Ketogenic Diet: Who is it Helping?


I’ve been fascinated for some time now by the wildly popular Ketogenic diet so I’ve decided to dive deeper into the research that has been circulating over the past couple years as many prominent doctors, nutritionists and health practitioners I respect advocate a ketogenic nutritional food path. Food is medicine and when it comes to strict dietary changes (and a ketogenic diet is definitely a disciplined way of eating), I’m a stickler for scientific backing. The currently stylish “keto” diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. The goal is to get more calories from protein and fat than from carbs. It works by depleting your body of its store of sugar, so it will start to break down protein and fat for energy, causing ketosis.

Many participants of the diet seem to be primarily interested in using ketogenic eating as a method of weight loss but it has been found to help with so much more than simply weight loss. For example, low-carb diets such as the Keto diet, are very effective at lowering blood triglycerides, which are fat molecules in the blood and a well-known risk factor for heart disease. Studies surrounding low carb diets show that reducing carbs leads to a significant reduction in blood pressure, which should lead to a reduced risk of many common diseases. But what benefit buzz that has the scientific community talking the most is the ketogenic diet as an approach to cancer prevention and therapy.

When you eat a ketogenic diet, you’re dramatically limiting the amount of carbohydrates, and thus the amount of glucose, that comes into your body. The metabolic theory of cancer proposes that cancer cells increase glucose and hydroperoxide metabolism. Given this theoretical construct, it is reasonable to propose that forcing cancer cells to use mitochondrial oxidative metabolism by feeding ketogenic diets that are high in fats and low in glucose and other carbohydrates, would selectively cause metabolic oxidative stress in cancer versus normal cells. This approach would help with cancer if this theory is correct, because when our energy metabolism shifts to fat or ketones away from glucose, cancer cells cannot utilize ketones, but our healthy cells can. One of the main goals of positive cancer treatment is how to address the cancer cells without also killing the healthy cells.

The ketogenic diet offers a change that provides a shift in metabolism from glucose to fat meaning that the cancer cells won’t thrive, but the healthy cells can.

The research is powerfully promising but unfortunately there isn’t a decent amount of large and credible studies published at this time regarding ketogenic diet as a solid approach to cancer prevention and treatment. That being said there are some still some compelling studies out there. In monitored tumor growth in response to a high-carb versus a ketogenic diet in 27 patients with cancer of the digestive tract, tumor growth increased by 32% percent in patients who received the high-carb diet, but actually decreased by 24% in the patients on ketogenic diet. In another study, three out of five patients on a ketogenic diet combined with radiation or chemo experienced complete remission. Interestingly, the other two participants found that the disease progressed after they stopped the ketogenic diet.

People aside, there is however a decent amount published on the positive effects of the ketogenic diet on animals that we can learn from. For example, a large number of animal studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can reduce tumor growth and improve survival rates in mice. A 22-day study in mice that looked at the differences between the ketogenic diet and other diets discovered that a ketogenic diet reduced tumor growth by up to 65% and nearly doubled survival time in some cases. There is another study in mice that tested the ketogenic diet with or without hyperbaric oxygen therapy and compared to the standard diet, the ketogenic diet increased mean survival time by 56% and that number increased to 78% when it was combined with hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Additional studies have shown that ketogenic diets reduce tumor growth and improve survival in animal models of malignant glioma, colon cancer, gastric cancer, and prostate cancer.

The ketogenic diet is an optimistic nutritional treatment plan for a wide variety of health challenges.

The buzz around ketogenic eating isn’t going anywhere soon and it will be interesting to continue to follow the research as more and more attention and resources are pointed toward scientific studies. Please feel free to share any personal thoughts or experiences you have with the diet in the comments below. I learn as much from your experiences, as from research.