Study suggests managing your blood sugar levels with the keto diet brings anti-cancer benefits
08/06/2020 // Divina Ramirez // Views

The ketogenic (keto) diet might inhibit the growth of tumors in cancer patients, according to a team of American and Korean researchers.

Published in the journal Cell Reports, their findings showed that the keto diet, which kept blood glucose from spiking, also kept cancer cells from using glucose as a fuel source, thus stalling tumor growth in mice with lung cancer.

The keto diet for diabetes

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet developed in 1924 to treat epilepsy in children, particularly those who were unresponsive to medications. The use of the diet as treatment was based on the premise that depriving the body of carbohydrates forces it to burn fats instead.

In epileptic children, the keto diet was found to alter genes involved in metabolic processes in the brain. This, in turn, helped stabilize neurons involved in epileptic seizures. (Related: Can the keto diet be used to treat Alzheimer's?)

Today, the effects of this eating pattern are being studied for the treatment and management of diabetes. Previous studies have found that the keto diet can help regulate blood glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance, a hallmark of diabetes.

Besides regulating blood glucose, the keto diet has also been found to help reduce high blood pressure and keep blood cholesterol levels normal, thus supporting heart health and reducing the risk of cardiometabolic conditions.

Restricting blood glucose can “starve” cancer cells

In their study, the American-Korean research team found that although putting mice with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) on a ketogenic diet neither shrunk nor killed cancer cells, it did inhibit the progression of lung and esophageal cancers.


One possible explanation for this effect can be found in a 2017 article published in the journal Nature Communications. In it, researchers analyzed blood samples from 192 participants who had either SCC of the lungs or esophagus. They also took blood samples from 120 patients with lung adenocarcinoma, another form of cancer, for comparison.

After measuring the amount of glucose in the blood samples and grouping them accordingly, the researchers found that SCC of the lung exhibits a significant dependence on glucose. They also noted that SCC patients with high blood glucose concentrations had lower survival rates than SCC patients with normal concentrations.

According to the researchers, certain types of cancer cells use glucose as “fuel” to sustain themselves and survive. Therefore, having high blood glucose levels enables these anomalous cells to continue proliferating and form tumors.

Although the researchers did not observe the same pattern in patients with lung adenocarcinoma, their findings still underscore the importance of glucose restriction in stopping the progression of cancers like SCC.

The shift in cancer treatment

Besides stalling the progression of lung and esophageal SCCs, the keto diet also kept SCC cancer cells from developing into tumors in mice.

Assistant Professor Jung-whan Kim, who was the senior author of both studies, also noted that the keto diet did not have a negative effect on healthy cells, suggesting that it is a safe, potent and sustainable nutritional approach to treating cancer.

Kim believes that this nutritional approach represents a paradigm shift in cancer treatment. Instead of attempting to kill cancer cells, the keto diet treatment regulates blood glucose levels to keep cancer from progressing.

Kim added that this treatment is no different from immunotherapeutic strategies that attempt to strengthen immune cells against the disease instead of depending on medications and artificial treatments.

Learn more about useful diets and natural approaches that can be used as cancer treatment at

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