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Cancer-Starving Diet

By Jill Corleone, RDN, LD ; Updated April 18, 2017

Cancer and cancerous tumors rely on glucose as their primary source of fuel, while the patient with cancer seems to have a higher need for protein and fat, according to a 2014 review article published in Cancer Biology and Medicine. A cancer-starvation diet high in fat and protein and low in carbs has been under investigation as a possible form of treatment for cancer. Consult your doctor before making changes to your diet.

About the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb therapeutic diet that mimics fasting. The diet has been used to help manage seizures and inborn errors of metabolism, and as a weight-loss diet. Normally, your body uses glucose, which comes from carbs, as a source of fuel. When carbs are unavailable, your body uses fat in the form of ketones for energy. For cancer patients, the ketogenic diet feeds the body while starving the cancer.

Cancer and the Ketogenic Diet

Cancer likes glucose. In fact, cancer and cancerous tumors use a lot more glucose than the surrounding normal tissue, the 2014 review article states. Cancer cells depend on glucose for survival and become vulnerable when glucose is restricted. A ketogenic diet is a nontoxic form of treatment for people with cancer, according to the review article. As long as calories are sufficient, it should prevent weight loss.

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What You Eat

The ketogenic, cancer-starving diet consists primarily of fats and protein, with some carbs. The distribution of nutrients depends on the prescribing doctor. In a small study, published in 2011 in "Nutrition and Metabolism," patients with advanced cancer restricted carbs to 70 grams a day, with 20 grams at each meal, and included foods you would find at the grocery store plus a high-fat/protein supplement. Food choices on a cancer-starving diet include fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, with some red meat. The diet eliminates bread, pasta, rice, starchy vegetables and all sweets.

Considerations

While the diet has shown some success in cancer patients, many doctors and scientists remain skeptical about its efficacy and have concerns about its effects on nutritional adequacy. Additionally, many patients, especially those with advanced cases of cancer, find the diet difficult to follow. It may improve the quality of life for others, according to Cancer Biology and Medicine.

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