Simplifying the Research: Keto and Cancer
The odds are you or someone close to you has had cancer. It’s the plague of the 21st century. Personally, my wife Caitlin and I currently have multiple people close to us who are being treated for cancer. It’s a scary thing, there’s so many variables and almost all of them are out of your control.
By the end of this blog you will have a clear understanding of one of the things you can control; your diet. You’ll have clear understanding of what we know, what we don’t, and how you can use your nutrition to help yourself or a loved one.
The ketogenic diet (KD) is getting lots of good press right now. But almost all the buzz you’re hearing is about the weight loss effects. However, what we find most interesting here at PCF is the potential that Keto brings to enhancing cancer treatment and perhaps even lowering your odds of getting cancer in the first place.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Simply stated, KD is a high-fat, low-carb, low to moderate protein diet. The fundamental concept behind KD is to quite literally switch the energy source your body uses. Almost every other diet besides the KD focuses on 1 of 2 things, calorie restriction, blood sugar (glucose) regulation, or both.
Keto is different. KD reprograms your body to run on a different kind of nutrient called ketones. This is known as “being in ketosis.” Ketosis is measured in mmol/dl and you are technically in ketosis at 0.5 mmol/dl. Being in ketosis essentially tricks your body in to thinking it’s fasting. Thus, your body is much more likely to draw from your fat stores for energy as opposed to sugars (glucose and glycogen) stored in the body.
To find out more about how ketones are produced check out our last blog: The Science Behind Keto Diet Weight Loss: CAUTION: For Nerds ONLY!
That’s great but what does that have to do with cancer!?
I’m glad you asked! One thing almost all cancers have in common is they feed off carbs or blood sugar to grow and multiply.
When you’re in ketosis you eat little to no carbohydrate which is what triggers your body to start converting fat into ketones. Every cell in your body runs very well utilizing ketones for energy, cancer can’t use ketones at all. You read that right. Cancer loves sugars (glucose) and hates ketones. KD makes your normal cells stronger and your cancer cells weaker.
What that means is that when someone is fighting cancer, KD makes every normal cell in their body more resilient while making every cancer cell more susceptible to treatments like chemotherapy. There have been some amazing studies which show dramatically increased life spans in mice with aggressive forms of cancer. I’ll list those in my sources below if you want to dive deeper.
Basically, the research that is coming out is indicating that KD has the potential to dramatically increase the efficacy of treatments like chemo while helping the rest of your body stay strong through the process. Think about that for a second. Just by changing your diet you can substantially increase your chance of survival and prolonging your life simply by starving the cancer cells.
Pretty cool right!?
There is still lots of research to be done. We can’t make any claims with absolute certainty and guarantee. But we can say that the research looks very promising. If you want to learn more in detail I encourage you to read the sources I have listed below.
Ketosis for Cancer Prevention
Researchers are optimistic that a KD may very well help to prevent cancer. While there are a lot of reasons for optimism, I want to be clear, these claims are not hard science. So, let me briefly explain why some scientists think that there is a very real chance KD may very well reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Basically, researchers are speculating that KD may help prevent cancer because there is good reason to believe that it reduces many of the common risk factors for cancer. Here are the main ones:
A ketogenic diet may decrease IGF-1
Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone that is important for cell development and is also known to reduce programmed cell death. As a result, it is believed that IGF-1 may play a role in the growth and survival of cancer cell.
KD is believed to reduce IGF-1 levels which in turn is believed to potentially reduce the risk of cancerous cell growth and survival.
Ketosis lowers blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes
As we talked about before. When you’re in ketosis you’re not running off of blood sugar any more. As a result, you may be less likely to develop insulin resistant diabetes.
There is a consensus among scientists that the association between diabetes and cancer formation. To make it simple, low blood sugar levels mean you’re less likely to get diabetes. If you don’t have diabetes you’re less likely to get cancer.
A ketogenic diet may decrease obesity
Obesity is also strongly associated with cancer. Not only that, obesity is strongly associated with diabetes. That’s a double risk factor! Although, I’m pretty sure I just made up that term.
Stated simply, obesity increases your chances of cancer, obesity also increases your chances of diabetes. And as we now know diabetes is a risk factor for cancer. That’s a freakin’ double whammy.
In summary, there is good reason to believe that a ketogenic diet is the friend of you and the enemy of cancer. It reduces IGF-1 levels, blood sugar levels, diabetes and obesity, all of which increase your risk of cancer.
Whether you want to lose weight or you’re fine where you are, KD is worth considering if your long-term health is important to you. As with any diet you should always speak with your doctor before beginning a program.
For more help check out our 21-Day Keto KickStart.
Keto and Cancer | Southlake Nutrition Coach | ProCore Fitness