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The keto diet and cancer: Why some doctors believe ketosis ‘starves’ tumors
Can changing diet actually reverse the growth of cancer in the body?
- The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, but in recent years some–including some doctors–have claimed the diet has cancer-reversing qualities.
- Although the theory might someday be proven correct, far more research is needed before scientists know whether the diet can be used as a safe and effective treatment for cancer.
- A 2018 study did show one promising use for the keto diet in treating cancer, though it was purely used a supplemental tool in conjunction with a conventional approach.
Like any trendy diet worth its balanced portion of salt, the keto diet is said to hold transformative powers. Proponents say it can help people lose weight, improve mood and experience fewer epileptic seizures. For the most part, the science seems to back these claims up — though, to be sure, it's not completely understood how exactly the keto diet affects mood (particularly depression), despite anecdotal evidence the diet might lead to clearer thinking and fewer symptoms of depression.
The boldest claim about the keto diet, however, is that entering a state of ketosis — which occurs when the body begins burning fat instead of glucose for fuel — can slow or even reverse cancer. It's an idea that stems from a century-old theory about the primary cause of cancer.
Cancer and metabolism
In the 1920s, a German biochemist named Otto Warburg observed that most cancers get their fuel differently than normal cells, a phenomenon dubbed the "Warburg effect". The difference, in simple terms, is that cancer cells consume a lot more glucose than healthy cells. So, because cancer relies heavily on glucose, the idea is that putting your body in a state of ketosis — which lowers blood sugar levels — might effectively "starve" cancer cells because there's less glucose to consume.
This 'cancer thrives on sugar' theory can be summed up like this, as Dietarytherapies.com outlined:
- Over half of the calories in standard diets come from carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrate digestion produces spikes in blood glucose which in turn causes a spike in insulin.
- Insulin's job is to move glucose from the blood into cells.
- Cancer cells typically have many more insulin receptors than normal cells.
- Limiting carbs restricts the movement of glucose into cancer cells.
- When glucose is in short supply, the body will increase its use of fats as fuel.
- The liver converts some of this fat to energy molecules called ketones.
- Most normal cells (including brain tissue) readily adapt to using ketones.
- Tumor cells suffer because they are not as fuel flexible as normal cells.
A 'blueprint for the destruction of cancer'?
One of the most vocal proponents of the keto-diet-as-cancer-treatment theory has been Dr. Thomas Seyfried, a cancer researcher and professor at Boston College. Several years ago, Seyfried said that the keto diet actually beats chemotherapy for some types of cancer, a claim founded in his rather controversial belief that cancer is primarily a mitochondrial metabolic disease. In a recent paper, Seyfried outlined a cancer-treatment approach that he thinks could be the "blueprint for the destruction of cancer," as he told U.S. News & World Report:
"It's called ketogenic metabolic therapy," and he says in this context, "the ketogenic diet shouldn't be considered a diet like green salads or other such stuff. It's essentially medicine, and the process primarily tries to remove one of the driving fuels for the disease, which is glucose, and transition the whole body over to ketones, which the tumor cells can't use as a fuel."
"It's a cocktail of drugs and procedures and foods and they all work synergistically to gradually eliminate the tumor while maintaining the health and vitality of our normal organs. The whole goal of this metabolic therapy, which involves the ketogenic diet, is to gradually degrade and eliminate tumor cells without toxicity so the patient emerges from the therapy healthier than when they started."
Some have argued that Seyfried has "put the cart in front of the horse" in his past claims, and it should be noted that some prior studies which ostensibly show the keto diet's cancer-reversing properties fail to demonstrate conclusively that it was ketosis, and not another factor, that helped beat cancer.
Ultimately, more research on the keto diet and cancer is required before doctors can responsibly recommend it as a standalone treatment.
"Most of the work in this field is still pre-clinical, meaning it's been conducted in animal models," Angela Poff, a research associate in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida, told U.S. News & World Report. "It's been done in various cancer types, but most of the work has been done in brain cancer specifically. But there's very little clinical data all around. There's some case reports and very small preliminary clinical studies in small groups of patients, usually very late-stage patients with various types of cancers. So in the clinical realm, which is the most important in telling us whether this is going to be useful, we have a long way to go."
Another use for the keto diet in cancer treatment
In July 2018, a study published in the journal Nature described how researchers used the keto diet to help a cancer-treating drug become more effective.
Recently, scientists have been experimenting with a new class of cancer drugs that target a cell signaling pathway called phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase. Studies have found mutations in this kinase as cancer develops, so the aim of the new drugs is to block the pathway with the hopes of stopping tumor growth.
But researchers found that taking these drugs seems to cause spikes in blood sugar, which reactives the pathway and effectively kills the purpose of the drugs. In the 2018 study, researchers decided to use the keto diet as a way to control glucose levels in the body.
"The ketogenic diet turned out to be the perfect approach," study author Benjamin D. Hopkins, a postdoctoral associate at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, NY, Hopkins, told Medical News Today. "It reduced glycogen stores, so the mice couldn't release glucose in response to PI3K inhibition."
"This suggests that if you can block spikes in glucose and the subsequent insulin feedback, you can make the drugs much more effective at controlling cancer growth."
The study authors noted that the promising results don't suggest that the keto diet on its own has any cancer-reversing effects. What's more, they noted that a group of mice in the study that was placed on the keto diet but didn't receive any cancer drugs actually developed cancer at faster rates than the other mice.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.