The Ketogenic Diet and cancer

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This is the anti-cancer diet that everyone is talking about right now.

In essence:  the ketogenic diet is a lower calorie diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein and very very low in carbohydrates.

The rationale: there are two sources of fuel for cells – glucose and fatty acids.  Glucose comes mostly from carbohydrates in our diet.  Fatty acids can come from either food, or from breaking down fats already stored in our cells.  When large amount of fatty acids are available, they are broken down by the liver into ketones.

Ketones are an important source of back-up fuel, in the absence of glucose.  Normal cells can use ketones as a source of fuel.  However, cancer cells are unable to use ketones.

The ketogenic diet aims to raise the level of ketones (fat) in the body, and lower the glucose (sugar) level, thereby denying cancer cells of a fuel source.

There are strict ratios between the carbs, protein and fats: 75%-80% is fats and oils, 15-20% protein and 5% green, leafy vegetables.  0% sugars.  That includes sugar in fruit, so that’s right … no fruit on the restricted calorie ketogenic diet.

This is a restricted calorie diet. So you can’t go “a-ha! high fat diet”and stuff yourself full of food.  It is restricted because you want to get your body to burn fats for energy.

You have to restrict the level of protein too.  Restricting the level of protein lowers the level of glutamine, an amino acid.  Glutamine apparently fuels the growth of cancer cells which perhaps explains why vegetarianism sometimes works as an anti-cancer diet.


This site, run by Ellen Davies, includes a very good e-book with guidelines, calculators, and recipes on how to implement the ketogenic diet.   Written for the layman.  Highly-recommended.

This is the definitive book, written by the guru of the ketogenic diet, Prof Thomas Seyfried.   An awesome man.  A very technical book.

Also watch/listen to the following interviews with Thomas Seyfried – compelling stuff:

Here is the review of Thomas Seyfried’s book by Ralph Moss, a doctor who runs a world-renowned consultancy on cancer treatments – it is a summary of the key points of the KD-R diet and will save you £79.64 for the book. has an interview with Dr. Dominic D’Agostino who was studying seizures related to oxygen toxicity experienced by Navy SEAL divers using closed-circuit breathing apparatus. He came across the ketogenic diet, which has already been confirmed as an effective treatment for epilepsy and a variety of seizure disorders.  Check out the interview and transcript about the ketogenic diet and hyperbaric treatment for cancer.

Elaine Cantin implemented a modified version of the ketogenic diet and cured herself of a recurrence of breast cancer.  She also controlled her son’s diabetes using this diet.  Very good explanation for the layman.  However, she did not restrict amounts of protein or volume of food.  This is not the purist KD-R diet, but it worked for her, so who are we to say what’s right or wrong?

Dr Georgia Ede has an excellent 4-part article in her blog, on cancer and the ketogenic diet in which she demystifies Thomas Seyfried.  She’s also doing the ketogenic diet so is a good role model and source of inspiration for those who want to try it.

She also points out a possible flaw in the need for calorie restriction in the diet as recommended by Dr Seyfried:  in his experiments, the food fed to the mice were processed soy, dairy and corn syrup.  Not very healthy food – in fact high in sugar!  Perhaps if he had fed the mice a proper wholefood diet, calorie restriction would not have been necessary.

Too good to be true?

If only it was possible to cure cancer through diet, Big Pharma would be out of business.  There have been a number of anti-cancer diets through the years – Gerson, Budwig, vegan, raw food, no sugar etc. They’ve all mixed success and a lot of anecdotal evidence – what works for one person may not work for another.  However, the ketogenic diet is actually backed-up with a lot of scientific research conducted by Prof. Thomas Seyfried and other scientists.

Kicking the tyres:

The KD-R diet is complicated.  I wish I could say that the diet is as easy as restricting carbs, but it isn’t.  To do it properly you have to test for the level of ketones in blood and urine, in order to make sure that you have entered a state of ketosis.  You have to invest in a blood-sugar and ketone meter and test strips and test your blood daily.  You have to ingest huge amounts of fat (usually in the form of medium-chain triglycerides like coconut oil).  You have to buy a set of weighing scales to make sure you eat precise amounts of protein and carbs.

In Ellen Davis’ book, she states that some nutrients may also be in short supply, so vitamin supplementation may be necessary.  It makes me question how balanced a diet can be when nutrients are missing.  On the other hand, it’s made me think about how screwed up the metabolism of people with cancer must be if we have to resort to extreme diets in order to regain health.

The ketogenic diet seems to be low on the leafy veg, and my understanding is that it’s not so easy to do if you’re vegetarian.

Thomas Seyfried himself said that the KD-R may not be enough in providing disease resolution for most patients, and has to be combined with other treatment strategies.

Finally, there’s a school of thought that says that the ketogenic diet may not work long term:  I was listening to a talk given by Dr Ioannis Papasotiriou on Navigating the Cancer Maze and he believes cancer cells are capable of circumventing glucose restriction by creating new genes to manufacture the glucose they require from proteins in the diet.

But at the end of the day, cancer has to be challenged on more than one front – so the KD-R diet and anything else that makes other treatments more effective is a good thing.


29 July 2013:  I have two friends who are doing the KD-R seriously.  Both are on pharmaceuticals  2-deoxy-d-glucose (2DG) and phenylbutyrate, to target glucose and glutamine.