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Ask Registered Dietician Esther Trepal- resolutions- cook for your life- detoxifying

Ketogenic Diet

by Esther Trepal MS RDN on June 22, 2017

What do you think of the ketogenic diet for breast cancer after surgery? 

While not yet a part of standard cancer therapy, this is a diet that has been studied most prominently with brain cancer, specifically glioblastoma, a difficult to treat tumor. For those not familiar with the ketogenic diet, it is extremely low in carbohydrates and proteins, and very high in fat.  The reason it has been most studied with brain cancer is that the brain is almost exclusively dependent on carbohydrates for energy. By depriving it of this energy source, it has been shown in some in some human and animal studies to deprive tumor cells of energy as well.  Literally starving the tumor. 

We know that tumors in general prefer carbohydrates as their energy source.  In addition, it appears that carbohydrate metabolism in the tumor protects against oxidative damage, something that would work against radiation and possibly chemotherapy. Following the ketogenic diet during treatment may improve the outcome.

The question for you, of course, is if this ketogenic diet would be advisable for breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute is studying the impact of this diet on lung cancer and pancreatic cancer. As far as I can determine, there are no studies involving people with breast cancer.

Keep in mind that while the brain relies almost entirely on carbohydrates for energy, other tissue does not. Even tumor cells can adapt and use fat as an energy source.  So the role of the ketogenic diet in cancer treatment is still not defined.

You ask about following a ketogenic diet after surgery. I’m not sure what your prognosis is or if there is any tumor tissue left. If there is no tumor, there’s no obvious need to “starve” it.  If you are in an advanced stage of cancer, this may be something you discuss with your oncologist. That being said, anyone following a ketogenic diet definitely needs to work with a knowledgeable dietitian to assist with meal planning.  It isn’t easy to maintain the diet while meeting all your nutritional needs.

Wishing you all the best of luck and good health.

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