Keto Diet And Cancer

keto diet and cancer

The ketogenic diet (keto) is a very high-fat, low-carb diet. It can help you lose weight by forcing your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates as its main source of energy. There is interest in how the ketogenic diet can help treat certain types of cancer. One theory is that cancer feeds on the sugar you eat, but a high-fat diet will starve tumors.

However, so far no major cancer organization has recommended the ketogenic diet for cancer prevention or treatment.

How Keto Diet Affect Caners?

Research using the keto diet in cancer is new, and the findings are not well established. Therefore, it is helpful to see how this diet affects cancer cells and normal cells in the body.

For at least some cancers, keto may have several different benefits. Some are related to how ketones help inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Others focus on cancer prevention.

Effects on Cancer Cells

One possibility for how ketones work is based on what feeds the cancer cells and how ketones slow their growth by essentially “starving” them. This part of the science is not new at all. Scientist Otto Warburg first described the Warburg effect, which led to him winning the 1931 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Basically, his theory was that glucose (sugar) feeds cancer cells.

As a result, sugar is often blamed for the growth of cancer. However, in the keto diet, this diet actually takes advantage of the cancer’s dependence on glucose. From laboratory studies, it appears that at least some cancer cells have difficulty using ketone bodies as an energy source. These cancer cells are less likely to undergo ketone adaptation because of biochemical changes related to their ability to use ketone bodies.

The theory is that by deliberately causing ketosis, the keto diet gives healthy cells an advantage over cancer cells. This is because cancer cells may not be well adapted to use ketone bodies for growth.

Possible Mechanisms in Prevention

In theory, the way the keto diet works may also reduce the risk of at least some cancers.

Cancer begins with a series of mutations that occur in normal cells. There may be genetic genes at work, but most mutations are acquired over time through oxidative stress. This refers to an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants, such as free radicals outnumbering antioxidants.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can be produced by carcinogens or by normal processes in the body. The theory behind eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods is that they “neutralize” free radicals through chemical action. They help keep them in check and restore balance. In one study, ketone bodies B-hydroxybutyric acid have been shown to inhibit oxidative stress.

Ketone bodies offer two potential positive actions here. First, they reduce the production of free radicals. At the same time, they increase the antioxidant capacity of the body. This may be important for people with cancer because cancer cells undergo new mutations. These changes can render otherwise effective chemotherapy and targeted drugs ineffective.

What the Research Says

Studies suggest that very low-carb diets may have some benefits in cancer treatment. Studies in mice and small trials in humans suggest that the keto diet may play a role in several ways. It may:

  • Slow tumor growth
  • Protect healthy cells from damage from chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • Help anti-cancer drugs work faster or better
  • Ease inflammation, which can encourage cancer growth
  • Help prevent weight gain during and after chemotherapy for breast cancer. Extra weight raises the chances of tumor recurrence.

There haven’t been any large studies in humans yet, so we’re not sure if and how the keto diet works for cancer. Some clinical trials are underway.

The Potential Side Effects of Keto Diet for Cancers

It is important to note that despite the promising results of the study, no major cancer organization recommends the ketogenic diet for cancer prevention or cancer treatment.

The ketogenic diet has its benefits, but it also has risks.

For example, this diet is very high in fat. In addition, many of the foods allowed in the diet, such as red meat, have been shown to increase the risk of some cancers.

This diet is very limited to foods known to prevent cancer, such as whole grains, fruits, and some vegetables.

Getting enough calories in the diet can also be a challenge for those undergoing conventional cancer treatment. Low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, often lead to weight loss.

Compliance is poor, which makes the diet challenging for people with cancer. The restrictive nature of the diet can sometimes be overwhelming for cancer patients, especially when food can be a source of comfort.

This diet is not for everyone and may even cause harm. If you want to explore the ketogenic diet, talk to a medical professional first. They can help you decide if this diet is right for you in the first place and work with you.


The ketogenic diet has not been clinically proven to starve cancer. It may have hypothetical applications or be used as a tool to achieve specific goals, but it must be designed in a safe, tolerable and sustainable manner and adapted to the individual needs of the patient.

You should never avoid conventional cancer treatment in favor of an alternative therapy like the ketogenic diet. Your best option remains to follow the advice of your oncologist. Mainstream medical treatments are very effective in treating many common types of cancer. That said, perhaps a ketogenic diet could be a good option as an adjunctive treatment, meaning it is used in addition to conventional treatment.

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