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The Ketogenic Diet & Cancer

Ketogenic Diet has been getting quite some attention lately. A lot of research has been going on pertaining to it, especially in terms of weight loss and now cancer! That is what we are going to uncover today: “What does research show on the efficacy of the Ketogenic Diet in helping individuals fight cancer.”

What exactly is the Ketogenic Diet?

A Ketogenic Diet is a fat-based diet, with moderate to low protein content, and very low carbohydrates. This diet forces one’s body to burn fat instead of glucose as a source of energy. The breakdown of carbohydrates yields glucose which is the “Go to” source of energy for our body. By following a Ketogenic Diet, fats are broken down providing ketone bodies which the cells use for energy production instead of glucose.(1) Generally, the diet follows a macronutrient ratio of 4:1, that is 4 parts fat to every 1 part carbohydrate + protein.(5) So, in percentages of the macronutrients in this diet it might look like this: 5% protein, 20% carbohydrate, and 75% fat, varying by individual tolerance and physical activity. (2)

Individuals with cancer are usually prone to malnourishment and developing cancer cachexia. Cancer cachexia is a metabolic condition in which the patient starts losing weight and muscle mass. The condition worsens as the tumor growth continues. The treatments for cancer; chemotherapy and radiotherapy also contribute to a declining nutritional status of those with cancer. Thus, the goal for treatment should be to maintain nutritional status along with suppressing tumor progression. (3)  

Cancer has now been stated as a metabolic disease (diseases that disrupt normal metabolism) which has led to a lot of studies looking at the Ketogenic Diet as an alternative therapy or a complimentary one for it. Ketogenic Diet has been used to treat epileptic seizures in children since 1920. As we discussed earlier, the Ketogenic Diet switches the energy source for cells from glucose to fatty acids and ketone bodies, the cancer cells do not contain the mechanism for switching to Ketone bodies instead of glucose for their sustenance. Thus, we have what is referred to as the Warburg effect. The Warburg effect is the target of Ketogenic dietary therapy for cancer, which aims to limit energy sources for cancer cells by restricting carbohydrates, while providing fatty acids and ketone bodies as an energy source for healthy cells. (3)

Ketogenic Diets can potentially go on to become a complimentary cancer therapy along with the standard chemo and radiotherapies. Although there are certain side effects that have been recognized in association to this diet. After starting a Ketogenic Diet people may face the following potential side effects of high fat intake such as; feeling lethargic, nauseous, and throwing up due to intolerance of the diet. This usually occurs because the body is transitioning energy (also known as the "Keto flu"). In contrast high fat content makes gastrointestinal discomfort, a common side effect in adults. A potential pilot study on Ketogenic diets stated a significant increase in cholesterol levels in patients after a year. (4) Certain micronutrient deficiencies such as copper, selenium and zinc have also been reported with this diet. These and other side effects are important to consider before starting a Ketogenic diet as a form of treatment.

What can we conclude then?

Studies have suggested potential positive effects of Ketogenic diet amongst individuals with cancer but there is still need for some solid conclusive evidence. A lot of other factors also need to be considered, such as supplementation of micronutrients, glucose levels and effects on cholesterol. We should keep in mind that everyone has a different body type, so a dietitian and doctor should always be consulted before experimenting with such a diet. (1)


Allen, B. G., Bhatia, S. K., Anderson, C. M., Eichenberger-Gilmore, J. M., Sibenaller, Z. A., Mapuskar, K. A., Fath, M. A. (2014). Ketogenic diets as an adjuvant cancer therapy: History and potential mechanism. Redox Biology, 2, 963-970. doi:10.1016/j.redox.2014.08.002

Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates percentage. (2013, May 07). Retrieved March 30, 2018, from

A Ketogenic Formula Prevents Tumor Progression and Cancer Cachexia by Attenuating Systemic Inflammation in Colon 26 Tumor-Bearing Mice. (2018). Nutrients, 10(2), 206. doi:10.3390/nu10020206

Mosek, A., Natour, H., Neufeld, M. Y., Shiff, Y., & Vaisman, N. (2009). Ketogenic diet treatment in adults with refractory epilepsy: A prospective pilot study. Seizure, 18(1), 30-33. doi:10.1016/j.seizure.2008.06.001

What is a Ketogenic Diet? Keto Diet Facts, Research, and Variations. (2018, February 02). Retrieved March 29, 2018, from

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