Loading the Dice in Your Favor - Preventing and Slowing Cancers with Low Carb Diets.

I'm not going to beat around the bush here; cancer is bad.

If you have it, or your one of your friends or family does, then there isn't much worse news you can get. And it' usually accompanied by the words "well how long have I got doc?"

In today's post I'd like to take this opportunity to help you better understand cancers. I'd like to look at some of the things you can do diet-wise to prevent it, and if in the unfortunate circumstance that you do get a tumor, how to slow it down while the chemo or radiotherapy does its work.


So How do You Get Cancer?

Well to put it simply, cancers are caused by varous highly complex mechanisums. These can include alcohol abuse, tobacco use, radiation, obesity or a lack of physical activity as well as many others.

The media likes to sensationalize this complexity as well. So should you wish to have sleepless nights full of unfounded fears please check out the Daily Mail's list of "Things that give you cancer"

So that's a lot of things that can kill you. I particularly like the articles on how flip flops, Facebook and good old fashioned sex and blow jobs can increase your cancer risk, but is this useful information?

I'm not saying I agree with the Daily Mail here (Anything that comes out of the Daily Mail should be regarded as one level above horse manure as far as I'm concerned... No, wait, I take that back! Horse manure is useful...) but I think it illustrates well that what causes cancer is complex, difficult to determine and full of grey areas.


What Cancer Does Once it is in the Body and How it is Fueled is However Better Understood.

If I asked you to describe the mechanism by which cancer causes us to shuffle off this mortal coil, could you describe it? Most people I ask this question to can't. Let's address that shal we?

To put it very simply, a tumor develops like so...

  1. Cells become cancerous due to some external stimuli and spread to form a benign tumor a few millimeters in size.
  2. The cancer cells give off hormones that cause angiogenesis to occur in the area of the tumor (The growing of new blood vessels). This is needed because tumors cannot grow beyond the few millimeters in size stage, unless they have a direct blood supply.
  3. The body cannot differentiate between the tumor and its own tissues and organs. All it knows is that there is a body part that needs to grow. Once the blood supply is connected the body will try to nourish this new part unaware that it is in fact, a threat to its existence.
  4. Cancer cells can divide around 10 times faster than normal cells. Meaning they require much more energy than a "normal" cell. This takes greater and greater reasourses from the body.
  5. Eventually energy requirements go beyond what is available from food and stored fat to A) Feed the body and B) Feed the tumor. As a result the body starts breaking down vital tissue and organs to feed the cancer.
  6. Using your organs building blocks for food can only go on for so long and eventually something (or many things) break, vital bodily processes get interrupted or your immune system becomes overly compromised. All leading to a hefty inheritance tax payment to the Inland Revenue :-/

In order to stop cancer from kiling someone, this chain of events needs to be broken siomewhere. Preferably as early on as possible. This is where chemo and radiotherapy are trditionally used.

Now more to the point of this article, when it comes to diet and cancers there are some things that can be done with eating patterns to weigh the odds in your favor.


Introducing Carbohydrate Restriction as a Method of Inhibiting Cancer Growth.

Carbohydrate restriction has been shown to slow down and in some cases stop tumour growth.

Normal healthy cells can operate on glucose or fat (fats being lipids or ketone bodies). Most invasive cancers on the other hand, can only run on glucose. This is because cancer cells metabolize and divide very quickly, so quick in fact, that fat (which takes longer than glucose to be broken down) cannot keep up with the energy demand of the cancerous cell.

As a result, cancer needs the easily available fast energy of glucose to keep going. If that glucose is unavailable then the tumor can't grow as it normally would.

This understanding of cancer's dependency on glucose was first discovered back as far as 1931 by a biochemist called Otto Warburg. He subsequently won the Nobel prize for medicine for his discovery. Despite this, it is only very recently that the scientific community is taking the idea of carbohydrate restriction as a viable tool in the fight against cancer seriously.

And furthermore, it is also theorised by myself and others that eating a low carbohydrate diet on a regular basis (as I outlined here for example) may help prevent tumors developing in the first place. Lets look at some of the more recent studies that lend weight to using low carbohydrate diets to treat tumors:


Study 1 - Brain Cancer in Mice:

The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer - Zhou et al (2007) 

This study used a powdered dietary supplement called KetoCal® which is made up milk protein, fat, limited carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. It's fat percentage is 73% and it is very low in carbohydrate. This is all the mice in the study were fed for the duration of the experiment.

The results indicate that KetoCal® has anti-tumor and anti-angiogenic effects in experimental mouse and human brain tumors when administered in restricted amounts. The therapeutic effect of KetoCal® for brain cancer management was due largely to the reduction of total caloric content, which reduces circulating glucose required for rapid tumor growth. A dependency on glucose for energy together with defects in ketone body metabolism largely account for why the brain tumors grow minimally on either a ketogenic-restricted diet or on a standard-restricted diet.Genes for ketone body metabolism should be useful for screening brain tumors that could be targeted with calorically restricted high fat/low carbohydrate ketogenic diets. This preclinical study indicates that restricted KetoCal® is a safe and effective diet therapy and should be considered as an alternative therapeutic option for malignant brain cancer.

Although what causes cancer differs from species to species, once it has begun it generally follows the same process that I outlined earlier. This study agrees with what I said earlier about carbohydrate restriction slowing cancer growth.

Source: Zhou et al. (2007) The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer. Nutrition & Metabolism 4:5


Study 2 Prostate Cancer in Mice:

Association of Diet-Induced Hyperinsulinemia With Accelerated Growth of Prostate Cancer - Venkateswaran et al (2007)

Another study, this time testing a diet high in fat and high in carbs vs. a diet high in fat and low carbs.

Results:Results After 9 weeks on the experimental diets, mice on the high carbohydrate – high fat diet were heavier, experienced increased tumor growth, and experienced a statistically significant increase in serum insulin and IGF-1 levels...

...Tumors from mice on the high carbohydrate – high fat diet had higher levels of activated AKT and modestly higher insulin receptor levels than tumors from mice on the low carbohydrate – high fat diet...

Conclusion:A diet high in refined carbohydrates is associated with increased tumor growth and with activation of signaling pathways distal to the insulin receptor in a murine model of prostate cancer.

Different study, more of the same data. Lower carbohydrates again equal slower tumor growth. More carbs lad to faster tumor growth. From what we understand about how cancers fuel themselves, this makes sense.

Source: Venkateswaran et al (2007) Association of Diet-Induced Hyperinsulinemia With Accelerated Growth of Prostate Cancer (LNCaP) Xenografts. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Vol. 99, Issue 23 p1793-1800 


Study 3 - Brain (Astrocytoma) Cancer in Two Humans:

Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumour metabolism and nutritional status in paediatric oncology patients: two case reports. - Nebeling LC et al (1995) 

This study refers to a Ketogenic diet which is a broad term that describes a high fat, adequate protein low carbohydrate diet very similar to the previous two studies before. The difference is that this study was conducted in humans.

Results: Within 7 days of initiating the ketogenic diet, blood glucose levels declined to low-normal levels and blood ketones were elevated twenty to thirty fold. Results of PET scans indicated a 21.8% average decrease in glucose uptake at the tumor site in both subjects. One patient exhibited significant clinical improvements in mood and new skill development during the study. She continued the ketogenic diet for an additional twelve months, remaining free of disease progression.

Conclusion:While this diet does not replace conventional antineoplastic treatments, these preliminary results suggest a potential for clinical application which merits further research.

The results are encouraging and it does tie into and corelate with the previous experiments with mice. That being said it is impossible to draw conclusions from such a tiny sample of only two people.

Source: Nebeling LC et al (1995) Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumour metabolism and nutritional status in paediatric oncology patients: two case reports. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 


Study 4 - Various Cancers in Sixteen Humans:

Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial - Schmidt et al. (2011)

This study wasn't designed to determine the effectiveness of a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet, but instead was meant to examine any side effects such a diet had on patients with advanced tumors.

The study was conducted on 16 patients that had exhausted all other options for treating their cancers. Meaning that their their tumors were at a very advanced stage. Two patients died before the study could be completed and several dropped out of the study for various reasons including unwillingness to stick to the strict dietary regimen and didn't want to give up their sweets (did these people not understand that they were terminally ill?) .

Influence on the tumor itself: A statistical evaluation of the effect of the diet on tumor characteristics is not feasible, due to the low number and heterogeneity of patients enrolled in our study. Instead, a description of the course of disease is given: Four patients who dropped out of the study early were not evaluated, two patients died early. Progress of disease occurred in 5 patients who then discontinued the diet, whereas 5 of the patients who adhered to the diet throughout the study had stable disease (Table 4). 

Of the five patients that completed the study as required, none experienced any negative effects from the diet indicating that this way of eating is safe for at least the time period of the study. Even more encouraging was that the five participants all stabilised their condition, meaning that their cancers were no longer growing at the end of the study period.

In the report the doctors suggested that if they had the opportunity to treat people with less advanced cancers, they may have even more success.

Furthermore, they were also featured in Time magazine.

Source: Schmidt et al. (2011) Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial. Nutrition & Metabolism, 8:54


So there you go, the low carb diet. A possibly overlooked factor that could save the lives of literally millions of people.

Unfortunately research like this is almost always under funded, as it is difficult to put a patent stamp on dietary manipulation. Both human studies were as a result, small scale, only in patients who had exhausted all other avenues of treatment, and just in people who had stage 3 or stage 4 cancers from what I could see. 

It would be hugely insightful to see what effect this sort of diet would have on patients with both early and late stages of various cancers in a much larger study group. If anyone reading this has the philanthropic power to make such a study happen, I believe that it would be of huge benefit to the species, although admittedly, not really a money spinner.  

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Reader Comments (1)

I would have never thought I'd see a link with "daily Mail" on it on here, my favourite causes: "flip flops" "sausages" and many others :)
Nice job continue like this.

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGio

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