For years, cancer was considered a genetic disorder, but emerging evidence suggests that cancer is a metabolic disease that can be prevented and managed with the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
According to cancer researcher Dr. Dominic D'Agostino, the ketogenic diet, in conjunction with ketone supplementation can significantly reduce the spread of cancer, and may prevent the onset of cancer by improving metabolic health.
"Most cancer scientists have historically thought cancer was a genetic disease, but only 5-10% of cancer is hereditary," Dr. D'Agostino told me in an exclusive interview. D'Agostino is an assistant professor at the University Of South Florida Morsani College Of Medicine in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology.
According to Dr. D'Agostino, we are only as healthy as our mitochondria, which are the power sources of all our cells, so if we keep our mitochondria healthy, we can stall the onset of cancer and other age-related chronic diseases. A review describing the metabolic theory of cancer was recently published by Professor Thomas Seyfried from Boston College in collaboration with D’Agostino’s lab in the medical journal Carcinogenesis.
A Ketogenic Diet Keeps Mitochondria Healthy
An effective way to inhibit the growth of cancer cells is to follow the low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein ketogenic diet that eliminates processed foods.
"When we restrict carbs in our diet, we can prevent pro-inflammatory spikes in blood glucose and blood insulin," explained D'Agostino, who has a Ph.D. in physiology and neuroscience. "Suppression of blood glucose and insulin spikes can be very helpful when managing many chronic diseases."
We all have cancer cells or pre-cancerous cells growing inside our bodies, but people with healthy immune systems keep the cancer from mutating and turning deadly. The mechanisms that keep cells from mutating (DNA repair processes) are largely dependent upon healthy mitochondrial function.
"Thus, healthy mitochondria are the ultimate tumor suppressor," said Dr. D'Agostino. And one way to keep mitochondria healthy is through the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, which stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and enhances mitochondrial efficiency.
Many people find the ketogenic diet (which is 75-90% fat) unpalatable and too difficult to follow, but Dr. D'Agostino said rigorous exercise and ketone supplements may mimic the effects of a ketogenic diet without the need for drastic carb restriction.
"Ketogenic supplements such as coconut oil, MCT oil and ketone mineral salts supply energy to can enhance mitochondrial health," he said.
The ketogenic diet has been around for decades, but has recently begun to find mainstream acceptance as a way to manage disease. A ketogenic diet has already proven more effective than drugs at controlling epileptic seizures, and has been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes. Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, told me the ketogenic diet promotes rapid weight loss and prevents ADHD, dementia and Alzheimer's.
Dr. D'Agostino joins a growing number of cancer researchers who say the ketogenic diet is an effective cancer fighter. This is because nearly all the healthy cells in our body have the metabolic flexibility to use fat, glucose and ketones to survive, but cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility and require large amounts of glucose and cannot survive on ketones. So by limiting carbohydrates we can reduce glucose (and insulin) and thus restrict the primary fuel for cancer cell growth.
Ketogenic Diet Starves Cancer Because Cancer Thrives on Sugar
Interestingly, this phenomenon was first observed in the 1920s by German physiologist Otto Warburg, who won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for discovering that cancer cells have defective mitochondria and thrive on sugar. The “Warburg effect” can be exploited by the ketogenic diet, but this approach has not been used to fight cancer, partly due to the entrenched government-sanctioned low-fat diet dogma that has historically promoted a high-carb diet.
For healthy individuals, achieving nutritional ketosis with the ketogenic diet or ketone supplementation may be the most effective and practical way to prevent cancer. For people with cancer, nutritional ketosis can suppress tumor growth so the cancer does not spread.
Dr. D'Agostino has worked with cancer patients who have successfully used the ketogenic diet to manage their illness. Dr. Fred Hatfield, a former power-lifting champion and founder of the International Sports Sciences Association, has beaten cancer with the ketogenic diet.
When Dr. Hatfield was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, he treated it with surgery and radiation, which is the common standard of care. Like other cancer patients, he got violently ill and weak from his treatment.
In 2010, when Dr. Hatfield was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer, he contacted Dr. D'Agostino's laboratory to get more information on the metabolic therapies that were under investigation. Now, four years later, Dr. Hatfield remains in remission and leads a very active lifestyle. He credits the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet for his miraculous recovery.
"Not only is Dr. Hatfield's cancer gone, but he's in excellent health," said Dr. D'Agostino. "He works out every day and enjoys his life at 71."
Ketogenic Diet May One Day Replace Expensive Chemo and Surgery
In 2012, urologist Dr. Eugene Fine conducted a 10-patient pilot study at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. The patients all had advanced cancers and agreed to follow a ketogenic diet (which limited daily carb intake to less than 50 grams) for 28 days. The results indicated that six of the 10 patients responded well to the ketogenic diet (evidence by FDG-PET scan), meaning their cancers stabilized or showed partial remission.
The best results occurred in patients who had a suppression of insulin secretion and elevation of ketones because of their high-fat, low-carb diet. "Effects on insulin are an important clue to indicate which patients are likeliest to respond to this kind of diet," Dr. Fine told me.
Today, there are about a dozen studies that are investigating the use of the ketogenic diet to manage all kinds of cancer. Those results will determine whether the medical community will adopt metabolic therapy to treat cancer in the future.
For now, Dr. D'Agostino is encouraged by the growing mainstream acceptance of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet as a way to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and is optimistic it will emerge as a useful tool for cancer prevention and treatment.
"Emerging evidence in studies of cells, animals and humans support Warburg’s original hypothesis that cancer is a metabolic disease," said D'Agostino. "It has been over 80 years and no one has disproven this hypothesis, so it’s time to exploit the sugar addiction of cancer cells with nutrition and other nontoxic strategies to treat and prevent cancer."
Dr. Thomas Seyfried: Ketogenic diet beats chemo for almost all cancers