Cancer has generally been accepted to be a genetic disease. However, Dr. Thomas Seyfried has revitalized the concept that cancer is actually a metabolic condition. In his talk, Seyfried states the Warburg Theory of Cancer:

  1. Cancer arises from damage to cellular respiration.
  2. Glucose fermentation gradually compensates for insufficient respiration.
  3. Respiratory damage eventually becomes irreversible.
  4. Cancer cells continue to ferment in the presence of oxygen (aerobic glycolysis).

His theory is that, if some cancers are indeed metabolic in origin, then patients should be able to slow the growth of tumors, or even reduce tumors, through a Restricted Ketogenic Diet (RKD).

Essentially, normal cells can derive energy from either glucose or fats while cancer cells depend solely on glucose for fuel. Experts like Seyfried believe that a diet that eliminates glucose (or carbohydrates which turn into glucose) while focusing on fats can serve as a tool for fighting cancer. Also, it is thought that the RKD can be effective in fighting off some of the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

The two goals of this diet are:

  1. Reducing blood glucose.
  2. Elevating blood ketone levels.

These goals are met by adopting a high fat, moderate protein, no sugar diet. Specifically, the ratios are as follows: 75-80% fats and oils (saturated fats like butter, coconut oil, avocados, and macadamia nuts), 15-20% protein, and 5% green leafy fibrous vegetables.

Since the late 1990’s, the RKD has been used in epileptics to control seizures. Unfortunately, not a great deal of research has been done on the efficacy of the RKD in cancer patients. However, a recent study in mice conducted by Seyfried et al, entitled “The Ketogenic Diet and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Prolong Survival in Mice with Systemic Metastatic Cancer” examined the effects of both the RKD alone and the RKD combined with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. “RKD alone significantly decreased blood glucose, slowed tumor growth, and increased mean survival time by 56.7% in mice with systemic metastatic cancer. While hyperbaric oxygen therapy did not influence cancer progression, combining the KD with hyperbaric oxygen therapy elicited a significant decrease in blood glucose, tumor growth rate, and a 77.9% increase in mean survival time compared to controls.”

The RKD is not the easiest program to follow. It requires strict counting of carbs and the banning of many favorite foods. Participants must also test their blood sugar several times a day and their ketones once or twice a week. Some people, depending on their health, should undergo a three day water fast before initiating the diet. This quickly increases the ketones in the blood. Anyone interested in the RKD should consult with an expert practitioner to determine whether they would be a good candidate; some conditions are contraindicated for the RKD.

For a detailed examination of what the RKD entails (i.e. which foods can be included/excluded), check out Ellen Davis’s downloadable book entitled “Fight Cancer with a Ketogenic Diet, A New Method for Treating Cancer.” She also includes sample menus.

According to Davis, possible side effects of the RKD are:

  1. Sugar Withdrawal
  2. Constipation
  3. Hunger
  4. Fatigue and “Spaciness”
  5. Muscle Cramps and Dehydration
  6. Mild Ketoacidosis
  7. Ketone Breath, Ammonia Smell in the Nose
  8. Weight Loss
  9. Lower Blood Pressure
  10. Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

For those who wonder about the connection of a high fat diet to elevated cholesterol and heart disease, Davis states, “The message that eating fat and cholesterol are bad has been pounded into the collective American psyche for the last 40 years…but both are untrue… The real culprit of atherosclerosis is chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin and the associated inflammatory damage to artery walls.”

The NIH is currently recruiting patients in a study on the ketogenic diet on cancer patients.  With any luck, this will start the process of more research on the subject and improve the prospects of a nutritional way to fight cancer.

-Golden Leaf Blogger