The vast majority of claims regarding the ketogenic diet and cancer are drawn from lab and animal studies. Findings from animal studies are revealing. A study published in July’s Nature found that in mice, the ketogenic diet enhanced the effects of a specific cancer treatment. The drugs in that treatment targeted a signaling network guided by an enzyme (abbreviated P13K), which is commonly mutated in cancers.

Tumors have hypoxic zones and normoxic (aerobic) zones, with a symbiotic relationship between the two. Hypoxic cancer cells derive energy from fermentation of glucose, and secrete lactate. Normoxic cancer cells prefer and attract lactate as fuel for the TCA cycle, sparing glucose for the hypoxic cells. [NCBI, “Tumor cell metabolism: an integral view”]
After reading Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter, I called his office and was able to meet with him in person. When he read my past medical history he confidently prescribed the Ketogenic diet for me and his nutritionist worked to develop just the right set-up for my BMI. It seemed like a big change at first but really it has been much easier than I originally thought it would be. Now, after being on the diet, along with probiotics and supplements, I can say that I have been seizure free for over 4 months for the first time in over 20 years! My whole world is changing! I can work on getting my driver’s license! I can be what my family needs me to be! I believe God has used the Ketogenic diet to heal my epilepsy and I want to make sure everyone out there who is suffering from seizures has the opportunity to know about and try this amazing, risk-free treatment!

In addition to seizures, the KD has been suggested to treat neurodegenerative disorders (eg, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s), metabolic defects, migraines, and other disease states.3 Although the KD isn’t a mainstream form of treatment, the possibility that there may be clinical significance in using dietary means for certain medical conditions can’t be ruled out. This isn’t an endorsement for the KD as much as an expression of interest that, depending on nutritional intake, the body can make astounding adaptations to help control debilitating conditions.

Leanne: For those of you guys who don’t know Jimmy Moore, first of all you’ve probably been living under a rock because this guy’s huge. Excited to have you here on the show today. Jimmy busted on health scene in 2004 after a phenomenal 180 pound weight loss that enabled him to come off of his prescription drugs for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and respiratory problems. He is the co-author of Cholesterol Clarity, Keto Clarity, and the energetic personality behind the blog Living La Vida Low Carb at www.livinlavidalowcarb.com, and the voice of the top ranked podcast The Livin’ La Vida Low Carb show. He’s interviewed over 900 of the world’s top health experts, I’m pretty sure I’ve listed to at least 400 of those.
More specifically, subjects in the lowest third of carbohydrate consumption had an HDL concentration of 1.21 mmol/L while subjects in the highest third had HDL concentration of 1.08 mmol/L. [13] According to the authors, “every 100-g/d increment of carbohydrate (approximately the difference between the top and bottom tertiles) was associated with 0.15-mmol/L less of HDL.” [13]
The diet seems to work for more than one kind of seizure, and for children who have a lot of seizures or few seizures. But most doctors say it shouldn’t be used instead of medications if the drugs are working and the child is not having bad side effects. Parents generally decide to try the diet because they hope it will give their child a better chance for a normal life.

7. Raygan, F., Bahmani, F., Kouchaki, E., Aghadavod, E., Sharifi, S., Akbari, E., . . . Asemi, Z. (2016). Comparative effects of carbohydrate versus fat restriction on metabolic profiles, biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in overweight patients with Type 2 diabetic and coronary heart disease: A randomized clinical trial. PMID: 28607566
Only after interviewing 1,000 of Dr. Kelley’s patients, and evaluating 455 of them at length over a five-year period, did I even begin to think about the book that would be written – not a popular potboiler, not a tome expounding his elaborate theories, but a serious academic monograph about our findings. It is just not in my makeup to put out a book with lovely theory and two case reports, however inspiring they might be.
Cancer – One exciting frontier for the potential use of a ketogenic diet is as an adjunct treatment for certain types of cancers. In 1924 Otto Warburg first published his observation that, unlike healthy cells, nearly all cancer cells fuel themselves through glycolysis, a means of creating energy through the fermentation of glucose. What we now call the “Warburg Effect” has led many researchers to theorize that if cancer cells are starved of glucose, they will stop spreading, while healthy cells will continue to thrive on the alternative fuel source of ketones. In mice, a ketogenic diet is known to inhibit certain pathways and lower certain compounds involved in tumor formation.35 Research thus far is very preliminary, but because a ketogenic diet appears to target major energy pathways responsible for tumor growth and survival, it may enhance the efficacy of conventional treatments and even reduce side effects in some types of cancers. 36 37 38
The first study looking at the ketogenic diet and cancer was published in 1995 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. In it, researchers recruited two young female patients at the University Hospitals of Cleveland. Both had Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), a form of cancer that starts in the brain and rapidly spreads throughout the body.
Recent studies show that low-carb diets such as keto are more effective at raising good (HDL) cholesterol than low-fat diets [1, 2]. However, there are also studies showing that keto can increase total cholesterol (HDL and LDL) [3]. On the other hand, low-carb, high-fat diets also decrease LDL particle concentration (LDL-P), increase the size of LDL cholesterol and decrease the amount of harmful VLDL cholesterol in the blood [2], all of which have a positive effect on cardiovascular fitness.
Cancer cells need to carefully maintain their “redox status”. Redox status is the balance between oxidants and antioxidants. Oxidants, including free radicals and other “reactive” chemical species, are made continuously in every living cell as a byproduct of metabolic activities. Several antioxidant systems have evolved in our body to specifically counter the harmful actions of these oxidants. 

Keep up electrolytes. The major electrolytes in our bodies are sodium, potassium and magnesium. Because a low carb diet (especially a keto diet!) reduces the amount of water you store, this can flush out electrolytes and make you feel sick (called “keto flu”). This is temporary, but you can avoid or eliminate it by salting your food liberally, drinking broth (especially bone broth), and eating pickled vegetables. Some people also choose to take supplements for electrolytes, but it’s best to first consult a doctor that understands and supports keto/low carb lifestyles.
The patient’s wife, a former college professor with an interest in nutritional medicine, learned about our approach from an article she read in an alternative health journal, and in the fall of 1991 he began treatment with me. Some fifteen months later, repeat CT scans showed stabilization of disease. Since he felt fine at the time, following his program religiously, he decided against any further conventional testing until 1998, seven years after he had started with me, when a series of CT scans confirmed total resolution of his once extensive cancer.
I actually clicked on the story just to see if they included anything about it’s use in managing chronic migraine. I have chronic migraine, basically intractable. Nothing has helped. I’ve tried medications, meditations, and everything in between including a bunch of dietary changes. Keto is my next consideration. I’m happy to hear it helped you! Thanks for sharing
I actually went on a ketogenic diet last year to see if it would help my migraines. I have a history of chronic migraines which would usually last 3 days, sometimes longer. Triptans help a lot but I don’t like having to take them. I stayed in ketosis for about 8 months and experienced a significant reduction in migraines, from feeling some type of headache (mild o r severe) almost everyday to 1 or 2x per month while in ketosis. Although I’m very healthy otherwise, I do think my migraines may have something to do with blood sugar fluctuations (despite previously eating a whole foods diet and no refined carbs), and keto totally stabilized this. I eventually came off of Keto because I’m not really a meat lover. When I came off, but remained low carb, my migraines stayed under control for the most part. When I increase carbs, they do return.
Hi Barb, That can definitely be it. Losing when you are close to goal can be more difficult. It could also be that your body’s healthy weight is a little higher than what you’d like – which doesn’t mean you can’t lose, but makes it more difficult. If just eating Keto foods isn’t working, double check the macros for your weight and see if the amount you’re eating needs to be adjusted. You’ll find more help and support in our support group here.
Over one-third of Americans have metabolic syndrome, a constellation of complications including increased blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and abnormal triglyceride and cholesterol levels that significantly increase one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. (8) The conventional treatment of metabolic syndrome typically involves cholesterol-, blood sugar-, and blood pressure-lowering medications, along with vague advice to “eat better.” Given that heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States, that diabetes is considered to be at epidemic proportions, and that strokes disable or kill someone every 40 seconds on average, this treatment paradigm leaves much to be desired. (9)
Regular readers of SBM should know the problem with this sort of approach. No IRB worth its salt would approve such a trial because it would be ethically dubious, but, even worse, it would be ethically dubious and it wouldn’t really tell us anything unless those few patients either had near-miraculous responses or died very quickly. Anything else would simply tell us that the diet is probably doing no harm. More numbers would be needed, particularly if the comparison is to historical controls, to get even an inkling of whether there might be benefit. In that case, you might as well do a proper phase I/II clinical trial, which is what is happening. For instance:

If I was diagnosed with cancer or one of my relatives or friends were diagnosed, I would certainly put the ketogenic diet and fasting at the top of the list of potential treatments to investigate because I see a high potential for benefit and very little downside. You can’t say that about many cancer therapies. As we talked about earlier, the goal with cancer treatment is to find something that inhibits the growth of cancer cells but doesn’t damage healthy cells. Again, there just aren’t that many therapies out there that do that.
I am very encouraged by this recent study, published in January 2014, looking at the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting as an adjunct nutritional therapy to be administered to cancer patients undergoing standard radiation therapy in cancer treatment. The study provides “dietary interventions” to be used along side “radiotherapy”. Therefore, this is not really a study that lends itself to developing more pharmaceutical drugs. However, will physicians in the allopathic medical field seriously consider rigorous diet therapy?
You may find it easy to eat less when all you can eat is protein and fat. But after a while, you may grow tired of bringing your own whole salmon to parties, and wonder what the other 95% of the grocery store is up to. You may start to have fantasies about a threesome: you, Oreos, and chocolate sauce. Not only that, you may be getting some serious scurvy and other nutrient deficiencies.

Despite the initial warning signs, the media continued its relentless promotion of interleukin-2 for a number of years. In 1992, perhaps due to political pressure more than scientific evidence, the FDA approved the drug for use against cancer, despite the lack of comprehensive controlled trials. Then in the late 1998 a clinical study – completed some 13 years after the initial reporting – showed that interleukin-2, at least with advanced kidney cancer, worked no better than placebo.

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