A very-low-carb ketogenic diet makes sugar (glucose) less available to cancer cells while providing ketones as fuel for normal tissue.
- Over half of the calories in standard diets come from carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrate digestion produces spikes in blood glucose which in turn causes a spike in insulin.
- Insulin's job is to move glucose from the blood into cells.
- Cancer cells typically have many more insulin receptors than normal cells.
- Limiting carbs restricts the movement of glucose into cancer cells.
- When glucose is in short supply, the body will increase its use of fats as fuel.
- The liver converts some of this fat to energy molecules called ketones.
- Most normal cells (including brain tissue) readily adapt to using ketones.
- Tumor cells suffer because they are not as fuel flexible as normal cells.
Metabolic Treatment Strategies
Cancer as a metabolic disease
Nearly a century ago, Dr. Otto Warburg concluded that cancer was a metabolic disease. Tragically, his valuable work was set aside as the research community turned their attention and resources to the genetic mutations found in cancer cells. Pursuing therapies that attempt to target these mutations has been a dismal failure and even the newest drugs aren't living up to their promise as "targeted therapies". Meanwhile, millions of people are still suffering and dying from this dreaded disease. My son was among the casualties.
Thankfully, not everyone abandoned the metabolic theory. Dr. Thomas Seyfried suspected early in his career that there was more to the development and progression of cancer than could be explained by genetics alone. Finally, in 2012, he offered the science community (and some science-savvy lay people) a comprehensive and very detailed argument which once again moved the discussion back towards a view of cancer as primarily a disease of dysregulated cancer cell metabolism. You can find his book here.
Dr. Seyfried's conclusions were built piece by piece from his own research which in turn was built by the discoveries of those before him. For a very insightful and thoroughly entertaining a view of the major players and events in this journey, I highly recommend that you read Travis Christofferson's Tripping Over the Truth.
Casualties from the war on cancer
It's taken almost 35 years to get where we are in this war: very few cures and new "targeted therapies" that fail to live up to expectations. Chances are good that if you are visiting this site, you do not have the luxury of time for clinical practice to catch up with the science supporting the use of ketogenic diet therapy.
The ketogenic diet is not intended as a stand-alone treatment for cancer
Instead, dietary therapy should be integrated into your overall approach to cancer, combining the best and least toxic therapies available at this point in time.
There is a tremendous need to develop safe, effective, and affordable metabolic therapies with the goal of improving both quality and quantity of life. Research is inching forward despite the lack of funding available for large-scale trials of non-drug therapies.
New steps along the path
Recently, researchers Dr. Dominic D’Agostino (University of South Florida) parnered with Dr. Seyfried and colleagues to publish a paper describing the effect of hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) as a metabolic therapy for metastatic cancer. Earlier research had found that HBOT as a stand-alone therapy has no independent effect on cancer but HBOT combined with a ketogenic diet did significantly improve survival outcomes in the mouse model that received this combination. Read the study: The Ketogenic Diet and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Prolong Survival in Mice with Systemic Metastatic Cancer.
Dr. Seyfried and Dr. D'Agostino are also collaborating on ways to disrupt glutamine metabolism, another cancer promoter: Metabolic therapy: a new paradigm for managing malignant brain cancer.
Several years ago, researchers in Canada studied a possible role for dichloroacetate (DCA) in the management of glioblastoma multiforme: Dichloroacetate (DCA) as a potential metabolic-targeting therapy for cancer.
Can the ketogenic diet enhance conventional cancer treatment? That’s what this study suggests: The ketogenic diet reverses gene expression patterns and reduces reactive oxygen species levels when used as an adjuvant therapy for glioma.
Have you heart the buzz about Metformin's potential as a metabolic therapy in cancer? Metformin, a commonly prescribed drug used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, lowers blood glucose. There is some evidence that people who have been prescribed this drug have lower rates of cancer. Now, there is active investigation into whether it will affect cancer outcomes. My thought: Is there a synergistic effect between the ketogenic diet and the use of Metformin? Read Dr. Dominic D'Agostino's blogpost.
Intravenous (but not oral) Vitamin C has made is through some Clinical Trials. There is also some discussion of the pre-clinical data. Dr. Jeanne Drisko, a researcher at the University of Kansas, discussed her finding during this radio interview.
Antiviral therapies for brain tumors, though not considered "metabolic", appear promising.