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Cancer and Low Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diets

Posted on July 01, 2015 by Ruth Buttigieg | 0 comments

Over the past few years more and more interest has been growing into the use of dietary therapies - ketogenic diets to be precise. Interest is growing into their potential use as an adjuvant therapy alongside more traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Earlier this month, an interesting paper was published which looked further into the use of ketogenic diets as a viable treatment option for cancer. In this blog we hope to shed some more light on how lifestyle changes, especially dietary, can have a role in cancer treatment.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around one third of cancer deaths are due to the 5 leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use. Therefore, our dietary choices have a greater impact than simply providing fuel for our body.

How do our food choices contribute to ill health?

The simple answer to this question is that we are not eating enough nutrient rich foods to help meet our body’s daily vitamin and mineral needs. It is also not just a question of eating too much, but also about eating items that our body is simply not designed to eat. This is when the “quality” factor comes in, in that we need to be mindful of opting for food choices that are naturally more nutrient dense.

Research continues to show that energy rich and nutrient poor foods do have a role to play in disease and that we need to decrease the frequency at which we eat these items to improve health.

So, how does a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet help with cancer management?

Cancer cells are sugar addicts.

This particular feature of cancerous cells was first discovered in 1924 by Dr. Otto Warburg and he proposed that cancer is a metabolic disease i.e. a disease brought about by the cells changing the way they fuel themselves. In this case, he noticed that cancer cells much preferred using sugar as fuel and were unable to use any other sources to provide themselves with energy.

Therefore, the theory he put forward was that by changing the way the healthy cells fuelled themselves (the unaffected healthy cells are able to switch to other energy sources without they themselves being compromised), one would be able to “starve” cancer cells as they lacked the facility of fuelling themselves through other sources.

It is in fact, this metabolic inflexibility of cancer cells that makes the ketogenic diet effective against cancer cells.

What does the science show?

Due to the nature and implications of this theory, the number of studies looking at the effects of a ketogenic diet on human cancer patients are few and far in between. Hence the data that we have on the physiological effects of a ketogenic diet are mostly based on animal studies.

Counter arguments to the validity of this approach will be that mouse studies are not indicative of any success in humans. However, mouse studies, especially in cancer, have provided insight into the biology of human cancers as well as other disorders and are a cornerstone in the development of potential therapies.

This study published in June 2015, looked at a combination of therapies targeting the cancer cell's ability to use sugar as a fuel. They investigated their theories in mouse models as well as in lab tissue samples.

What they found was that through a combination of ketogenic diet, ketone supplementation and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, all target overlapping biochemical pathways prominent in cancer cells. What they found is that this combination therapy is safe, non-toxic and could have a place as an adjuvant therapy to current standards of care.

The paper in full can be found here (Free to View)

There is a growing list of research that has been addressing this issue and the major papers are listed below in the reference list.

How Can the Natural Low Carb Store help?

Here at the Natural Low Carb Store we believe that a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet can play a role in cancer management. It’s about meeting our body’s vitamin and mineral requirements and promoting a healthy self.

All our products have been designed to allow our body to go into a state of dietary ketosis. In fact, our products are also used as part of various ketogenic dietary therapies aimed at managing epilepsy as well as diabetes.  

Feel free to get in touch with us, we’ll answer any questions you have and help you make an informed decision.

*DISCLAIMER* The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.


Abdelwahab, M., Fenton, K., Preul, M., Rho, J., Lynch, A., Stafford, P. and Scheck, A. (2012). The Ketogenic Diet Is an Effective Adjuvant to Radiation Therapy for the Treatment of Malignant Glioma. PLoS ONE, 7(5), p.e36197.

Abdelwahab, M., Fenton, K., Preul, M., Rho, J., Lynch, A., Stafford, P. and Scheck, A. (2012). The Ketogenic Diet Is an Effective Adjuvant to Radiation Therapy for the Treatment of Malignant Glioma. PLoS ONE, 7(5), p.e36197.

Abdelwahab, M., Woolf, E., Fenton, K., Stafford, P., Preul, M., Rho, J., Lynch, A. and Scheck, A. (2012). Abstract 3217: Mechanistic analysis of the ketogenic diet versus KetoCal(R) as adjuvant treatments for malignant glioma. Cancer Research, 72(8 Supplement), pp.3217-3217.

Allen, B., Bhatia, S., Anderson, C., Eichenberger-Gilmore, J., Sibenaller, Z., Mapuskar, K., Schoenfeld, J., Buatti, J., Spitz, D. and Fath, M. (2014). Ketogenic diets as an adjuvant cancer therapy: History and potential mechanism. Redox Biology, 2, pp.963-970.

Allen, B., Szweda, L., Buatti, J., Bhatia, S., Spitz, D. and Fath, M. (2011). Ketogenic Diets Enhance Lung Cancer Response To Therapy. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 51, p.S82.

Barañano, K. and Hartman, A. (2008). The ketogenic diet: Uses in epilepsy and other neurologic illnesses. Current Treatment Options in Neurology, 10(6), pp.410-419.

Bennett, A., Ari, C., Casl, S., Luke, J., Diamond, D., Dean, J. and D'Agostino, D. (2012). Effect of ketone treatment and glycolysis inhibition in brain cancer cells (U87MG) and rat primary cultured neurons exposed to hyperbaric oxygen and amyloid beta. FASEB, [online] (26), pp.822-8. Available at: http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/26/1_MeetingAbstracts/822.8 [Accessed 19 Nov. 2014].

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Düregger, A., Ramoner, R., Pante, J., Steinmair, M. and Klocker, H. (2014). 305 Differential metabolic effects of medium-chain triglycerides and omega-3 fatty acids in benign and malignant prostate cells – evidence for a ketogenic diet as adjuvant therapy for prostate cancer. European Urology Supplements, 13(1), p.e305.

Freedland, S., Mavropoulos, J., Wang, A., Darshan, M., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Aronson, W., Cohen, P., Hwang, D., Peterson, B., Fields, T., Pizzo, S. and Isaacs, W. (2008). Carbohydrate restriction, prostate cancer growth, and the insulin-like growth factor axis. Prostate, 68(1), pp.11-19.

Ho, V., Leung, K., Hsu, A., Luk, B., Lai, J., Shen, S., Minchinton, A., Waterhouse, D., Bally, M., Lin, W., Nelson, B., Sly, L. and Krystal, G. (2011). A Low Carbohydrate, High Protein Diet Slows Tumor Growth and Prevents Cancer Initiation. Cancer Research, 71(13), pp.4484-4493.

Klement, R. (2013). Calorie or Carbohydrate Restriction? The Ketogenic Diet as Another Option for Supportive Cancer Treatment. The Oncologist, 18(9), pp.1056-1056.

Klement, R. and Kämmerer, U. (2011). Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer?. Nutr Metab (Lond), 8(1), p.75.

Klement, R. and Champ, C. (2014). Calories, carbohydrates, and cancer therapy with radiation: exploiting the five R’s through dietary manipulation. Cancer Metastasis Rev, 33(1), pp.217-229.

Klotz, L., Fleshner, N. and Venkateswaran, V. (2006). A LOW-CARBOHYDRATE, HIGH-FAT DIET INHIBITS PROLIFERATION OF PROSTATE CANCER IN VIVO. European Urology Supplements, 5(2), p.167.

Marsh, J., Mukherjee, P. and Seyfried, T. (2008). Drug/diet synergy for managing malignant astrocytoma in mice: 2-deoxy-D-glucose and the restricted ketogenic diet. Nutr Metab (Lond), 5(1), p.33.

Masko, E., Thomas, J., Antonelli, J., Lloyd, J., Phillips, T., Poulton, S., Dewhirst, M., Pizzo, S. and Freedland, S. (2010). Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Prostate Cancer: How Low Is "Low Enough"?. Cancer Prevention Research, 3(9), pp.1124-1131.

Mavropoulos, J., Isaacs, W., Pizzo, S. and Freedland, S. (2006). Is there a role for a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in the management of prostate cancer?. Urology, 68(1), pp.15-18.

Mavropoulos, J., Buschemeyer, W., Tewari, A., Rokhfeld, D., Pollak, M., Zhao, Y., Febbo, P., Cohen, P., Hwang, D., Devi, G., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Westman, E., Peterson, B., Pizzo, S. and Freedland, S. (2009). The Effects of Varying Dietary Carbohydrate and Fat Content on Survival in a Murine LNCaP Prostate Cancer Xenograft Model. Cancer Prevention Research, 2(6), pp.557-565.

Nebeling, L., Miraldi, F., Shurin, S. and Lerner, E. (1995). Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 14(2), pp.202-208.

NEBELING, L. and LERNER, E. (1995). Implementing A Ketogenic Diet Based on Medium-chain Triglyceride Oil in Pediatric Patients with Cancer. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 95(6), pp.693-697.

Oleksyszyn, J. (2011). The complete control of glucose level utilizing the composition of ketogenic diet with the gluconeogenesis inhibitor, the anti-diabetic drug metformin, as a potential anti-cancer therapy. Medical Hypotheses, 77(2), pp.171-173.

Otto, C., Kaemmerer, U., Illert, B., Muehling, B., Pfetzer, N., Wittig, R., Voelker, H., Thiede, A. and Coy, J. (2008). Growth of human gastric cancer cells in nude mice is delayed by a ketogenic diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides. BMC Cancer, 8(1), p.122.

Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. and Grimaldi, K. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Eur J Clin Nutr, 67(8), pp.789-796.

Poff, A., Ari, C., Seyfried, T. and D’Agostino, D. (2013). The Ketogenic Diet and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Prolong Survival in Mice with Systemic Metastatic Cancer. PLoS ONE, 8(6), p.e65522.

Rieger, J., B�hr, O., Maurer, G., Hattingen, E., Franz, K., Brucker, D., Walenta, S., K�mmerer, U., Coy, J., Weller, M. and Steinbach, J. (2014). ERGO: A pilot study of ketogenic diet in recurrent glioblastoma. International Journal of Oncology.

Scheck, A., Abdelwahab, M., Stafford, P., Kim, D., Iwai, S., Preul, M. and Rho, J. (2010). Abstract 638: Mechanistic studies of the ketogenic diet as an adjuvant therapy for malignant gliomas. Cancer Research, 70(8 Supplement), pp.638-638.

Scheck, A., Abdelwahab, M., Fenton, K. and Stafford, P. (2012). The ketogenic diet for the treatment of glioma: Insights from genetic profiling. Epilepsy Research, 100(3), pp.327-337.

Schmidt, M., Pfetzer, N., Schwab, M., Strauss, I. and Kämmerer, U. (2011). Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial. Nutr Metab (Lond), 8(1), p.54.

Schroeder, U., Himpe, B., Pries, R., Vonthein, R., Nitsch, S. and Wollenberg, B. (2013). Decline of Lactate in Tumor Tissue After Ketogenic Diet: In Vivo Microdialysis Study in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer. Nutrition and Cancer, 65(6), pp.843-849.

Seyfried, T., Kiebish, M., Mukherjee, P. and Marsh, J. (2008). Targeting energy metabolism in brain cancer with calorically restricted ketogenic diets. Epilepsia, 49, pp.114-116.

Seyfried, T., Marsh, J., Shelton, L., Huysentruyt, L. and Mukherjee, P. (2012). Is the restricted ketogenic diet a viable alternative to the standard of care for managing malignant brain cancer?. Epilepsy Research, 100(3), pp.310-326.

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Woolf, E. and Scheck, A. (2014). The Ketogenic Diet for the Treatment of Malignant Glioma. The Journal of Lipid Research.

Zuccoli, G., Marcello, N., Pisanello, A., Servadei, F., Vaccaro, S., Mukherjee, P. and Seyfried, T. (2010). Metabolic management of glioblastoma multiforme using standard therapy together with a restricted ketogenic diet: Case Report. Nutr Metab (Lond), 7(1), p.33.

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