The Ketogenic Diet
Pancreatic Cancer

There is much on the internet about cancer diets. It can be a minefield of confusing and contradicting information! And yet, I am about to suggest you look at one more diet.

The Ketogenic Diet.

It is a diet 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 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 literally 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 donothing 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...

Yes, it could have worked, and here's why - muscle cells benefit largely from a high fat and protein diet. Using this Diet as a cancer diet means that the calories coming from the fat and protein would need to be high enough to maintain the patients weight, while reducing the calories coming from carbs and sugars. Ideally, weight can be maintained on this diet.

I must interject here that this is all in theory. Mom would remind me that the 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.

So, if the Ketogenic Diet interests you, you may want to discuss it with your health care professional and explore the possibilities. In my research I could find no hard and fast rules about the protein and fat limits. One study suggests that you restrict your carbohydrate intake to 10-15 grams a day and your protein intake to 1 gram per kilogram of body mass per day. The rest of your diet would then consist of fat in an amount sufficient to maintain your body weight.

You may also want to consider adding a few supplements, such as a daily multi-vitamin to your daily diet if you choose to maintain on the Ketogenic Diet. These are simply suggestions, always talk with your doctor and healthcare provider before changing or adding anything to your diet.

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. His fight is 2 years and counting. His energy is steady, his health stable and he appears to be keeping the cancer at bay. He would be the first to admit that there is no way to know if his success is due to the diet, or the combination of diet and medical therapy or perhaps even his genetic dispostion.

Nevertheless, I tend to believe that the Ketogenic Diet shows great potential. And now even the Medical community is turning its attention to the possibilities. The Holden Comprehensive Care Center at the University of Iowa is currently working a clinical study to determine the possible effectiveness of this diet. The study, "Ketogenic Diet With Concurrent Chemoradiation for Pancreatic Cancer," is seeking to answer the question: Can a ketogenic diet exploit a fundamental flaw in cancer cell metabolism and increase the effectiveness of treatment for non-small cell lung and pancreatic cancer? They are working off the premise that relative to normal cells, cancer cells require more glucose to overcome a defect in their mitochondrial metabolism. The high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet deprives cancer cells of glucose and forces them to rely on their flawed mitochondrial metabolism. This causes oxidative stress in the cancer cells and appears to make them more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiation. This clinical trial has been funded to investigate whether this diet can improve outcomes for patients with these cancers.

It's an exciting time for pancreatic cancer research. I want to make the point that I do not think ketosis is the cure for all cancers...but it might be for some, for others it may dramatically slow progression and all without the dangers inherent in modern chemotherapeutics. And now there are studies exploring the possibilities.

And the Ketogenic Diet is something you can consider today. Talk with your healthcare provider!

The Ketogenic Diet is perhaps one more weapon in our arsenal to defeat pancreatic cancer and find wholeness and healing!

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