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Can a Keto Diet Help Cancer Treatment?

July 24, 2018

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By Nancy Gay

A Keto diet can help you lose weight, but new research suggests it may also improve some cancer treatments.

A group of researchers led by Weill Cornell Medicine found that supplementing cancer treatment with a diet of low-carb, high-protein and high-fat foods improved the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs by reducing blood insulin in mice.

The study, published in the journal Nature, focused on drugs that target PI3K, a cancer-causing enzyme involved in cellular growth. The medications can shrink cancerous tumors, but they also cause a spike in glucose and insulin, which aids in tumor growth.

Giving mice a ketogenic diet lowered their blood glucose and boosted the potency of the medications, slowing cancer growth.

“The report is a major breakthrough in that it highlights how controllable, non-genetic factors such as diet can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of certain therapies,” said Dr. Vince Luca, a researcher in the Drug Discovery Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

PI3Ks are a family of enzymes involved in regulating how a cell metabolizes glucose and are vital to control cell function. PI3K mutations are found in multiple cancers, including up to 40 percent of breast cancers and 50 percent of endometrial cancers

But a keto diet alone will not treat cancer, researchers cautioned. The study actually showed that the diet alone accelerated the progression of mice with acute myeloid leukemia.

“Although the keto diet alone did not have a major short-term effect, it is important to consider that obesity is a major cancer risk factor,” Dr. Luca said. “Any diet (low-carb, keto etc.) that helps one maintain a healthy weight is likely to be beneficial in the long run,” Dr. Luca said.

Further tests are required in human clinical trials to determine the full effect of a low-carb diet used in combination with certain cancer treatments.