The ketogenic diet has proven effective for promoting weight loss and managing epilepsy, but is also emerging as a promising metabolic diet therapy for advanced metastatic cancer, several experts said during an Aug. 8 panel discussion at the 2014 Ancestral Health Symposium at the University of California at Berkeley.
The discussion was moderated by ketogenic diet expert Jimmy Moore, author of Keto Clarity. Panelists included cancer researcher Dr. Dominic D'Agostino, author Ellen Davis, nutrition expert and cancer educator Miriam Kalamian, oncologist Dr. Dawn Lemanne, and chef Rachel Albert.
Kalamian said she recommends the ketogenic diet for both the prevention and treatment of cancer. Her experience with the ketogenic diet is not merely theoretical: She used the low carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet along with a low-dose chemotherapy drug to manage her son Raffi's brain cancer (he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2004). Raffi passed in 2013 at the age of 13 due to of complications from an inoperable cyst.
'Sugar Addiction Is the Achilles Heel of Cancer'
Dr. D'Agostino, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, has made headlines for his groundbreaking research on the use of the ketogenic diet to manage advanced metastatic cancer.
D'Agostino has also worked with the Office of Naval Research since 2007 to assist the Navy SEALs by developing ketogenic diet strategies to protect them from the undersea environment. He discovered the ketogenic diet prevented Navy SEALs from getting seizures during rigorous underwater training exercises.
D'Agostino's research during the past four years indicates that a ketogenic diet starves cancer because cancer cells thrive on sugar and cannot survive on ketones. "We've found that diet therapy can be effective in prolonging survival in mice with aggressive metastatic cancer," D'Agostino told me in an exclusive interview.
"When we restrict carbs in our diet, we can prevent pro-inflammatory spikes in blood glucose and blood insulin. Sugar addiction is the Achilles heel of cancer cells."
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.
In 2010, when Dr. Hatfield was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer, he contacted 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.
Joe Mancaruso is a 56-year-old Texas man who told me he is managing advanced lung cancer with the ketogenic diet. Similarly, Elaine Cantin discussed how she used the ketogenic diet to manage her son's type I diabetes and her own aggressive breast cancer in her book, "The Cantin Ketogenic Diet."
While the idea of managing cancer through ketosis may sound new, scientists have been aware of this for the past 80 years. 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 so far this approach has not been used to fight cancer. However, the tide may be turning.
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 for 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, meaning their cancers stabilized or showed partial remission, 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.
Thomas Seyfried: Radiation Therapy Is a Gravy Train for Hospitals
Renowned cancer scientist Dr. Thomas Seyfried of Boston College told me his decades of research suggest the ketogenic diet can beat chemotherapy for almost all cancers.
According to Seyfried, the medical community is reluctant to publicly acknowledge the efficacy of the ketogenic diet for preventing and treating cancer because doing so would cut off the massive streams of revenue hospitals generate from chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"It's a simple economic issue," Seyfried told me. "There's no money in it for the hospitals, doctors, and drug companies to prescribe a ketogenic diet when they can make hundreds of millions of dollars from the standard of care. Radiation therapy is a huge revenue generator for hospitals."
Dr. Seyfried said the ketogenic diet is a medical therapy that should be administered by trained professionals. "The keto diet can be harmful if administered incorrectly," he underscored.
Seyfried's decades of research indicate that cancer is a metabolic — not a genetic — disease. And the best way to treat a metabolic disorder is through diet, not by pumping a patient full of toxic radiation. Seyfried detailed his findings in his book, "Cancer as a Metabolic Disease."
The problem with the traditional treatment of cancer, said Seyfried, is that the cancer community has approached it as a genetic disease, so much of the research efforts have gone into gene-focused studies, which he says does not address the root of the problem.
"The standard of care has been an abysmal failure for cancer," said Dr. Seyfried. "The ketogenic diet may one day replace the standard of care for most cancers. To those who doubt me, I say: 'Prove me wrong.'"