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Keto diet may slow cancer tumour growth in mice – but not without potentially deadly consequences

Eggs, avocado and seeds on some toast

Dr Mhairi Morris, a Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry in Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences writes for the Conversation about the impact of the Keto diet on cancer growth.

The ketogenic (keto) diet has been popular in recent years among people looking to lose weight and keep fit. But what many people don’t realise is that this low carb, high-fat diet has actually been used for centuries in the treatment of medical maladies, such as epilepsy. More recently, researchers have been investigating its use alongside chemotherapy to improve remission and survival in patients with advanced metastatic cancers.

recently published study in mice has now shown that the keto diet may also have use in treating tumours. But while the diet appeared to slow the tumour growth in mice with colorectal and pancreatic cancers, it was also shown to accelerate the onset of cachexia – a severe wasting disease thought to cause 30% of all cancer-related deaths.

To conduct their study, the authors selected two types of mice that were predisposed to cachexia. They then transplanted half of them with colorectal cancer and induced pancreatic cancer in the other half. The mice were then allocated into two groups: one group was fed a standard diet while the other group was fed a high-fat, low carb keto diet.

Over the course of the next month, the investigators found that mice on the keto diet showed slower tumour growth than the mice fed a standard diet. However, it also appeared that the keto diet was associated with shorter survival times due to the faster onset of cachexia.

Keto and cancer

The reason the ketogenic diet works to slow the growth of tumours is down to the way in which cancer cells metabolise their “food” compared to normal, healthy cells.

All the cells in our bodies get their energy from glucose (sugar) first and foremost, and then from fats. Since cancer cells grow quickly, they have much higher energy needs – so they rely solely on glucose for energy.

Glucose is released from the carbohydrates we’ve eaten as they’re broken down in our bodies. But since the keto diet has a very low carbohydrate intake, it’s thought that this “starves” the cancer cells of the energy they need to grow. This is what the authors were able to demonstrate in their study.

Keto also kick-starts a process called lipid peroxidation, which causes the body to use fats for the energy it needs instead. However, this process also creates a number of highly reactive molecules as a by-product which need to be cleared from the body before they cause further cell damage…

Continue reading the article on the Conversation website