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High fat low carb ketogenic diet helps cancer: A tale of courageous candor

Learn about how diet can impact cancer.
Learn about how diet can impact cancer.

How do you define courage? In this series, you'll meet several people who are serving as role models with their courageous candor about how they are using high fat low carb ketogenic diets to battle their health conditions, ranging from cancer to multiple sclerosis. They talked with me in exclusive interviews about their journeys. Also included in this ongoing exclusive series, you'll learn about what's involved in using LCHF diets for weight loss and health.

In part one of this exclusive series, a self-described "healthy gal living with cancer" told me her story. It is one of courageous candor, motivated by her desire to help and inspire others.

Cancer: Meet Alix Hayden

In an exclusive interview, Alix recalled how her journey began:

I was at my desk in August of 2012, when my cellphone rang, and myneurologist, who I'd been seeing regarding mild neuro symptoms, said, "Your MRI shows what appears to be a glioma - a tumour. I want you to go to Emergency right now. The neurosurgeon on call is excellent."

That led to about two months of further testing and a biopsy, before I received the final word on the tumour type and stage and was able to get down to planning next steps with my doctors.

She sums up her first reaction: Shock. The verdict "didn't seem real. I don't think I started to process what was happening for a few days. And even then, with so little real information and no idea what to expect in the next month, two months, six months, to be honest, in retrospect I see that my reaction was mainly paralysis"

But on the outside, Alix maintained a positive appearance. "Friends and family will say I was upbeat, irreverent, positive, taking one day at a time. From inside, I was paralyzed," she now reflects.

Six months after her diagnosis, Alix empowered herself with knowledge and determination.

"It took me a full six months after diagnosis to feel like I was starting to unlock my mental gears. It took awhile to move through understanding the diagnosis, and that the action we would take would action," she says.

At this point, Alix is following what she describes as a "watchful waiting program, using anti-convulsant therapeutics to control minor seizures." She undergoes MRI scans every six months.

Alix's tumor is located in a spot where, unless it enlarges or converts to a more aggresive cell type, sugery is not recommended. It was that discovery that resulted in her decision to make "lifestyle choices to.."stack the deck in my favor, so to speak."

In one of those semi-serendipitous situations that life sometimes produces, Alix works in "a metabolic health research company. For the past twelve years we've been publishing work supporting the idea that cancer is a metabolic disease, and that diet, supplements, lifestyle choices can and do impact it. It just took me six months to get back in gear."

She began researching and discovered the studies of Dr. Thomas Seyfried from Boston College. Alix learned about the ketogenic diet.

"I decided to try it because I thought I had nothing to lose," she now admits. With her knowledge of biology and nutrition, coupled with the research she had evaluated, Alix "truly felt that this diet would be less dangerous for me than a burgeoning brain tumour, and I believed there was a credible chance based on what I'd read that it could have a very real and positive effect on stacking that proverbial deck for me."

As for blogging, Alix admits she initially felt fear. But she took the initial steps. Now she says:

"The response was so amazing that I had to sit back and evaluate whether it was something I could really handle. For me, this "journey" is all about balance. I try to balance how much of my life and time and energy I give over to even thinking about that tumour. I balance it with work, and family and doing things that exist outside of its shadow. I started to blog because I've always loved to write, and I had so many things repeating in my head, it seemed a good way to set them down and quiet them."

The responses seemed almost overwhelming initially. Could she take the time to be, as Alix puts it, "someone else's resource? My husband settled the question for me - he simply asked whether the writing made me happy. He said that if the answer is yes, then write, and don't worry about the rest. He gave me permission to be selfish, and not answer questions or respond to requests for support if I felt it was too much. So that's what I've done."

And now, emphasizes, Alix: "I've discovered so many inspiring people and stories and connected with experts who have helped me, and I respond to everyone and am better for it, not drained. That kind of sounds like something one shouldn't have to learn the hard way, but there you have it."

Alix's blog site is A list of related book recommendations is available here.

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And for details on the nutritional science behind the concept of using food as medicine, I also interviewed Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE. She told me: "I have seen several people with diabetes experience remarkable improvement in blood sugar control after adopting this way of eating. I think there is some emerging evidence for ketogenic diets for neurological conditions and cancer, which is very exciting."

For a definition of ketogenic diets, Franziska clarified: "When carbohydrates are restricted, the liver produces ketones to provide an alternative energy source to glucose. Once serum ketones rise to about 0.5, one is said to be in nutritional ketosis, which can be beneficial for weight loss because insulin levels remain low and appetite tends to be depressed."

The use of ketosis for battling conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes is similar, but the shift in the body to using fat as an energy source rather than glucose has made a dramatic difference for many individuals. Read an interview with Franziska about using this type of diet for diabetes here.

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