By Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO

It’s no secret that I am a huge proponent of the ketogenic diet. I discuss the ketogenic diet extensively in my book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, and recommend it to many of my clients who are navigating the cancering process. Despite my enthusiasm about the ketogenic diet, however, there is a question I have been asked that raises a red flag for me: “should I follow a ketogenic diet instead of chemotherapy?”

My short and resolute answer to that question? NO.

The idea that any single treatment (or diet) can be used as a stand-alone therapy for cancer is downright dangerous. For as much as I advocate a ketogenic lifestyle as a way to promote metabolic flexibility, I never recommend that it be used alone.

Each time I work with clients who have been diagnosed with cancer, I systematically follow 3 steps:

  1. TEST

I follow these steps to a fault, never jumping to “address” before we have thoroughly tested and assessed the unique terrain of each individual.

When we get to step 3 (address), I might recommend surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hyperthermia, a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, nutritional supplements, mistletoe, or any combination of these things. My recommendations almost always include conventional care and NEVER include just one therapy.

The ketogenic diet is ONE WAY to achieve metabolic flexibility. Other ways include intermittent fasting, timed eating windows, caloric restriction, and even pharmaceutical medications. When we support the body’s terrain, through deep nutrition, a ketogenic lifestyle, and targeted supplementation, we improve the overall health of the body.

Because of the popularity of the ketogenic diet, I want to address how this specific therapy can help to achieve metabolic flexibility and, in the context of other indicated therapies, play a role in enhancing the effects and reducing the side effects of cancer treatments.

Ketosis Improves Outcomes

One of the reasons I recommend a ketogenic diet for my clients who are undergoing conventional cancer treatment is because it can improve the body’s response to chemotherapy, radiation, and other targeted therapies. Studies in cell lines have shown that the ketogenic diet influences all of the 10 hallmarks of cancer. Studies also show that the ketogenic diet influences many of the same biochemical pathways that are the targets of some of the newest cancer pharmaceuticals.

The ketogenic diet limits carbohydrate consumption, which lowers the insulin level and produces ketone bodies that have benefits of their own. But the benefits extend far beyond blood sugar and insulin control. Being in a state of ketosis is anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic. It helps to stave off cellular proliferation. Being in a state of ketosis will increase apoptosis (programmed cell death), especially when it is combined with other cytotoxic therapies.

The ketogenic diet is not a treatment for cancer. Instead, it puts the body into a state of better metabolic health so that therapies like hyperbaric oxygen, ozone, chemotherapy, and targeted pharmaceutical medications can be even more effective. When we maintain a state of metabolic ketosis, we keep the healthy cells healthy, while enhancing the “kill effect” of cytotoxic therapies for cancer.

Ketosis Minimizes Side Effects

Many people believe that undergoing chemotherapy will inevitably be a horrific experience. Chemotherapy is well known for its debilitating side effects. One of the most important reasons I help my clients maintain metabolic ketosis is because it dramatically reduces their experience of side effects from conventional treatments.

The ketogenic diet is just one way to achieve a state of metabolic ketosis. Fasting is another way. An approach that has been advocated by Dr. Valter Longo, at the University of Southern California, is to fast before, during, and after chemotherapy sessions. For those who are receiving chemotherapy every 3 weeks, they can fast 2 days before, the day of, and 2 days after chemotherapy. For those receiving weekly chemotherapy sessions, they can fast 1 day before, the day of, and 1 day after.

During the fast, I recommend a combination of water, sugar-free electrolytes, and herbal teas. Ginger tea can help with nausea, peppermint tea has a cooling effect, and chamomile tea is calming to the nerves. Some people like green tea, hibiscus tea, or other teas. For those who have trouble with just water and tea, we allow some nutrient-dense bone broth during this fasting time.

I know that it might seem counter-intuitive to fast during chemotherapy (the doctor says to get whatever calories you can get, right?), but I have seen incredible results. My clients who fast before, during, and after their chemotherapy sessions inevitable bounce back more quickly and experience fewer side effects than those who do not fast. This is a simple way to use metabolic ketosis to your advantage during cancer treatments.

Ketosis Improves Overall Health

I was recently interviewed by Dr. Bret Schor, on his Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast. Dr. Schor is a conventional cardiologist (M.D.), who advocates a low-carbohydrate diet for patients with heart disease. Many people worry that a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet might be bad for the heart, but experts like Dr. Schor are showing us otherwise.

A ketogenic lifestyle addresses many of the same metabolic “hiccups” that underlie cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and other chronic illnesses. The ketogenic diet is not a stand-alone treatment for any of these conditions. It puts the body into a state of better metabolic flexibility that works synergistically with other approaches to improve overall health.

For More Information

Remember that the ketogenic diet is only one way to achieve a state of metabolic flexibility, which will improve your quality of life as you navigate the cancering process. The ketogenic diet is never intended to be a stand-alone therapy but instead augments the effects of other therapies.

I delve deeper into the concepts presented here in my book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. If you want to learn more about Dr. Longo’s approach to fasting during chemotherapy, check out the Prolon website. You can also hear me discuss many of these issues in an interview that was recently recorded on Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast.