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The Ketogenic Diet for Cancer Therapy

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There is a correlation between dietary carbohydrate intake and the development of cancer, and also high blood glucose levels and tumor growth. Amazingly, the ketogenic diet impacts all of the hallmarks of cancer.

Characteristics of cancer include the resistance of normal cell death, the continuing division of damaged cells and the promotion of angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels as a support system to provide nutrients for tumors. Cancer growth is also marked by invasion and metastasis or the spreading of cells to other parts of the body which originate from the initial tumor. These characteristics are some of the hallmarks of cancer. 

Genetic Mutation or Damaged Mitochondria? 

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in the U.S. And yet over the past 50 years, researchers have spent billions of dollars focusing on identifying genetic mutations of cancer, without clear-cut correlations or solutions. 

Cancerous tumors possess hundreds of mutations in the gene that has the ability to turn a normal cell into a cancer cell. These mutated cancer-causing genes are known as oncogenes. The solution doesn’t appear to be in the gene. The genetic mutations and the activation of oncogenes seem to be more an effect rather than the cause. 

Researchers are now starting to revitalize a theory that has been around for almost a hundred years, The Warburg Effect describing the abnormal metabolic behavior of cancer cells. Tumors lack metabolic versatility and depend largely on glucose for energy. Dietary carbohydrates and simple sugars turn into glucose which feeds the tumor and promotes metastasis. Blood glucose is directly correlated to tumor growth. (Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14520474 and https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/18797358). 

Cancer cells have damaged mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cell. The cause for cancer seems to be stemming more from a damaged mitochondria rather than mutated genes. 

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

A low-carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat diet – or the Ketogenic Diet – is one that places the body in a state called ketosis. In this state, the liver produces ketones which then become a main energy source for the body.

Ketones are chemicals synthesized by the liver and are the by-product of energy produced from burning fat, due to a reduction of carbohydrate intake. (Source:  https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/ketogenic-diet-weakens-cancer-cells/).

How Does the Ketogenic Diet Enable the Body To Fight Cancer?

The ketogenic diet shuts down the fuel supply of cancer cells. They are poorly equipped to convert ketones into energy. A ketogenic diet has the potential of restoring mitochondrial activity leading to either cancer cell death or changing them into normal, healthy cells.

Proliferation of cancer cells requires glucose production. Cancer cells become weakened when they experience energy stress, which occurs when there is an interruption in the availability of their primary source of energy – glucose. Cancer cells use glucose to protect themselves against oxidative stress.  Therapies that produce oxidative stress in cancer cells include chemotherapy, radiation, vitamin C IV, artesunate IV, ozone therapy and Vitamin C/K3 therapy. Combining these therapies with a ketogenic diet will increase the effectiveness of these therapies and reduce the cancers ability to defend itself.

Ketones are an optimal source of energy for healthy cells, while the opposite is true for cancer cells. Ketones reduce blood glucose levels and are metabolized in the mitochondria. When glucose is lowered, insulin levels drop. Glucose and insulin are strong drivers for cancer.

Ketones are converted to energy in the mitochondria. Because of their damaged mitochondria, cancer cells cannot effectively use ketones as an energy source and becomes metabolically vulnerable. In this state either the mitochondria is activated and with a functioning mitochondria, the cell has a chance to repair genetic mutations, or if the cell is too damaged, cell death is initiated. The cell death switch is controlled by the mitochondria. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4176946/). 

The presence of ketones in the body creates an environment where survival rates of cancer cells are lowered and cell division is inhibited. Sources: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/22594308_The_inhibition_of_malignant_cell_growth_by_ketone_bodieshttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/26632468_Acetoacetate_reduces_growth_and_ATP_concentration_in_cancer_cell_lines_which_over-express_uncoupling_protein_2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235292/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27178315).

Ketones lower the overall oxidative stress quotient of healthy cells. They also produce resistance to inflammation in the body and are capable of reducing tumor vascularization (growth which necessitates development of blood vessels to provide nutrients).

In one study, combination metabolic therapy is shown to decrease metastatic liver tumor size in mice.
(Sources: https://tinyurl.com/y7xx5zfuMore studies showing oxidative stress and tumor growth reduction from the presence of ketones in the body: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17403035https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23223453https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Combination-metabolic-therapy-decreases-metastatic-liver-tumor-size-and_fig4_278027049). 

Ketosis For Genetic Regulation & Immune Support

Ketones are also regulators of gene expression (the process by which instructions in our DNA are converted into a functional product), which promotes an anti-cancer environment.

A state of ketosis in the body is an effective way to reactivate an immune response against cancer.  The ketosis state helps to serve as an “immune adjuvant” or secondary support, boosting tumor-reactive immune responses within the micro-environment, thereby alleviating the immune-suppressive response which can lead to cancer development and growth. (Source:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27178315). 

Learn More About Cancer Care with a Ketogenic Diet with this interview with Dr. Michael Karlfeldt and Dr. Dominic D’Agostino, PhD

More information on additional treatments for cancer at the Karlfeldt Center: Naturopathic Oncology

Cover image: https://unsplash.com/photos/DVRXFIH42d0, Jez Timms

Dr. Michael Karlfeldt

Dr. Michael Karlfeldt

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