Study finds keto diet to be helpful for reducing obesity in cancer patients
05/12/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

The ketogenic (keto) diet was developed in the 1920s to treat pediatric epilepsy. But according to a study, the keto diet could also be used to promote weight loss in obese or overweight patients with cancer.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and published in The Journal of Nutrition.

For their study, the researchers wanted to determine if the keto diet can help women with cancer lose more body fat and lower their insulin levels.

The scientists observed 45 overweight or obese women with ovarian or endometrial cancer. The participants were randomly assigned to follow either the keto diet or the American Cancer Society (ACS)-recommended diet. The latter is a low-fat, moderate- to high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet.

They found that, compared with those who followed the low-fat diet recommended by the ACS, the women who followed the keto diet for 12 weeks shed more body fat and had lower insulin levels.

However, the researchers warned that positive weight loss in cancer patients doesn’t automatically mean that the diet can treat the disease. They want to continue the research to see if the keto diet can affect cancer treatments.

What happens when you follow the keto diet?

The keto diet limits your carbohydrate intake, which is known to increase glucose and insulin. The diet forces your body to burn fat as fuel. Some of the fats are converted to ketones, which the brain and other types of tissues use as another type of fuel.

If you follow the keto diet, your meals should contain the following foods:


  • Low-carb vegetables – Arugula, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, celery, eggplant, fennel, kale, mushrooms, spinach, and zucchini.
  • Low-sugar fruits – Avocado, blackberries, blueberries, coconut, lemon, limes, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes.
  • Seafood – Cod, crab, mackerel, mussels, sardines, shrimp, tuna, and wild salmon.
  • Meat, poultry, and eggs – Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, and venison.
  • Nuts and seeds – Almonds, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, macadamia nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and walnuts.
  • Dairy products – Butter, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, and plain Greek yogurt.
  • Oils – Avocado oil, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and nut oils.

Barbara Gower, senior author and a professor at UAB, explained that since cancer cells prefer to use glucose, diets that limit glucose intake can benefit patients with the condition. She added that the keto diet limits glucose and several growth factors, which gives the patient’s immune system time to respond.

Data from earlier studies have demonstrated that the keto diet can positively affect the development and outcomes related to cancer. It can also lower insulin, a growth factor that stimulates cancer cell growth.

Aside from these, the keto diet results in the loss of visceral fat or the "bad fat" in the abdomen. Having visceral fat is linked to a greater risk of developing cancer and diabetes.

People with higher ketones also have low levels of IGF-1, another growth factor that stimulates cancer cells.

Does this mean the keto diet can treat cancer?

Registered dietitian Carolyn Lammersfeld, who is also the vice president of integrative medicine for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, warned that research on the use of the keto diet to help cancer patients doesn't suggest that the keto diet should be routinely recommended outside of a clinical trial setting for any type of cancer or treatment. She added that the study didn't evaluate the diet's impact on cancer outcomes.

Lammersfeld believes that the volunteers lost more weight while on the keto diet since it promotes a lower calorie intake because of the elimination of various types of foods. She added that the metabolic effects of the ketogenic diet also contributed to greater fat loss. (Related: Read this before going on a ketosis diet: Understand how it works and the potential dangers if you do it wrong.)

Dr. J. Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, medical director and CEO of the Minnesota Center for Obesity, Metabolism, and Endocrinology, advised that instead of following diets, individuals with cancer should stick to a long-term nutritional eating plan that is better suited to help patients. He shared that depriving your body of any major macronutrient changes your metabolism. This may even affect your health negatively. He concluded that a caloric-restricted, portion-controlled, well-balanced meal plan is the best nutritional intervention for weight loss.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, consult a nutritionist who can determine if the keto diet is suitable for your condition. To boost your overall health and lose weight safely, follow a nutritious diet and exercise regularly.

Sources include:

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