The Ketogenic Diet
and
Pancreatic Cancer

There is much on the internet about cancer diets. It can be a minefield of confusing and contradicting information! And there is one diet in particular that is making a big splash in the cancer circles:

The Ketogenic Diet.

It is a diet reported to be particularly geared for the pancreatic cancer patient. Over the last few months, the ketogenic diet has piqued my interest. I only wish mom were here to research it with me... I can't help but feel that she would be excited about the biological implications of the data and ready to give it a try.

As always, the scientific mumbo-jumbo took me a while to translate, but, at last, I think I have a handle on the ketogenic part of this diet. But...before I go down that road, let me explain a little about the effects of sugar on pancreatic cancer, because that is really what's at the heart of why proponents believe this diet appears to work.

Over the past several decades, there have been a handful of studies that suggest glucose (that's sugar) may be the ultimate fuel for cancer cells. These studies or medical abstracts are quite laborious to read through, but for the curious they can be found here and here and here...

They all seem to conclude that eating a diet rich in sugary, high carbohydrate foods promoted the growth of cancer cells and cancer tumors.

There are obvious sugary foods, such as candy, cakes, cookies, and then there are some not so obvious sources of sugary foods, like potatoes, breads, fruits and other starchy foods that turn to sugar in the body. All these sugary foods appear to enhance cancer cell growth - definitely not the desired outcome we want.

Enter the Ketogenic Diet.

Some may have heard of this diet by another name - the Atkins Diet. And while the Atkins Diet is similar, the Ketogenic Diet is seriously committed to removing ALL sugar from your diet. It is high-fat and low-carbohydrate. That means yes to meat, meat, veggies, and more meat, and no, no, no to sugar, breads, pastas, potatoes and most fruits. It is a complete reversal of the typical Western Diet!

How does it work?

Well, the theory is simple: If the cancer cells rely on sugar for growing and dividing, then take away the sugar and they should stop spreading. That's the simple part. The Ketogenic part of the diet takes the fight one step further. When we remove sugar from our diet, we are supposedly starving the cancer cells because they can't generate energy any other way due to a fundamental defect in their metabolism mechanism. But amazingly, our normal body and brain cells can handle this sugar starvation because they can switch to generating energy from fatty molecules called ketone bodies. This process is called ketosis. Hence the name - Ketogenic... Oh, and one more thing, the ketones created by this sugar starvation have actually been found to suppress tumor growth. It appears to be a Win-Win scenario.

Ok, so it almost sounds too good to be true. Mom was always skeptical of claims such as this. And you know that her motto was always, "first, do no harm." And I have to say, in this case, I find the Ketogenic Diet to be the least harmful of all the treatments mom used on her pancreatic cancer journey. Let's see, there was massive amounts of radiation, debilitatingly toxic levels of chemo, and the do nothing approach while the doctors debated her next course of treatment. I believe mom would have jumped on this diet as a potentially powerful way to fight the cancer cells on an elemental level. And I can't help but remember when mom's taste buds changed. She lost her taste for chocolate (always her favorite) and only wanted foods that were tart and sour - I almost think her body was trying to teach us this lesson. If only we had listened...

Which brings me to another real problem mom faced - her weight loss. It goes hand in hand with many pancreatic cancer patients. Her doctors encouraged her to eat, drink anything with calories in it. Shakes, cakes, pastas - the more sugary, high-caloric the better. Which is the exact opposite of the Ketogenic suggestions! And it is called a 'Diet.' In the Atkins Diet (which is very similar), many people use these very same guidelines as a weight-loss plan.

So, really? Could it have worked for mom? Because, we really didn't need her losing anymore weight...

I must interject here that this is all in theory. Mom would remind me that pancreatic tumors are messing with the whole digestive system. Perhaps even on this diet, with a high fat intake, weight loss could still be a problem.

I have visited with several pancreatic cancer patients who are using this diet. One engaging gentleman has combined the Ketogenic Diet with the mainstays of radiation and chemotherapy. He fought with grace and determination for 2 years, but lost the battle despite the hope of adding in this new diet.

Recent studies have unfortunately concluded that the Ketogenic diet has largely failed to prove survival prolonging effects.  It is disheartening to say the least.  Every pancreatic cancer patient is searching long and hard for treatments that work.  We are walking this road right alongside you.

Pancreatic cancer research continues on.  We are staying true to the Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet in the meantime.  Eating for health and always seeking answers for pancreatic cancer treatments that really work! Always!

  



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