DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
The ketogenic diet is unique in that it focuses on the consumption primarily of fats and proteins found in meats and cheeses as opposed to focusing on the consumption of whole fruits and vegetables (with limited animal protein) as is the norm for many of the other cancer diets. On this diet, patients following can continue to eat animal products as long as the animal products are organic and not mixed/contaminated with undesirable substances such as nitrates, nitrites, artificial flavorings, or colorings, sugar, sugar substitutes, etc.
The ketogenic diet is calibrated to cure many non-genetic diseases by giving the body the necessary nutrients in carefully determined proportions. The diet is very low in carbohydrates and higher in proteins and fats.
Cancer and the Ketogenic Diet: Does this diet actually work to cure cancer?
Though the stipulations of the ketogenic diet may seem to run contrary to all of the other cancer diet stipulations, they’re actually still in agreement on one important count: the patient must avoid all sugars because sugars feed cancer cells. In fact, the concept of avoiding sugars is the underlying principle in this diet! The ketogenic diet says that cancer patients should not only avoid sugar, but should avoid all carbohydrates (whenever possible) that lead to the production of glucose in the body. Less than 1/8th of the diet should consist of carbohydrates. The rest of the diet should be entirely based on healthy fats and proteins, preferably from animal sources. Thus, the ketogenic diet is intended to renovate the patient’s metabolism such that their main source of energy becomes ketones rather than glucose (therefore theoretically taking away the cancer cells’ primary source of food).
Jan Kwasniewski first set forth the basic tenets of a ketogenic diet, but it was made popular by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1990’s. Experts believe that the mechanisms through which this diet works to kill cancer have to do with the fact that the ketogenic diet excludes sugar, the primary fuel used by cancer cells. The ketogenic diet limits the supply of sugars/glucose available to cancer cells, ultimately causing the cells to starve to death.
Since studies have noted that cancer patients with the highest blood glucose levels have the lowest survival rate, it seems reasonable to assume that glucose and cancer are intimately intertwined (and they are related, but not exactly in the way you might think). Thus the assumption has been that patients consuming a ketogenic diet, who have a very low blood glucose level because they consume very few sugars and starches, will theoretically recover more effectively from cancer.
The science makes sense on paper, but in practice, the results are very different than what’s been proposed theoretically.
Most successful anti-cancer diets agree that refined sugars (and even most unrefined sugars, including honey or maple syrup) are anathema to cancer recovery. In reality… most health recovery diets agree that refined sugars specifically aren’t helpful to regaining health. The same is true for other refined, processed foods. The ketogenic diet is no different when it comes to the treatment of disease. All of these diets agree that refined foods that are void of nutrients should be eliminated wherever possible (and indeed, this makes logical sense in every situation, without exception… whole, real foods are always going to be better than processed, highly refined foods). The differences between the ketogenic diet and other anti-cancer diets lie in the types of whole foods permitted.
Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez notes in his book, “Dismantling the Ketogenic Diet” that Dr. Atkins had a cancer clinic for many years that he later decided to close after experiencing little success in curing cancer patients on the ketogenic diet. Also in this book, Dr. Gonzalez notes that in the studies done by Dr. Seyfried into the effects of the ketogenic diet on cancer that one specific study on brain cancer didn’t actually measure the remission rate of the cancer or survival rates (which would be the most important point if one were to make the claim that the keto diet cures cancer), but rather it measured the changes in glucose metabolism and the diet’s tolerability. This is questionable since a lot of the information around the treatment of cancer using the keto diet is based around studies like this.
The other reports on the effects of the ketogenic diet on cancer reported in Dr. Seyfried’s work are not especially promising (most of the reports don’t have very good outcomes, unfortunately).
It’s worth noting, however, that although the ketogenic diet may not treat cancer in most cases, there are situations where a diet high in fat, protein, and animal products may still work to treat cancer. After all, as Dr. William Kelley and Dr. Gonzalez both have noted in their research and practice, different people with different health conditions usually require different diets in order to recover successfully (they saw that diet isn’t a “one size fits all” treatment). But, this type of diet that’s high in fat and protein isn’t a full ketogenic diet, and it only works in very specific situations.
For example, Dr. Kelley (an expert on pancreatic enzyme therapy and a pioneer in nutrition and diet in the treatment of cancer) observed that patients who suffered from “blood cancers” such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, as well as sarcomas of various kinds, tended to show improvements when administered a low carb diet with moderate levels of animal protein and high levels of animal fat. In contrast, patients suffering from more classic, “solid” tumors such as breast cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and others showed the most success when following a plant-based diet with higher levels of carbohydrates and minimal animal fats and proteins (basically, what most people are likely to think of as an “ideal” diet, though in reality, an “ideal” diet varies from person to person).
One thing these two categories of patients had in common, however, was that they all consumed some carbohydrates daily, generally in the form of fresh fruit or carrot juice. The quantities of these fruits and juices allowed varied depending on the patient, but all patients did eat some carbs (and were not encouraged to eliminate carbs completely; balance is key). Thus, the high-fat, high protein anti-cancer diets prescribed by Dr. Kelley were generally different from the ketogenic diet.
So, the question is this: Does the ketogenic diet cure cancer?
According to the experts… Generally speaking, no, the ketogenic diet will not cure cancer (though basic tenants like the elimination of processed foods and refined sugars might still improve overall health). There are cases when it might work, yes, but in most cases a different diet will be required (such as the Gerson Diet or the Budwig Diet, for example). Nutritional protocols like the Gonzalez Protocol offer personalized diet plans that take the patient’s full health picture into account.
But, that doesn’t mean that the ketogenic diet isn’t a valuable treatment! Certain health conditions can be treated successfully with the ketogenic diet (it certainly has its place in the nutrition world), as I’ll discuss below.
Diseases That Can Be Treated Using the Ketogenic Diet
Though this article was ultimately written specifically about cancer and the ketogenic diet, it’s worth noting that studies have demonstrated varying degrees of success in treating patients with the following health problems using the ketogenic diet:
- Buerger’s Disease (thromboangiitis obliterans)
- Bechterew’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Liver Cirrhosis
- Type I Diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
- Type II Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Stomach Ulcers
- Bronchial Asthma
- Degenerative Diseases
- Infectious Disease
Specifically, the ketogenic diet has been highly effective in the treatment of obesity, epilepsy, diabetes, heart disease, addiction, and metabolic syndrome. The other diseases listed above have shown varying degrees of remission in response to this diet.
So, although the ketogenic diet may not be particularly effective in treating cancer, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its place in the alternative health treatment arsenal. For certain health problems, the ketogenic diet has been shown to be highly effective and has been used with great success in both research studies as well as in the private practice of doctors and nutritionists. Unfortunately, though, cancer isn’t one of these health problems that sees remission under this dietary protocol (at least not in most cases).
Ketogenic Diet Basics
On the ketogenic diet, the most important thing patients need to control is their intake of carbohydrates. Patients should aim to keep carb consumption under 50 grams per day. Patients may need to count carbohydrates at first in order to maintain this amount of carb consumption. Of course, the fewer the carbohydrates in the diet, the better when it comes to eating a ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet also requires strict avoidance of sugars and high sugar foods, and people on this diet should also aim to avoid processed foods if possible (not all keto proponents require this, but I suggest this step if you’re planning to follow the ketogenic diet as a treatment for disease). Ketogenic-friendly foods are particularly high in fats. Consumption of a lot of proteins is also avoided because proteins can be converted easily into glucose inside the body. Approximately 75% of a patient’s diet should consist of fats (more information about the proportions of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates is outlined below).
There are a variety of ketogenic recipes and cookbooks available to help patients select the correct foods in the correct quantities. The following foods can be included in a ketogenic diet:
Fats (these should make up 75% of the diet):
Proteins (these should make up only 20% of the diet):
- Wild game
- Beef (grass-fed only)
- Fish and seafood
- Fermented dairy products
- Organic, pasture fed poultry
- Raw, organic dairy products with full fat content
Carbohydrate vegetables (these should make up only a very small proportion of the diet, ideally less than 50 grams per day):
- Brussel sprouts
- Collard greens
Fruits, like vegetables, are high in fiber, and so they are also kept to a minimum on the ketogenic diet. Because fruit also contains higher levels of sugar, it should only be eaten occasionally since sugars should be avoided on this diet.
Proportion of fats : proteins : carbohydrates
Patients following the ketogenic diet consume foods according to the following proportions:
- 1 part protein
- 2.5 to 3.5 parts fat
- 0.3 to 0.5 parts carbohydrates 
These proportions may vary depending on the specific ketogenic diet, but in all cases, carbohydrates are consumed in very low doses .
The prefix “keto” in “ketogenic” comes from the fact that the body produces molecules known as ketones when very few carbohydrates are consumed and instead proteins and fats make up the bulk of the diet. Ketones are an alternative fuel supply produced by the body when glucose levels are low. Glucose is derived from carbohydrates so when a patient eats very few carbs, and only moderate amounts of protein, ketones are produced in the liver from fats. The ketones are used in place of glucose as fuel for the body .
When ketones are produced, they can be used throughout the body as fuel. This fact is significant for two reasons:
- When the body switches to ketones as the primary fuel supply, insulin levels are lowered.
- When ketones are used for fuel, fat metabolism increases which makes this diet ideal for weight loss.
Supplements for the Ketogenic Diet
Patients practicing the ketogenic diet should take probiotics, a multi-vitamin supplement, and omega-3 supplements. Also, due to the increased animal protein in the diet, individuals following this diet or a similar one will benefit from taking a high quality pancreatic enzyme supplement and an ox bile supplement with every meal to offer the body additional support with digestion and detoxification. These supplements are valuable because they help lessen the body’s load in terms of producing pancreatic enzymes and bile (animal products and high protein foods require more of these for digestion), but pancreatic enzymes specifically are also essential for the destruction of pathogens and abnormal cells, and can thus help encourage recovery.
Weight Loss Using the Ketogenic Diet
Weight loss tends to be easier with the ketogenic diet. And as an added benefit, the ketogenic diet emphasizes the value of ketones as a source of fuel for the brain, which makes it possible for patients to think more clearly while on the diet.
When the body’s metabolism switches to consuming ketones for fuel it is said to be in a state of “ketosis”. Fasting and the ketogenic diet can both produce a state of ketosis in the body. In a state of ketosis, the body is metabolizing fat as its primary source of fuel.
Patients typically follow the ketogenic diet as part of a cancer protocol that includes other integrative cancer treatment options .
Safety and Effectiveness
Over twenty studies have shown that this diet can help patients lose weight and improve overall health. Additionally, societies around the world such as the Maasai in Africa and the Eskimos in Alaska and the far reaches of North America eat a diet that is remarkably similar to the ketogenic diet, and have for generations with a surprising record of good health.
Intermittent Fasting and the Ketogenic Diet
While the ketogenic diet causes the metabolism to switch over to using ketones for fuel, fasting can achieve the same goal. Sometimes people choose to combine intermittent fasting with the principles of the ketogenic diet in order to enter a state of ketosis more quickly. Because fasting for long periods of time is difficult and potentially dangerous, many people treating a health problem with the ketogenic diet instead choose to “intermittently fast” for 20 hours a day. On a 20 hour fast, patients only eat between 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM each day which allows their bodies to detoxify more efficiently while producing ketones for fuel rather than relying on glucose metabolism.
Other Important Information
The Holistic Bio Spa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico offers the ketogenic diet as part of a cancer treatment protocol (they may also offer support on this diet for the treatment of other diseases):
The ketogenic diet should not be used by patients with the following physical considerations without consulting a doctor:
- Insulin-dependent diabetics
- Patients who take medication for high blood pressure
- Women who are breastfeeding
 Kwasniewski, J. (1996). Musings of a Mountain Mama. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from https://musingsofamountainmama.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/homo-optimus_jan-kwasniewski.pdf
 Holistic Bio Spa (2018). Alternative Cancer Treatments in Mexico. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.holisticbiospa.com/alternative-treatments/cancer-treatments-mexico/
 Eenfeldt, A. (2018). A ketogenic diet for beginners. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto
 Foster, G. D. (2003). A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022207
 Freeman, J. M., Kossoff, E. H., Hartman, A. L. (2007). The ketogenic diet: one decade later. Retrieved April 2018 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/3/535?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token
 Samaha, F. F. et al. (2003). A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637
 Wikipedia (2018). Atkins Nutritionals. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atkins_Nutritionals
 Sondike, S. B. et al. (2003). Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents. Retreived April 25, 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347602402065
 Aude, Y. W. et al. (2004). The national cholesterol education program diet vs. a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monosaturated fat. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15505128
 Jockers, D. (2018). How the Ketogenic Diet Weakens Cancer Cells. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/ketogenic-diet-weakens-cancer-cells/
 Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D. (2013). Dismantling the Ketogenic Diet (1st edition). No publisher.