One of the most promising strategies in the fight against cancer is nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis shifts your body into a metabolic state that starves cancer cells while also strengthening normal cells.
Glucose is one of the preferred sources of energy for cancer cells. By entering nutritional ketosis through fasting or a ketogenic diet, your body will use ketones rather than glucose for energy. This weakens cancer cells, strengthens healthy cells, and puts your body in a stronger position to fight cancer.
Nutritional ketosis is a state in which the body utilizes ketones rather than glucose for fuel. Ketones produce significantly more energy than glucose with less metabolic waste. In nutritional ketosis, you become metabolically flexible and your body will function at a more efficient level.
Two ways to achieve nutritional ketosis are by implementing a ketogenic diet and fasting (time restricted eating). The ketogenic diet is a high healthy fat, low carbohydrate, and low to moderate protein nutrition plan. The macronutrient ratios for a ketogenic diet are:
- Healthy Fats: 70-80% of calories
- Protein: 20-25% of calories (less if fighting cancer)
- Carbohydrates: 5-10% of calories
The ketogenic diet can improve your health in many ways, including reducing inflammation and free radical production, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and reducing insulin levels. Incredibly, a low-carb, ketogenic diet may reduce your risk of chronic disease and extend your lifespan.1
Nutritional Ketosis and The Metabolic Theory of Cancer
Nutritional ketosis is a powerful tool in the fight against cancer because cancer is a metabolic disease. The metabolic theory of cancer was first espoused by German researcher Dr. Otto Warburg around 100 years ago. This theory was based on Warburg’s discovery that cancer cells have abnormal or damaged mitochondria.2 Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that are the powerhouse our cells. They convert oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Dr. Warburg and his colleagues observed that the function of the mitochondria in cancer cells differs from normal cells. Normal cells use their mitochondria to burn oxygen and glucose together for energy. In contrast, cancer cells are fermenters. They ferment lactic acid from glucose as a substrate even in the presence of oxygen. Warburg’s observation that cancer cells ferment glucose to lactic acid using glycolysis even in the presence of oxygen is called the “Warburg effect”.
Warburg proposed that cancer cells have defective respiration. Researchers disagreed with Warburg because it appeared that cancer cells have normal respiration (oxidative phosphorylation). However, Dr. Warburg’s theory is now being proven with greater understanding of the mitochondria and epigenetics.
Modern pioneers in the field of cancer research, including Dr. Thomas Seyfried, view cancer as a disease in which damaged mitochondria prefer glucose and glutamine for fuel. These researchers have expanded Warburg’s research to fill in the “missing link” in his theory.3
The latest research shows that cancer cells do not have normal respiration. Instead, cancer cells have damaged respiration and must ferment to survive.
They ferment glucose and glutamine with lactic and succinic acids as the byproducts.
Oncogenes cause this fermentation which enables glucose and glutamine to replace oxidative phosphorylation. Cancer results from damage to the respiratory function of the mitochondria with a compensatory fermentation.
How Nutritional Ketosis Fights Cancer
Cancer cells cannot use ketones for fuel because of their mitochondrial defects. They require an abnormally higher amount of glucose than normal cells and have more insulin receptors than normal cells. The increased amount of insulin receptors and hyperactive glucose consumption of cancer cells leads to continued stimulation of cancer development and growth.4
Being in a state of nutritional ketosis deprives cancer cells of glucose while protecting and strengthening normal cells which can use ketones for energy.5 Cancer cell glycolysis and proliferation are inhibited.6
Additional anticancer effects of nutritional ketosis include:
- Increasing cancer cell oxidative stress
- Being anti-angiogenesis
- Lowering insulin levels
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death)
- Acting as an inhibitor of histone deacetylases (which reduces the ability of cancer cells to proliferate).7,8
Nutritional ketosis has recently proven to be a powerful cancer fighter against glioblastoma. Glucose availability that drives this aggressive brain cancer is reduced by ketogenic metabolic therapy (KMT). KMT also elevates ketone bodies that are neuroprotective and non-fermentable.9
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Another benefit of nutritional ketosis is that it improves the body’s response to other therapies like hyperbaric oxygen, ozone, and even conventional cancer treatments. Nutritional ketosis enhances these therapies while protecting healthy cells, inhibiting cellular proliferations, and increasing apoptosis.
Key Cancer Mechanisms Affected by Ketosis
Nutritional ketosis impacts four key pathways for cancer development: AMPK, IGF-1, mTOR, and the P53 gene.
Limiting carbohydrates with a ketogenic diet can activate the AMPK (Adenosine Monophosphate-activated Protein Kinase) pathway. AMPK is an energy regulating molecule that signals ATP production. Studies show that AMPK is involved in cancer cell growth and survival.10
AMPK activity is decreased in cancer. By upregulating the AMPK pathway, nutritional ketosis deprives cancer cells of glucose. This inhibits cell proliferation and tumor growth.
IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) is a growth stimulating hormone that regulates the reproduction and regeneration of cells. While elevations are normal in children, this can be a catalyst for cancer growth for those not in rapid developmental stages of life. Protein restriction, fasting, exercise, curcumin, resveratrol, and many other plant-based compounds can inhibit the production of excess IGF-1.
mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) is a physiological pathway that regulates cell growth and replication. The activity of mTOR is often upregulated in cancer and can cause rapid cell division.11
High levels of insulin from a high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet and excess protein may elevate mTOR activity. Excessive protein consumption can also stimulate this pathway. Nutritional ketosis helps to prevent this pathway from contributing to cancer growth.
#4. The p53 Gene
The p53 gene is frequently mutated in cancers. This important gene repairs defective DNA and allows the cell to go back into its normal cycle of growth and reproduction. If the defective DNA cannot be repaired, the p53 signals for cellular apoptosis (programmed cell death), halting the potential for cancerous growth.10Nutritional ketosis can help restore proper p53 function.
7 Ways to Implement a Plant-Based Diet Ketogenic Diet
A plant-based ketogenic diet is the best nutrition plan to fight cancer. This nutrition plan includes abundant amounts of healthy fats and low-carbohydrate vegetables and herbs, limited low-glycemic fruits, and small amounts of protein.
#1. Healthy Fats
It is important to consume plenty of healthy fats on a plant-based ketogenic diet. The best sources of healthy fats are found grass-fed butter and ghee, coconuts, coconut butter and oil, MCT oil, pastured eggs, olive oil, olives, avocados, avocado oil, and high-fat nuts like macadamias. These healthy fats should be around 80% of your total calories.
#2. Low-Glycemic Vegetables and Fruits
A variety of low-carbohydrate, colorful vegetables are included in the anticancer ketogenic diet. Vegetables have antioxidants and phytonutrients which downregulate cancer growth by acting on different pathways in the body.
Vegetables to include are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, leafy greens like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard and spinach, and allium vegetables such as garlic and onions. Sprouts, especially broccoli sprouts, are great to incorporate into a cancer-fighting diet.
Small amounts of low-glycemic fruits are included, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, lemons and limes, avocados, and coconuts. Herbs and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, basil, cilantro, sage, and thyme have healing properties and should also be included. It is very important to eat organic herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
The amount of protein on an anticancer ketogenic diet is less than allowed for a healthy, active individual. High amounts of protein overstimulate the mTOR pathway and IGF-1. This can stimulate rampant cell reproduction processes.
Excess protein also stimulates gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway which results in the body making glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (like amino acids) into glucose. This will raise blood sugar and take you out of ketosis.
On a ketogenic diet for cancer, a person should consume around 0.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 160-pound person would consume only about 36 grams of protein per day, calculated as follows:
Divide weight by 2.2 lb/kg to calculate body weight in kilograms,
Body weight in kilograms is daily protein requirement:
160 lbs / 2.2 kg = 73 kg body weight
.5g x 73 kg = 36.5 g of protein
With this low amount of protein, you should hydrate well throughout the day, and increase overall vegetable consumption and fat intake. Excellent sources of protein are organ meats and pastured, organic eggs.
#4. Glutamine and Cancer
The amino acid glutamine plays a key role in many bodily functions. It also has a role in the metabolism of certain cancers that are fueled by glutamine in addition to glucose. Glutamine-dependent cancers include immune system cancers (leukemia, myeloid cancers). The ketogenic diet may not be as effective with these cancers but may help by reducing inflammation in the body.
#5. Press-Pulse Strategy with Ketosis
The ketogenic diet is used by researchers as part of the “press-pulse” therapeutic strategy for managing cancer. With glucose and glutamine being the prime fuels driving the dysregulated growth of cancer, this mechanism may reduce or eradicate tumor cells with minimal patient toxicity.
The “press” of the press-pulse strategy is to deplete cancer cells of glucose with a restricted ketogenic diet or therapeutic fasting. This step will destroy some cancer cells. The “pulse” is stimulating cancer-specific oxidative stress such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Since there is no diet to target glutamine, cutting-edge research is now exploring the dosage, timing, and scheduling of drugs to target glutamine without harming our normal cells. With glutamine being such an important amino acid, the mechanism to target glutamine without inhibiting these other functions is the current challenge.
#6. Glucose to Ketone Ratio
The Glucose Ketone Index (GKI) is a way to monitor whether you have reached a therapeutic level of ketosis. This index was developed by researchers to track the ratio between blood glucose and ketones.12
The GKI is used to measure how tumors respond to fasting and the ketogenic diet. Researchers have found that a ratio of 1:1 is most effective for shrinking tumors.
To calculate GKI, divide the blood glucose level by 18. Then divide that number by the blood ketone level. For example, if a person’s blood glucose is 64 and their ketone level is 3.1, the GKI would be 1.15.
GKI: (64/18) / 3.1 = 1.15.
#7. Fasting to Shift into Ketosis and Fight Cancer
Fasting is the quickest way to metabolically shift your body into ketosis. In a fasted state, your body uses ketones rather than glucose for energy.
A 5-day water fast will get you into ketosis and help you reach an optimal GKI for fighting cancer. Fasting also fights cancer by slowing down mTOR and IGF-1 expression, improving AMP-K expression, stabilizing the p53 gene, and increasing autophagy.
Important Strategies for Optimizing Ketosis
The following strategies will help you be more successful in nutritional ketosis:
Consume High-Quality, Organic Foods
When fighting cancer, it is critical to maximize nutrition and minimize toxins. To get the maximum benefits from a ketogenic diet, it is important to consume healthy fats, clean protein sources, and organic, antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, and herbs. You do not want to consume processed animal products or commercially raised meats or dairy. It is also critical to avoid processed foods and vegetable oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Proper hydration is key while in nutritional ketosis. Clean, filtered water should be the primary source of hydration, along with herbal teas and broths.
For water, drink at least half of your body weight, and preferably your whole-body weight, in ounces per day. This amount of water may seem excessive, but as long as it comes with enough minerals (adding in a pinch of good salt), it is extremely cleansing to the body. Super hydration also improves your energy and reduces hunger and cravings.
Be sure to filter chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs from your water with a high-quality filter. Reverse osmosis water with added minerals is best.
Herbal teas with immune-stimulating superfood herbs are also great sources of hydration. They contain antioxidants and phytonutrients which can facilitate deeper cleansing and detoxification.
Replenishing minerals is essential while following a ketogenic diet. The body excretes excess sodium and minerals due to the drop in insulin. This can be particularly important during the initial adaptation phase to avoid symptoms of the keto flu.
Use a high-quality pink or gray salt and drink organic bone broth throughout the day. Celery and cucumber are also excellent to consume because they are low in carbohydrates and have natural sodium.
Regular exercise can be beneficial when you are in nutritional ketosis. For high-intensity interval training, limit training to 15-20 minutes, 2-4 times a week. This short burst exercise increases AMP-K, promotes metabolic flexibility, and increases oxygenation of tissues. However, doing more can raise cortisol and shift you out of ketosis.
Low-intensity exercise is also helpful. One of the best forms is barefoot walking outdoors which has the added benefit of contact with free electrons from the Earth. These electrons support your electromagnetic frequency, which calms your stress response and improves healing and wellbeing.
Improve Bowel Movements
Some people on a ketogenic diet struggle with constipation. This can increase stress hormones and pull you out of ketosis.
Consuming plenty of fibrous vegetables, fermented foods, water, and minerals can aid the digestive system and improve bowel movements. Stress inhibits digestion, so eating in a relaxing environment can help with digestion by putting your body into a resting state.
Use MCT Oil
MCT oil and digestive support can be very helpful while on a ketogenic diet. Producing ketones can stress the body, particularly for people with mitochondrial dysfunction. MCT oil is easily converted into ketones and helps to alleviate this stress and improve your state of ketosis. If you are having trouble with digestion on a ketogenic diet, supplementing with Betaine HCL, ox bile and digestive enzymes can be helpful.
Less Stress, More Sleep
Minimizing stress and optimizing sleep are important for maintaining an optimal state of ketosis. Stress relieving strategies include moderate exercise, being in nature, stretching, prayer or meditation, journaling, and practicing gratitude.
Restorative sleep facilitates healing and counteracts stress. Sleep is essential for your body to function optimally and deficiencies in sleep are associated with many health problems.
Good sleep practices include being in bed before 10 pm and sleeping in a dark room with the temperature between 60-65 degrees. Be sure to get sunlight in the morning to prime the circadian rhythm and avoid blue light exposure 4 hours before bed. Caffeine can interfere with sleep so use caffeine early in the day in small quantities and cycle on and off caffeine.
Nutritional ketosis may be helpful for anyone fighting cancer! Cancer cells lack the metabolic flexibility to use ketones for fuel. By elevating non-fermentable ketone bodies, nutritional ketosis protects normal cells from energy stress while elevating energy stress in tumor cells. Implementing a plant-based ketogenic diet and fasting are two strategies to shift your body into nutritional ketosis and fight cancer.
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