When my wife was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma, we started to look at how our diet could be cleaned up and how what you eat affects the way your body functions. After searching for info on the relation between food and illness, I happened upon Mark Sissons website, which informed us on how to eat and live in a primally inspired way to remedy modern health problems. This cleaned up many bad habits we had, and improved our quality of life immensely. For the next year and a half we worked on cutting out refined sugars, grains, and vegetable oils. I was introduced to the ketogenic diet through the same source. Mark wrote the Keto Reset Diet, and I started to become aware of the current research on the therapeutic applications, especially on cancer, of the ketogenic diet. My wife and I decided to try it out, and since then have been on a mostly ketogenic diet for the last year. Needless to say the effects have been noteworthy and have made us want to continue it long term. More energy, less hunger, less depression, and the peace of mind knowing we are giving our cells the fuel they need to run as efficiently as possible. Here are a few of the ways the ketogenic diet is being used to prevent and treat illness.
A short explanation of how energy is made in our body and how it relates to ketosis. To skip a trip in the weeds, go down to number 1.
Despite all of its hype right now, the ketogenic diet goes back all the way to 1923. Designed by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic, it was a way to treat drug resistant epilepsy. The diet was designed to mimic a fasted state in the body. We have evidence of fasting being used to treat seizures going back as far as the ancient Greeks, who noticed less frequent and less severe seizures when patients were in a fasted state.
The original purpose of the ketogenic diet was to treat epilepsy, but it is now being looked at as a treatment for a host of different diseases. This is because of what it means to our physiology to be in a ketogenic state.
When we deprive our body of carbohydrates (glucose), our mitochondria (energy producers in our cells) have to start using what are called ketones to produce ATP (energy). This is based on a process known as the Krebs Cycle. The cycle goes as follows.
- Fuel comes into the mitochondria from either fat or carbohydrates. Fat is immidiatly transported into the mitochondria, and carbohydrates must undergo a conversion into pyruvate, a usable fuel. Then the fats and pyruvate are converted into Acetyl-CoA.
- Acetyl-CoA is paired with oxaloacetate (from protein or carbohydrates) to produce energy.
Ketosis comes into play when a surplus of Acetyl-CoA is made in context of a lack of oxaloacetate, with the surplus turning into ketones produced by our liver. The mitochondria can then take these ketones to finish the Krebs cycle and make ATP energy. Why might it be beneficial to run on fuel from ketones?
1. Inflammation Goes Down
Inflammation is a natural function that lets our body heal. However, to much inflammation can quickly become a bad thing when it goes beyond what our body can handle. ROS (reactive oxygen species) are byproduct of energy production from glucose and protein. They help stimulate and regulate inflammation. However, when cells are too dependent on metabolizing glucose for energy , an overproduction of ROS may occur, resulting in a constant inflamed state. Too much ROS has been associated with many disease states, influencing cancer growth, diabetes, aging, and obesity.
When we are in a state of ketosis and our mitochondria are busy burning ketones for fuel, less ROS are generated. These results in less inflammation and less damage to our cells. overproduction of ROS and a dependence on glucose metabolism in a hallmark of many diseases.
3. Blood Sugar Is Controlled
Our blood sugar is a carefully maintained by insulin. Anything we eat causes our blood sugar to rise. Fat and protein do not cause nearly the rise in blood sugar as carbohydrates to. Normally, whenever we eat our pancreas will secrete insulin into the bloodstream to ferry the extra blood glucose into cells for energy, with the surplus being stored as as glycogen in the liver or muscles. We run into trouble when we exceed our energy and storage needs, and the extra glucose is either being stored as fat or becoming oxidized in our blood stream. If we continue to overstimulate our insulin response by eating carbohydrate rich foods to often, we become insulin resistant. Now, our body cannot regulate our blood sugar and if not taken care of in time turns into type-2 diabetes.
When we limit carbohydrates in a ketogenic diet, we train our body to burn fat for fuel and not be waiting for the next carbohydrate load to enter the bloodstream for another blood sugar spike. This ends up making us more sensitive to insulin, and can actually heal type-2 diabetes. This study showed an improvement in glycemia, serum triglycerides, insulin sensitivity, hemoglobin A1C, and lowered blood sugar in 21 participants with type-2 diabetes. The net result in lowering our blood sugar also lowered inflammation.
3. Promising Cancer Research
First off, I am not a doctor and can’t provide medical advice. Cancer is a scary thing, and your doctor should be the authority on what your treatment is. However, the research coming out on the relationship between ketosis and cancer is very promising, and very preliminary. There are a few things to consider that point towards a ketogenic diet being helpful in the context of cancer research.
First of all, in general cancer cells metabolize only glucose, so switching your body into a state of fat metabolism like in a ketogenic diet seems to weaken cancer cells. The phenomenon of cancer cells preferring glucose metabolism to fat is what is know as the Warburg Effect. This was discovered over 90 years ago by Otto Warburg, after noticing that tumors utilized much greater amounts of glucose than the areas surrounding it. The history and theory of this is written about in great detail in the book Tripping Over the Truth by Travis Christofferson. Some studies.
- A ketogenic diet in mice suppressed colon tumor progression and systemic inflammatory responses.
- Lower blood sugar levels are associated with lower risk of breast cancer
- Higher fasting blood glucose is associated with an increase in liver cancer
So we know that lowering blood sugar levels is a safe bet when preventing cancer or being diagnosed with it. Many of the studies coming out, however, aren’t using a ketogenic diet as the only treatment. It is being used in conjunction with other treatments like chemotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen chamber, and radiation. Part of why this is is a ketogenic diets ability to make cancer cells more susceptible to oxidative damage, while increasing the strength of healthy cells. Treatments like chemotherapy or radiation basically destroy everything in their path. By weakening the cancer cells with a ketogenic diet and strengthening the healthy ones, the outcome looks much more favorable in terms of both recovery and cure.
Even more exciting is the research being done by Dr. Dom D’Agostino and others in the field of combing hyperbaric oxygen therapy with a ketogenic diet. This is a method by with tumors are saturated with oxygen. Not only is it a non invasive treatment, but combined with a ketogenic diet weakening the tumors cells it has shown promising results in trials.
Again, i am not a doctor. However, a ketogenic diet is a safe adjunct treatment to conduct under the supervision of your oncologist. My wife and I have been on it for almost two years at this point, and consider it one of the best things we can do to mitigate the risk of cancer returning.
If you are looking for guidance on a ketogenic diet, consider scheduling a free call at the contact page to discuss what your goals are and why a coach might be beneficial. Thanks for reading along, comment below with any thoughts or questions!