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Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet Treats Brain Cancer: Keto Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth Says Scientist

brain cancer ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet can be a powerful adjuvant to radiation therapy to treat brain tumors, say cancer scientists.

By Samantha Chang

The low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet can be an effective tool to manage deadly brain cancer, said Barrow Institute scientist Dr. Adrienne C. Scheck.

Dr. Scheck told Examiner her research suggests the ketogenic diet can be a powerful adjuvant to radiation therapy to treat brain tumors.

adrienne scheck of barrow

Adrienne Scheck of the Barrow Institute

“Studies have shown the use of a ketogenic diet causes a reduction in blood glucose, an elevation in blood ketones, and extends life in mouse models of malignant brain tumors,” said Dr. Scheck, associate professor in neuro-oncology research and the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute.

Scheck said both mice and human studies have shown the ketogenic diet can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Our bodies use fats to make ketones. Nearly all the cells in our body can use both ketones and glucose (a carb) for energy, but cancer cells thrive on glucose and cannot survive on ketones.

So by limiting carbohydrates (which turns into glucose inside the body), we can limit glucose availability to starve cancer cells.

Cancer Cells Thrive On Sugar

This phenomenon was first observed in the 1920s by German physiologist Otto Warburg, who won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for discovering that cancer cells have defective mitochondria and thrive on sugar.

The “Warburg effect” can be exploited by the ketogenic diet, but this approach has historically not been used to fight cancer. But the tide is gradually turning.

At the moment, Dr. Scheck doesn’t think the ketogenic diet can replace the standard of care (which includes chemotherapy and radiation), but said this may be the case in the future if optimal ways to alter metabolism for anti-cancer therapy can be found.

Scheck said the ketogenic diet enhances the cancer-fighting properties of radiation, which further buoys the diet’s importance in the war on cancer.

LCHF Keto Diet More Effective on Humans Than Mice

In 2012, urologist Dr. Eugene Fine conducted a 10-patient pilot study at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York.

The patients all had advanced cancers and agreed to follow a ketogenic diet (which for limited daily carb intake to less than 50 grams) for 28 days.

The results showed that 6 of the 10 patients responded well to the ketogenic diet, meaning their cancers stabilized or showed partial remission. The best results occurred in patients who had a suppression of insulin secretion and elevation of ketones because of their low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet.

“Effects on insulin are an important clue to indicate which patients are likeliest to respond to this kind of diet,” Dr. Fine told Examiner.

While many people dismiss ketogenic diet therapy for cancer because much of the research so far has been done on mice, Dr. Thomas Seyfried of Boston College told me the ketogenic diet actually works better on humans than it does on mice

ketogenic diet cancer thomas seyfried

Ketogenic diet can treat cancer because cancer is a metabolic disease, says researcher Thomas Seyfried of Boston College.

Seyfried, a pioneer in the nutritional treatment of cancer, said the ketogenic diet is the best treatment for glioblastoma (the most common and malignant form of brain cancer) because his research shows cancer is a metabolic — not a genetic — disease.

“The standard of care has been an abysmal failure for brain cancer,” said Dr. Seyfried, author of Cancer as a Metabolic Disease. “The ketogenic diet can replace the standard of care for brain cancer, which is absolutely survivable through metabolic therapy.”

Man Treats Stage 4 Lung Cancer With Keto

Meanwhile, there are many anecdotal success stories of cancer patients fighting the deadly disease with the LCHF ketogenic diet.

Joe Mancaruso, a 57-year-old Texas man, is battling Stage 4 lung cancer without chemotherapy using the LCHF ketogenic diet.

Similarly, Elaine Cantin discussed how she used the ketogenic diet to manage her son’s type I diabetes and her own aggressive breast cancer in her book, The Cantin Ketogenic Diet.

Today, there are about a dozen studies that are investigating the use of the ketogenic diet to manage all kinds of cancer. Those results will determine whether the medical community will adopt metabolic therapy to treat cancer in the future.

Joe Mancaruso is battling terminal lung cancer with the keto diet.

Joe Mancaruso is battling terminal lung cancer with the keto diet.

In her own research, Adrienne Scheck’s team discovered that animals fed a ketogenic diet survived longer than those on a standard diet.

“Of the mice that were fed a ketogenic diet and received radiation, nine of 11 survived with no signs of tumor recurrence, even after being switched back to standard food, for over 200 days,” she said. “None on the standard diet survived more than 33 days.”

Scheck joins a growing number of cancer scientists (including Thomas Seyfried and Dominic D’Agostino of the University of South Florida) who say the clinical implementation of the ketogenic diet as a viable treatment should be seriously considered.

“The animal model data strongly suggest that the ketogenic diet may be a highly effective adjuvant to the current standard of care for malignant brain tumors,” said Scheck.

Cancer researchers say a major advantage to ketogenic diet therapy is it’s not expensive like chemo, nor does it drastically reduce the patient’s quality of life. The diet can also easily be added into current brain tumor treatment without the red tape of FDA approval.

Dr. Scheck is currently conducting clinical trials to explore the efficacy of ketogenic diet therapy.

Related: Ketogenic diet beats chemotherapy for almost all cancers says Thomas Seyfried