Ketogenic diet, cancer and why it’s hard to get the scientific evidence

Dietary patterns and their potential role in preserving the health are extremely hard to study: evidence is hard to come by and thus to conclusive confirmations can be made. Dietary patterns research is very much different from the research of interventions with single agents (herbs, drugs, supplements …): there are always many confounding factors at play. Nutritional epidemiology always has to deal with research that lasts a long time and all the subjects ideally must adhere to the diet. It’s a daunting task.

It gets even worse with researching diets for people who already have contracted a disease and need a diet to maximize body’s abilities to protect them from harm.

These issues, however, should not stop researchers from doing their best: sometimes resorting to mechanical understanding of particular physiological responses to a dietary regimen. Dr. Klement from the Leopoldina Hospital Schweinfurt in Germany recently published a realist review about the particular question of the beneficial role of ketogenic diet for cancer patients. Based on an extensive literature review, these are three well known and researched mechanisms that make a preliminary case for ketogenic diet:

  • ketosis, the consequence of ketogenic diet, helps decrease certain tumorigenic growth factors. On top of that, ketone bodies affect the tumor signaling network, and hence pose a serious distraction to its metabolism and growth;
  • ketosis also causes alterations in quantities of metabolic fuels: the fuels which are ideally suited for the metabolic demands of the host tissues decrease;
  • metabolic adaptation to ketogenic diet results in an increase of oxidative stress in tumor cells, making them more vulnerable to oxidative therapies such as radio- and chemotherapy.

Ketogenic diet is promising and worth of further study since the probability of achieving an anti-tumor effect is apparently greater than that of causing serious side effects (Klement, 2017).

KLEMENT, R.J. 2017. Beneficial effects of ketogenic diets for cancer patients: a realist review with focus on evidence and confirmation. Medical Oncology, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 132.

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