The ketogenic diet has proven effective at producing rapid weight loss and managing epilepsy, but researchers say the low-carb, high-fat keto diet can treat cancer as well as — if not better than — chemotherapy.
In an exclusive interview, nutrition researcher Ellen Davis discussed how the ketogenic diet can be used to treat both metastatic cancer and diabetes.
Davis, author of Fight Cancer with a Ketogenic Diet, said the ketogenic diet starves cancer because cancer cells thrive on sugar and cannot survive on ketones. So by drastically limiting carbohydrates (as the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet does) you reduce glucose and insulin, and thus restrict the primary fuel for cancer cell growth.
Keto Diet Exploits Cancer Cells' Reliance on Sugar
"Research from as far back as the 1920s shows that most cancer cells are dependent upon a constant supply of blood sugar to thrive," said Ellen. "They prefer sugar even when oxygen is available for normal cellular respiration, a phenomenon known as the Warburg Effect."
When blood glucose levels are low, normal cells use fat products called ketones for fuel, but cancer cells can’t metabolize ketones and this makes them vulnerable to dietary therapy. Ketogenic diets sharply lower blood glucose while increasing ketone levels, a metabolic state which effectively starves cancer cells while nourishing normal cells."
In writing her book, Davis relied on research conducted by cancer scientists Dr. Thomas Seyfried of Boston College and Dr. Dominic D'Agostino of the University of South Florida Medical School.
Both D'Agostino and Seyfried told me in separate interviews the ketogenic diet can treat even the deadliest of cancers without the toxic, unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, which is the current standard of care.
'Sugar Is the Achilles Heel of Cancer Cells'
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 drugs or radiation, he underscored. Seyfried and D'Agostino's joint study on the metabolic nature of cancer was recently published in the medical journal Carcinogenesis.
"Most cancer scientists have historically thought cancer was a genetic disease, but only 5-10% percent of cancer is hereditary," Dr. D'Agostino told me. “Sugar addiction is the Achilles heel of cancer cells."
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. And one way to keep mitochondria healthy is through the ketogenic diet, which stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and enhances mitochondrial efficiency.
Dr. Seyfried, widely considered the godfather of the nutritional treatment of cancer, agrees. 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."
While there are many skeptics, there are numerous anecdotal success stories of people fighting cancer with the ketogenic diet. Joe Mancaruso, a 56-year-old Texas man, told me he has been battling terminal lung cancer without chemotherapy using the ketogenic diet. "I am convinced I would not be here today if I had continued with chemo," said Mancaruso.
Ketogenic Diet Is Not Harmful Long-Term
While some experts say the ketogenic diet can be harmful if done long-term, Davis said research does not support this. "If the ketogenic diet is formulated and implemented correctly, there are no long-term harmful effects," she said.
"There are multiple long-term studies out now showing that a correctly administered ketogenic diet is beneficial over time, and normalizes blood sugar, insulin and improves cardiac disease risk factors."
Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor at the University of Connecticut, is sold on the long-term health benefits of the ketogenic diet for both weight loss and disease prevention.
Dr. Volek told me he has followed the LCHF ketogenic diet for the past 20 years and credits it for his excellent health. "It was nothing short of an epiphany when I changed to a ketogenic diet," said Volek. "I felt better, more satiated, and had more consistent energy."
Ketogenic Diet Can Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
Davis is currently writing a ketogenic diet book to treat diabetes. Obesity expert Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Duke University Obesity Clinic, said the ketogenic diet has already been shown effective at reversing type 2 diabetes and promoting rapid weight loss without calorie restriction. Davis said her research confirms this.
A high-carb diet causes blood sugar spikes, which have to be managed with more insulin. Insulin levels spike, and become the driver of severe and dangerous low blood sugar episodes. The ketogenic diet give diabetics great control over their blood sugar. Their hemoglobin A1C scores, after-meal blood sugars, and fasting blood sugars all fall toward normal on the ketogenic diet, which means less insulin is needed."
The end result for the patient is a lower, steadier blood sugar level and a reversal of insulin resistance overall, said Ellen. Diabetics can use the diet to avoid blood sugars that are too high and too low, and in many cases, the diet so normalizes blood sugar and insulin that the patient has to be taken off diabetic medications.
"Overall, the ketogenic diet can reverse many of the diabetic complications associated with high blood sugars: heart disease, neuropathy and excess weight," Davis said.