professor, College of Medicine Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology.

  • PHD, Physiology, Neuroscience, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 2004
  • BS, Biological Sciences, Nutrition Science, Rutgers University, 1998

I came across Dr. D’Agostino in this 2013 Ted Talk titled “Starving Cancer”. In this fascinating 10 minute lecture that he gave in Tampa at Ted X, Dr. D’Agostino tells the story how he stumbled across Ketosis and it’s possible effects on cancer while working with the US Navy Seals working on a strategy to mitigate seizures in divers.

Dr. D’Agostino is the founder of KetoNutrition.org and has become the “face” of the Ketogenic diet and is known as the King of Keto in certain circles. His work has been recognized by heavy hitters like Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss, and Tom Bilyeu, who have featured him on countless podcasts, articles, and video series. His interviews has received 10s of millions of views.

 

Final Thoughts

What has started out as researching the Ketogenic diet to understand the effects on our bodies as a strategy for weight loss has exploded into new directions that I had not anticipated. Getting a better understanding of how our bodies react to food on terms of weight management is fundamental to health and well being…right? At 300 lbs, I knew that I was a candidate for heart

(Source: National Center for Health Statistics)

disease, diabetes etc… we take that for granted, but what if it’s much more than that.

Today Cancer is the second leading cause of death trailing only heart disease. In 1900 the leading cause of death in the US was Influenza/Pneumonia. By the 1950’s heart disease & cancer had taken over as the leading causes of death and continue to lead today. What has changed in our diets over the last 100 years? Our consumption of processed foods and refined sugars has grown exponentially… is there a connection? There are many in the medical community like Dr. Seyfried & Dr. D’Agostino that believe there is a correlation and they make some compelling arguments that warrants continued research and bears watching.

However, I don’t want to paint a biased picture here because not everyone agrees, here’s an excerpt from FredHutch.org (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

Carol Oxford Tatom, a  research scientist and breast cancer patient from Vacaville, California, “The papers I read on keto and cancer were all in mice,” she said. “They’re still all in mice. And we’re not mice. There’s no clinical evidence that it’s healthy.”Tatom gets the rationale for trying it — “the idea is the Warburg effect, that cancer feeds on sugar” — but she thinks people often look at dietary issues too simplistically.

“That whole idea that sugar feeds cancer? Well, sugar also feeds us, it feeds all cells. If you you eat a reasonably balanced diet, that’s really been shown to be the healthiest,” she said.

Randomized clinical trials — on people, not mice — are what’s needed to suss out whether there’s anything there, Tatom said. Until then, crusading for keto as a cure can “promote false hope and … cause harm.”

This is a sensitive subject and emotions can run deep, especially for those that have been thru the struggle or close to it.

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Does the Ketogenic Diet have an effect on cancer one way or the other?

Leave a comment below.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

12 thoughts on “The Keto Diet and Cancer”

  1. Thank you for this elaborate article. Just a question, has there been an extensive study related to different types of cancers and ketogenic diet? Is it more effective in one type than others?

    1. Certainly there are certain types of cancer that are diet seems to impact more… Dr. Seyfried touches on that subject in the lecture
      Thanks for reading and commenting
      Bob

  2. Hi Bob,

    What a fascinating read.

    My interest was certainly peaked by the mention of Dr. D’Agostino’s “Starving Cancer” TED talk. I recall watching this a number of years ago and found myself in somewhat of a quandry at the time.

    What Dr. D’Agostino spoke about made perfect sense to me, but I guess I was still living in the land of sugar and preocessed foods to be swayed.

    Can I also congratulate you on the 80lb loss, that’s unbelievable, yet totally awesome.

    Thanks for a fantastic read and keep up the great work.
    Partha

    1. Thank you Partha
      Dr. D’Agostino and others make a lot of sense and whether their claims are accurate/inaccurate or somewhere in the middle, eating more whole foods and limiting processed foods and refined sugars is a move in the right direction.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Bob

  3. Hi Bob,

    I’ve spotted the Magic Pill on my Netflix feed, would you recommend watching it? I tend to be opposed to shows that are subjective rather than objective as I prefer fact over opinion.

    Your article raises a very interesting topic though. While the list of causes of cancer feels like it grows every other day, there’s lots of evidence stating that diet plays a significant role in it. I wonder how well the correlation between keto and cancer has been researched.

    1. I definitely recommend watching that documentary and encourage for you to come away with your own opinion. Taking a more holistic approach to disease and maladies is gaining steam… certainly we can’t argue with old adages like “you are what you eat”… what are we eating?
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Bob

  4. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for this fascinating and well-researched post!

    While I don’t know what diet specifically she was on, I do know that growing up my best friend’s aunt, was treated for breast cancer using diet as an alternative treatment. This all occurred after she was declared terminal with nothing else they could do by conventional medicine. I do recall she lived longer than conventional medicine had granted her, but as this was 30 years ago I’m not particularly up on the details, and it could just have been luck on her part (or lack of it depending on your perspective).

    However, like the research cited in this article, it does show that more is constantly being learned about how the human (or mouse) body reacts in different circumstances; and I would not be surprised to see considerably more research into various diets, including the keto diet being used to treat disease.

    Thanks,
    Lisa

    1. Lisa,
      Thanks for sharing that story. I’m alarmed at how often we treat illness with medication and we de-emphasize or marginalize the importance diet. Our history of consuming highly processed foods is not that old…100 years? What are the effects? Those are becoming evident only now and we need to re-evaluate what we eat and it’s effect on us
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Bob

  5. Oh. My. Days. What an interesting article. I have a ‘plan’ to live happily and healthily to be 110 years old but I have only considered the mental aspect. (I believe we age largely due to our belief that we will slow down and get ill which often manifests but we bring it about ourselves.) However, I am very aware that my diet, which includes my very favourite thing in the world, white bread toast with peanut butter every morning in life, is probably not going to help me to achieve that aim. (And potatoes – not sure if I could live without potatoes.) I will definitely investigate the keto diet further and look forward to more or your posts.
    Best,
    Jean

    1. Hey Jean,
      What is life if you can’t have white bread toast & peanut butter every morning? The deeper I dig into this onion, the more certain I am that moving to more “whole foods” and steering clear of as much highly processed “food-like” substances is key to overall health. This topic was particularly fascinating because we as a society in large part look to “treat symptoms” and seem to put less emphasis on root causes and prevention. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Bob

  6. What an awesome article. I really enjoy when one interest in a subject opens up a while other avenue of thought that is so very interesting.

    Thank you for taking the time to research this subject and share it with everyone.

    You have a great writing style,
    Greg

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