The keto diet may help starve cancerous brain tumors


MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota – Changing the popular ketogenic diet may have a surprising benefit for patients with brain tumors. Researchers at the American Academy of Neurology say this tendency to diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, could help deprive cancer tumors of the fuel they need to grow.

The study finds that a keto diet is both safe and convenient for patients with a certain type of brain tumor called astrocytomas. Scientists believe that brain tumors use the sugar from the patient’s diet to survive and thrive. However, the keto diet changes what the body uses for fuel, which can be less appetizing for cancer cells.

“There aren’t many effective treatments for these types of brain tumors, and survival rates are low, so any new advancement is welcome,” says study author Roy E. Strowd, MD, MS, MEd, from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in a Press release.

“These cancer cells depend on glucose, or sugar, to divide and grow. Since the ketogenic diet is low in sugar, the body changes what it uses for energy – instead of carbohydrates, it uses something called ketones. Normal brain cells can survive on ketones, but the theory is that cancer cells can’t use ketones for energy.

How is the keto diet so different?

The researchers recruited 25 patients with astrocytomas who had all completed radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Each participant followed a modified ketogenic diet that included intermittent fasting two days a week.

The group followed the normal ketogenic menu the other five days of the week for eight weeks. This includes consuming foods like bacon, eggs, heavy cream, butter, green leafy vegetables, and oily fish. On fasting days, brain cancer patients ate only up to 20 percent of their normally recommended calorie limit.

The study authors say their goal was to see if patients could tolerate such a diet without experiencing side effects. The results show that 21 of 25 patients completed the eight-week trial, with about half completely following the diet.

While not everyone strictly adheres to the keto diet, the study authors found that 80% of participants still reached a level where their bodies used fat and protein for fuel instead of sugar and carbohydrates. Additionally, only two people experienced serious side effects, with one of them facing non-diet related issues.

After eight weeks, researchers found both metabolic and brain changes in cancer patients. The team found that hemoglobin A1c levels, insulin levels, and body fat all decreased. During this time, the lean body mass increased. Additionally, brain scans revealed increased ketone concentration and metabolic changes in brain tumors.

“Of course, more studies are needed to determine if this diet can prevent the growth of brain tumors and help people live longer, but these results show that the diet may be safe for people with brain tumors and successfully produce changes in the metabolism of the body and the brain, ”Strowd concludes.

The study appears in the journal Neurology.

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