Experiments using Low-Carb to Treat Cancer

These listings are quoted from scientific and medical journals. At then end of each listing, you'll find an expanation in jargon-free English. Every effort was made to keep the explanations true to the original article. However, bear in mind that the explanations were not written by a medical professional, and may contain errors. In a few places, I added my own thoughts. I've tried to mark what's my opinion and what is fact. Let us know if you have any suggestions for improvements or corrections.

Sincerely, Joshua M. Yelon

Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports.

Nebeling LC, Miraldi F, Shurin SB, Lerner E. Nutrition Department, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
J Am Coll Nutr 1995 Apr;14(2):202-208

OBJECTIVE: Establish dietary-induced ketosis in pediatric oncology patients to determine if a ketogenic state would decrease glucose availability to certain tumors, thereby potentially impairing tumor metabolism without adversely affecting the patient's overall nutritional status. DESIGN: Case report. SETTING: University Hospitals of Cleveland. SUBJECTS: Two female pediatric patients with advanced stage malignant Astrocytoma tumors. INTERVENTIONS: Patients were followed as outpatients for 8 weeks. Ketosis was maintained by consuming a 60% medium chain triglyceride oil-based diet. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Tumor glucose metabolism was assessed by Positron Emission Tomography (PET), comparing [Fluorine-18] 2-deoxy-2-fluoro-D-glucose (FDG) uptake at the tumor site before and following the trial period. 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.

Comments: Cancer tumors grow fast --- to do that, they need a lot of food. Many tumors can only use glucose for food. They had two women with that kind of tumor. They gave them a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This lowered the amount of glucose in their blood. PET scans showed that the tumors were getting 22% less food. Presumably, this slowed the tumors' growth by quite a bit. One of the patients got significantly better.

Reduction of weight loss and tumour size in a cachexia model by a high fat diet.

Tisdale MJ, Brennan RA, Fearon KC
Br J Cancer 1987 Jul;56(1):39-43

An attempt has been made to reverse cachexia and to selectively deprive the tumour of metabolic substrates for energy production by feeding a ketogenic regime, since ketone bodies are considered important in maintaining homeostasis during starvation. As a model we have used a transplantable mouse adenocarcinoma of the colon (MAC 16) which produces extensive weight loss without a reduction in food intake. When mice bearing the MAC16 tumour were fed on diets in which up to 80% of the energy was supplied as medium chain triglycerides (MCT) with or without arginine 3-hydroxybutyrate host weight loss was reduced in proportion to the fat content of the diet, and there was also a reduction in the percentage contribution of the tumour to the final body weight. The increase in carcass weight in tumour-bearing mice fed high levels of MCT was attributable to an increase in both the fat and the non-fat carcass mass. Blood levels of free fatty acids (FFA) were significantly reduced by MCT addition. The levels of both acetoacetate and 3-hydroxybutyrate were elevated in mice fed the high fat diets, and tumour-bearing mice fed the normal diet did not show increased plasma levels of ketone bodies over the non-tumour-bearing group despite the loss of carcass lipids. Both blood glucose and plasma insulin levels were reduced in mice bearing the MAC16 tumour and this was not significantly altered by feeding the high fat diets. The elevation in ketone bodies may account for the retention of both the fat and the non-fat carcass mass. This is the first example of an attempt to reverse cachexia by a diet based on metabolic differences between tumour and host tissues, which aims to selectively feed the host at the expense of the tumour.

Comments: Tumors grow very fast, so they're very hungry. They steal all the nutrients in the body, leaving none for the normal cells. So people with cancer waste away from starvation, even though you're feeding them. These researchers knew that healthy cells can run just fine on fat, but many cancer cells can only live on carbs. They figured that if they fed the person low-carb, the tumor would find the food inedible, and wouldn't steal it. This, in principle, would make the tumor starve, and would leave some nutrients for the patient. They tested it on mice. They gave the mice tumors, and then fed them varying diets. It worked: the mice who were given low-carb didn't waste away as much, and their tumors grew slower.