The high-fat, low-carb keto diet espoused by celebrities may help slow the growth of certain cancers, according to new research.
The diet proved effective at controlling tumors in mice suffering from a specific type of lung or esophageal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
Coupled with a diabetes drug and chemotherapy, and the effects were even more potent.
Testing their theory in blood samples from humans, the researchers at the University of Texas found squamous cell carcinoma was more susceptible to the diet’s glucose-crushing effects than other types of cancer.
The researchers say the findings suggest we could reach a point where doctors of patients with this type of cancer can recommend specific dietary tweaks – on top of conventional medicine – to curtail the slow-growing cancer.
A ketogenic diet is high in fats, and low in carbs and sugar
‘Manipulating host glucose levels would be a new strategy that is different from just trying to kill cancer cells directly,’ Dr Jung-Whan ‘Jay’ Kim, corresponding author of the multinational study and an assistant professor of biological sciences at UT Dallas, said.
‘I believe this is part of a paradigm shift from targeting cancer cells themselves. Immunotherapy is a good example of this, where the human immune system is activated to go after cancer cells.
‘Maybe we can manipulate our own biological system a little bit or activate something we already have in place in order to more effectively combat cancer.’
This is not the first time the keto-cancer link has been probed.
Famed oncologist and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee has conducted comprehensive studies in mice showing the diet controls glucose and insulin, which affects some cancer cells.
However, research in this area is still in its very early stages.
Mice share many biological traits with humans, but a study in mice does not necessarily translate to humans.
What’s more, it has been unclear which cancers are particularly susceptible to keto’s effects.
Dr Kim’s study, published today in Cell Reports, sheds new light on these questions – homing in on squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for around 30 percent of lung cancers.
The team also compared their results on mice with blood tests from human patients, strengthening the idea that these studies on mice may ring true for humans.
His team restricted glucose in mice with lung cancer by feeding them a ketogenic diet high in fats, and low in carbs and sugar.
The mice were also given an FDA-approved diabetes drug, canagliflozin, to prevent stray glucose in the blood from being reabsorbed by the kidneys.
The results were striking: it did not shrink the tumors, but prevented them from growing.
The next step was to see if this was true for humans, and whether it worked for other types of cancers, by analyzing blood samples from 192 patients who had lung or esophageal squamous cell cancer, and 120 patients with lung adenocarcinoma – none of whom had diabetes.
The blood samples were taken at random parts of the day, and were categorized by blood sugar level.
They found higher blood sugar levels were associated with poorer survival rates in patients with squamous cell carcinoma, but no association between glucose levels and lung adenocarcinoma, which suggests they’re on the money with squamous cell.
‘This is an important observation that further implicates the potential efficacy of glucose restriction in attenuating squamous-cell cancer growth,’ Dr Kim said.
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