The ketogenic (keto) diet is the latest weight-loss trend, and it is rumored to help fight cancer. Some studies have credited the keto diet in helping slow the progression of cancer, but much more research is needed. Maria Petzel, a senior clinical dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains what this trendy diet is about and what cancer patients considering the diet should know.
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet has very strict guidelines and is similar to Atkins and other low-carb diets. Keto dieters maintain a very low-carb, high-fat, and moderate- to low-protein diet.
When the body doesn’t have a sufficient amount of carbohydrates from food for cells to burn for energy, it burns fat instead and makes ketones (a type of acid made by the liver and sent into the bloodstream) as part of a process called ketosis.
Pros and cons of the keto diet
The keto diet will result in weight loss for most people, but it might not be the healthiest approach. Ketosis can become dangerous when too many ketones accumulate, which can lead to dehydration and a change in your blood’s chemical balance.
Diets high in fat, like the keto diet, are associated with heart disease and obesity. Red meat is suggested for the keto diet, but eating too much red meat can increase your cancer risk.
Also, avoiding entire food groups is extremely hard to sustain long-term. Most keto dieters regain some or all of the weight they lost when they stop the diet.
The keto diet does not cure cancer
While no single food or diet can cure cancer, some studies have shown a connection between the keto diet and slowed growth of some types of tumors in mice. And the keto diet has shown promise in a few research studies of humans with certain types of brain tumors.
Conversely, a very low-fat diet has been found to reduce the risk of recurrence for certain types of breast cancer. Researchers are conducting clinical trials with cancer patients to see how diet affects them, in combination with chemotherapy and radiation. MD Anderson is hopeful that this research, and future research, will provide a better understanding of the impact of diet on cancer – especially the keto diet.
Talk to your doctor or dietitian before starting a new diet
The keto diet isn’t for everyone. It may help some cancer patients, but it could also harm others. Your body may not be able to break down proteins and fats, depending on your type of cancer or treatment, which could lead to other digestive problems.
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian before beginning the keto or any diet. Your doctor or dietitian can help determine the right diet to help you reach your health goals.
A dietitian can determine your nutrition goals and recommend adjustments based on each stage and change of your cancer treatment. A dietitian also can help you regulate your diet to minimize side effects, cope with new food sensitivities, and keep you feeling your best.
If you’re a patient at MD Anderson, your doctor can refer you to a clinical dietitian. Each clinic at MD Andersonhas an assigned dietitian available to help patients at all stages of cancer treatment.
To learn more, visit mdanderson.org.