On September 30th the University of Cincinnati released an article detailing their latest clinical trial utilizing the ketogenic diet to fight a dangerous type of cancer. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a malignant tumor that affects the brain and spinal cord. This is one of the most invasive and deadliest forms of brain cancer, with an average survival rate of less than a year. Current treatment methods only increase the two-year survival rate by 10%, with only 3% of GBM patients living past the five-year mark. Is there any benefit to using keto for cancer?
What Fuels this Cancer?
Due to the aggressive nature of this cancer, researchers have begun to look at alternatives to the traditional standard of care (chemotherapy and radiation therapy). Since the cancerous glioma cells are driven by glycolysis, using glucose for fuel, scientists have begun to suspect the ketogenic diet as an alternative treatment method.
Keto for Cancer
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a very low-carbohydrate (low sugar / glucose) diet. Normally, the human body runs on glucose (from carbohydrates) for fuel, but when following a ketogenic diet, the body switches to using ketones from fatty acids. While the body and brain can use ketones for energy, cancer cells have dysfunctional mitochondrial, which means they can’t breakdown and use ketones. So, the idea behind this study is that if patients consume little glucose, then the cancer cells will be starved of nutrients and be unable to grow.
What Does the Science Say?
Dr. Rekha Chaudhard a UC Health oncologist and the co-principal investigator of the study had this to say:
“We know that cancerous glioma cells rely on glucose, or sugar, for their division and survival. The ketogenic diet is low in sugar and because of that, the body produces ketones for energy. Normal glial or brain cells can survive on ketones alone, but it is thought that cancerous glioma cells cannot use ketones for energy.”
She added that “results for a modified keto diet in animal models were really hopeful. Researchers in previous studies implanted animal model brains with cancerous glioma cells to study the effect of ketosis on their survival and monitor what happened to glioma cells; the models had a modest increase in survival with the ketogenic diet as compared to controls not on the ketogenic diet; however, when radiation was added to the treatment of the ketogenic diet there was a significant increase in survival, so much so that 9 of our 11 animal models were cured of their tumors.”
Previous papers published have demonstrated that while ketones themselves may have anti-tumor effects; they may also have adjunctive benefits. When pairing the ketogenic diet with tradition radiation therapy, cancer cells seem to be more sensitive.
Chaudhard says “This is why we think that ketones may act as a radiation sensitizing agent and this would explain the significantly increased survival in the animal models on the ketogenic diet with radiation as compared to the models on the ketogenic diet alone.”
This clinical trial is still in its early stages so its too early to tell what the results may be but be sure to check back to ketogenic.com for updates on this study and more of the latest keto news.
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