Figuring out what to eat after a cancer diagnosis is an incredibly daunting task. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, a properly executed ketogenic diet can provide great benefits to individuals living with, and survivors of, cancer.
Nearly all cancers are highly glucose (sugar) dependent. They burn through available sugar more quickly than healthy cells, and their growth is fueled by increased levels of blood glucose and insulin.
Cancer cells are able to utilize sugar 50 times faster than healthy cells by switching to anaerobic respiration (aka fermentation).
As they harness the sugar’s energy through the fermentation process, they create the byproduct lactic acid (the same compound responsible for some soreness after a workout). This lactic acid is secreted into the nearby cellular environment, turning on signals which promote angiogenesis. This process promotes blood vessel growth and brings fresh blood supply to the tumor, allowing for faster growth. This acidic environment also promotes immune suppression, causing the immune system to ‘look the other way’ and ignore cancer cells, rather than targeting them.
The ketogenic diet is the key to exploiting this metabolic weakness of cancer cells. This diet requires a very low carbohydrate intake, with a proportionally higher intake of healthy fats to burn for energy in place of carbs. Healthy cells have the ability to switch from glucose to fat-derived ketones for energy. Research on the subject thus far shows that cancer cells lack this flexibility, and are not able to thrive as readily when ketones are the primary fuel source.
In addition, preliminary research has shown that ketosis inhibits angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels), restores the normal cell suicide program (apoptosis) in cancer cells, reduces insulin and IGF-1 levels and may decrease tumor size over time.
To be clear, the ketogenic diet is not a cure for cancer. It is an approach which gives your body the tools it needs to protect itself and decreases promotion of cancer cell growth. It also enhances the action of standard treatments, including chemotherapy, while reducing side effects.
This gives us great evidence that a truly integrative approach to cancer is the best option.
For more information on the ketogenic diet visit The Ketogenic Kitchen and check out their cookbook.
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