Can A Ketogenic Diet Lower Cancer Risk?

For about a decade now, a ketogenic diet has been advocated by several healthcare sources as a reliable way of reducing tumor growth and improving the quality of life in cancer patients. A keto diet is high in fats and very low in carbohydrates, forcing the body to use fats as a source of energy instead. Apart from reducing tumor size in cancer, the diet has also been used to treat epilepsy for several decades now.1

A ketogenic diet has more fat than carbohydrate components, prompting the body to use fats instead of sugar as its primary source of energy – this is what happens during periods of starvation. The fats are broken down into ketone bodies, which are then excreted through the urine. The process of energy breakdown in a cell happens in the small structures known as mitochondria – the cell’s major powerhouses. The mitochondria in cancer cells are damaged, which means they cannot use fats as a

source of energy. Since cancer cells can only feed off glucose, a ketogenic diet may effectively be able to starve tumor cells, thus halting the progression of cancer.2

Some types of cancer develop due to a condition called insulin resistance, in which cells don’t respond to insulin, a hormone required to digest sugars effectively.3 By adopting a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, the role of insulin is significantly reduced. One case study found some promising results: A patient’s brain tumor was no longer detected in scans after only two months of following a strict ketogenic diet. However, signs of a tumor did reappear when the patient discontinued the diet, pointing to the necessity

of sticking to the ketogenic plan indefinitely.4

In fighting cancer, a ketogenic diet specifically targets cancer cells that have a damaged metabolic cycle. Healthy cells in the body are not affected. The diet has even been tested on pediatric cancer patients and showed potential in treating the cancer when used alongside traditional treatments and nutritional supplements.5 But researchers caution that such a diet is not a replacement but only an adjuvant to other treatment methods.6

Lab studies have found that ketone bodies can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, which may suggest its potential in the prevention of cancer.7 Since a ketogenic diet produces ketone bodies as a metabolic by-product, it could effectively reduce the incidence of cancer. However, much more research needs to be done to support this theory.

A ketogenic diet can also help people lose weight. This in turn can effectively reduce their risk of cancer since obesity often leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.8

Still, while the ketogenic diet has been studied extensively in its role for treating cancer, there’s still little information on whether it can actually help prevent cancer. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting on a

ketogenic diet, especially since it can have some side effects, including nausea and, if followed over a long period of time, the formation of kidney stones.9