The ketogenic diet has been around for decades, originally to treat seizures, but did you know it can also help stop cancer cell growth? As I was listening to Dr. Thomas Seyfried describe cancer as a metabolic disease during this Doctors Farmacy Podcast, it was like having all the dots connected.
Why Are We Struggling?
Only 12% of the American population is metabolically healthy. This is a trend that began when Ancel Keys hypothesized that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats were the cause of cardiovascular disease. However long term studies have never supported his hypothesis. Thanks to his tremendous influence however, his hypothesis was written into the very first dietary guidelines for the US in 1977. By 1980 these guidelines were in effect and so was the marked increase in metabolic disease including obesity and diabetes.
When the guidelines to reduce saturated fats to 10% of dietary intake, food companies developed fat free foods. These are filled with highly inflammatory vegetable oils, trans fats and sugars to make the foods palatable. If you’re old enough (like me:) maybe you remember “Mrs. Brady” sharing how she made fried chicken so light and crispy with Crisco.
As metabolic disease rose, so did the rates of cancer.
Understanding the Link Between Cancer and Food
You’ve probably heard that cancer cells have a sweet tooth for glucose, a type of sugar. In contrast, normal cells primarily use oxygen and only a small amount of glucose for energy. By depriving cancer cells of their favorite fuel, they can be weaken or killed off. This idea has gained popularity because it suggests that starving cancer cells of glucose could be a promising strategy.
Shedding Light on Cell Damage
When the energy-producing mitochondria in our cells get damaged, they stop generating energy and instead create Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) or oxidative stress. This oxidative stress can wreak havoc in our bodies, causing damage to our cells. This results in premature aging among other things. Interestingly, the field of cancer research often focuses more on studying these effects rather than addressing the underlying causes.
What Science Says – Cancer Metabolism
Numerous experiments and studies have shown that metabolic therapies can be an effective approach to treating cancer. By depriving cancer cells of glucose and another fuel called glutamine, while teaching healthy cells to use ketones as an alternative energy source, we can exploit a vulnerability in cancer cells. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells struggle to use ketones effectively. This weakens the cancer cells so that your body can dispose of them more easily.
Embracing a New Perspective – Ketogenic Diet
Despite the clarity surrounding the metabolic theory of cancer, it’s not mainstream knowledge. Government websites, medical schools, and leading cancer clinics often prioritize the genetic theory of cancer. This keeps us in these entrenched beliefs (not unlike the “saturated fats and cholesterol are bad” belief). Additionally, the current funding structure primarily supports research based on the genetic theory. (Perhaps it’s because pharmaceutical companies can’t charge for diet choices?) However, when we look closely at cancer cells’ mitochondria under an electron microscope, the evidence is clear.
Mitochondrial Health for Cancer Prevention
The prevalence of cancer has increased in our industrialized world, whereas historically, and among non-industrialized populations, cancer has been extremely rare. This suggests that more modern factors such as pollution, chemicals (over 80,000 chemicals today), radiation, hypoxia, infections, chronic inflammation, and certain inherited diseases may contribute to cancer. But, when you dig a bit deeper, cellular respiration seems to be the main cause. Obesity, often associated with higher inflammation, has also been linked to increased cancer rates. To reduce the risk of cancer, it is important to avoid diets and lifestyles that can increase inflammation and harm mitochondria.
Food decisions we make are incredibly important. We all know this. Using a ketogenic diet to reverse and prevent metabolic disease and possibly cancer can be a powerful tool. Shifting a belief you’ve had since childhood, that saturated fats and cholesterol are bad for you, can be a challenge. But by making this mental shift and embracing your mitochondrial health, you can start to see a profound shift in your overall health.
Oh, and those crazy dietary guidelines telling you to limit fat to 10% and avoid dietary cholesterol were removed from the dietary guidelines in the updated 2015-2020 version.
Want help shifting your diet for greater metabolic health, more energy and to help balance your hormones? Pop over to my Fabulous Over 40 program! I run these quarterly and I’d love to see you there.
Want to learn more about Dr. Thomas Seyfried’s work? You can read his book on Kindle Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to treat, cure or diagnose disease. Please consult with your health practitioner before making significant changes to your health plan.