What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is the polar opposite of the Gerson therapy that is so successful for melanoma!  


It is a high-fat (80%), low carbohydrate (10%), and low protein (10%) diet that has been used to treat epilepsy in children for decades. Some researchers have now shown that the ketogenic diet can work against cancer.  They think it does so partly by restricting glucose, a type of sugar used as energy in cancer cells. 

Does it work?  

Yes.  The evidence is not as abundant as for the Gerson diet because of the small number of people in which the diet has been studied.  However, there are some powerful cases of long-term cancer survivors, particularly in brain cancer and melanoma patients.  Let’s take a brief look at the animal research first. 


Mouse studies show that tumors can be slowed down in their growth when mice are on the diet (1), and the diet also helps tumors respond better to radiation therapy (1, 2). Nine studies in mice have been examined for evidence that the diet lengthens the lives of mice with cancer, and eight of those nine studies showed that it did (3). 


But human bodies don’t always behave like those of mice and rats.  So, let’s take a look at some of the best studies in humans.

Human studies

Recently a report was published of a woman using the ketogenic diet against carcinoma of the soft palate.  This is a cancer that usually progresses rapidly and is treated with radical surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  She followed the diet for 20 months and slightly regressed the tumor, without any other treatment (4).  


More impressive evidence comes from a small study of cancer patients who followed the diet for 16 weeks.  Those who showed shrinkage of the cancer or no enlargement of tumors were patients who lost 10% or more of their beginning body weight.  Patients who were able to adhere to the diet also maintained or improved their quality of life (5). 


Here’s where it gets interesting  

Four of the patients in the study above continued the diet past 16 weeks.  Three of them were Stage IV melanoma patients.  Lifespan for melanoma patients at this stage is normally only about 12 weeks!  


One patient lived for 1.5 years, and also received steroid therapy and gamma knife radiation after brain metastases developed.  He died at 88 years old.


The second patient had been exhaustively pretreated by chemotherapy, immunotherapies, gamma knife radiation for brain metastases, and was then placed on steroids, which raise blood glucose and are thought to counteract the diet.  And despite all of that, he continued the diet and lived for 2.2 years.  He died at 62 years old.


The third patient underwent surgery to remove cancerous nodes, but received no chemotherapy or radiation.  He discontinued the diet roughly a year after surgery, and remained free of any evidence of cancer on PET/CT scans at the time the article was published.  That was more than 2.5 years after first beginning the diet!

Long-term brain cancer survivors
on the ketogenic diet

The most convincing cases come from a study of two female children with high grade brain cancer.  Within seven days on the diet, blood glucose levels had decreased to normal, while glucose uptake by the tumors had decreased.  Both patients remained alive for four and five years after the study onset, respectively (6). 


In this study, one of the patients also had dramatic elevations of blood ketones within seven days of diet onset. She showed significant improvements in mood and skill development during the study.  This patient was still alive TEN years later, as reported by the original study authors through personal communication (7).  High grade brain cancer (Stage III or IV) is almost always fatal within three years.


My evaluation

The amount of evidence for the ketogenic diet isn’t quite as strong as that for the Gerson diet.  In the Gerson diet, far more patients have achieved statistically significant higher survival rates.  


Several studies with the diet have been unsuccessful in controlling cancer.  However, the diet varies wildly in these different studies, and researchers speculate that calories may not have been restricted enough in these studies (8).  Patients may also not have been able to get their blood glucose low enough (8).  I agree.

Reasons to use the ketogenic diet 

  • The handful of long- or longer-term cancer survivors is intriguing, particularly for melanoma and glioblastoma.
  • The diet offers other important quality of life and health benefits.
  • Patients need a variety of dietary options for their personal tastes.
  • It helps to preserve muscle mass in cancer patients (9, 10).
  • It is safe and tolerable, as demonstrated in small-scale cancer clinical trials (4-7, 9, 10).

“What should I do?”

Researchers don’t yet have a consensus on exactly what the diet should look like in terms of calories or proportions of meat and vegetable fats.  We still have much to learn.


If I were to come down with cancer as an adult and I wanted to try the diet, I would personally restrict calories by 2/3, get 60% of my calories from MCT oil, and monitor my blood glucose and ketone levels.  

Why?  

That is the specific form of the diet that worked for the two pediatric brain cancer patients who lived for at least 4-10 years, even without restricting calories.  It is highly specific and easy to replicate, unlike some of the other vaguely described ketogenic diets in the literature.  A high proportion of calories coming from MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil will also maximize the production of ketones, believed to beneficial in helping to slow or halt cancer growth.


*Note: Children should not be put on calorically restricted diets.  However, caloric restriction has proved useful in adults.

I’m ready to get started! 

Great!


First, check out my Ketogenic Diet Plan for very simple instructions on starting the diet!  I’ve broken things down in the simplest of terms.  No long books to read!  Just a short list of steps to follow. 


Second, gather the equipment required, as listed on the Ketogenic Diet Plan page.


Third, don't have a good source of organic, grass-fed meat in your local area? Slanker Grass-Fed Meat will ship right to your home.  Easy! 

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References

(1) Klement RJ, Champ CE, Otto C, Kämmerer U. 2016. Anti-Tumor Effects of Ketogenic Diets in Mice: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. May 9;11(5):e0155050. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155050

(2) Mohammed GA,Fenton KE,1 Preul MC, Rho JM, Lynch A, Stafford P, Scheck AC. 2012. The Ketogenic Diet Is an Effective Adjuvant to Radiation Therapy for the Treatment of Malignant Glioma. PLoS One 7(5): e36197. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0036197

(3) Lv M, Zhu X, Wang H, Wang F, Guan W. 2014. Roles of Caloric Restriction, Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting during Initiation, Progression and Metastasis of Cancer in Animal Models: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One 9(12): e115147. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0115147

(4) Tóth C, Clemens Z. 2016. Halted Progression of Soft Palate Cancer in a Patient Treated with the Paleolithic Ketogenic Diet Alone: A 20-months Follow-up. American Journal of Medical Case Reports 4(8): 288-292. doi: 10.12691/ajmcr-4-8-8

(5) Tan-Shalaby JL, Carrick J, Edinger K, Genovese D, Liman AD, Passero VA, Shah RB. 2016. Modified Atkins diet in advanced malignancies - final results of a safety and feasibility trial within the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Nutr Metab (Lond). 13: 52. doi:  10.1186/s12986-016-0113-y

(6) Nebeling LC, Miraldi F, Shurin SB, Lerner E.  1995. Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports. Am Coll Nutr. 14(2):202-8. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1995.10718495

(7) Schmidt M, Petzer N, Schwab M, Strauss I,Kämmerercorresponding U. 2011. Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 8: 54. doi:  10.1186/1743-7075-8-54

(8) Rieger J, Bahr, Maurer GD, Hattingen E, Franz K, Brucker D, Walenta S, Kammerer U,5 Coy JF, Weller M, Steinbach JP. ERGO: A pilot study of ketogenic diet in recurrent glioblastoma. 2014. Int J Oncol. 44(6): 1843–1852. doi:  10.3892/ijo.2014.2382

(9) Klement RJ, Sweeney RA. 2016. Impact of a ketogenic diet intervention during radiotherapy on body composition: I. Initial clinical experience with six prospectively studied patients. BMC Research Notes 9:143. doi: 10.1186/s13104-016-1959-9

(10) Klement RJ, Champ CE. 2014. Calories, carbohydrates, and cancer therapy with radiation: exploiting the five R’s through dietary manipulation. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 33(1): 217–229. doi:  10.1007/s10555-014-9495-3

Disclaimer

The ideas in this website are not intended as a substitute for the advice of a trained health professional. All matters regarding your health require medical supervision. Consult your physician and/or health care professional before adopting any nutritional, exercise, or medical protocol. Consult your physician about any condition that may require diagnosis or medical attention. Statements regarding certain products and services represent the views of the author alone, and do not constitute a recommendation or endorsement or any product or service.