A ketogenic diet and brain cancer

Thomas SS

This story is different. We hear from Tom who found the keto diet in a less than ordinary way, and he ended up losing 105 lbs (48 kg). Fantastically done, but this story has another focus. Read on to take part in this moving story:

I’m going to tell you a story about how an obese 59-year old with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a 44” (112 cm) waist changed his life. This story will be about doctors, family and the unexpected twists life can take. This story has two endings. Here is how it started.

This is one ending to my story. I am now 61 years old, 192 pounds (87 kg), and I have a 32” (81 cm) waist. My doctors are thrilled, my family is very happy, and my blood pressure has dropped. I have even become more active.

So, what happened during this story? Let me fill in the missing pieces. Everyone assumes this was a vanity move. That I did it for health reasons. I was getting older. I had a dear friend die. Or, I had an HS reunion coming up. All true, but they are not part of this story.

Starch structureI want you to meet my daughter Alina. She was a bright 28-year-old college graduate. She was working as an accountant for CA. She was happy, successful, a picture of health. She had occasional headaches, but the doctors didn’t seem concerned. In September of 2016, we ended up in the emergency room. The doctors found a massive brain tumor. Alina had two surgeries to remove the tumor followed by the devastating news that she had stage 4 glioblastoma, otherwise known as GBM. GBM has been in the news recently because of senator McCain. It is an aggressive, fast-growing brain cancer. The average survival time is 12 months. 25% of patients survive one year, and 5% survive five years.

So what do you do about GBM? Standard treatment begins with surgery. After surgery, you are given radiation and chemo. In the meantime, you take other medications to control the side effects. Tick, tick, tick, GBM makes you acutely aware of clocks ticking. You start searching for medical trials. There are many rules to qualify, most extend life by only a few months. Some have a substantial chance of killing you.

We decided to join a ketogenic diet study. Not something you would have expected for cancer treatment. This wasn’t a random decision because there are many studies looking at how diets might improve cancer outcomes. I joined Alina as a coach and chef. You probably have heard about the “ketogenic” diet. It consists of lots of fat, some protein, and minimal carbs. Using this diet, our body switches from glucose as a fuel source to ketones. Carbs are strictly for those must-have nutrients.

While I would like to offer a magic bullet for all cancers, a ketogenic diet is not that. The diet does not “cure” cancer. It should not be used to replace traditional treatment. But the diet has shown promise for some cancers especially GBM. So why would a diet help? On a simplistic level, cancer “eats” glucose and needs 20 times more glucose compared to normal cells. Cancer cells cannot make the transition to using ketones, especially in the brain, making them more vulnerable to chemo and radiation.

I won’t sugar coat it. The diet can be hard to start. The first two weeks can be terrible. You give up a lot of comfort foods. Plus, you will need new cookbooks. So, switching to a ketogenic diet isn’t the first thing that pops into your head when you hear cancer. But the diet works. I steadily lost weight without substantial hunger or changes to my limited exercise program. My overall health improved, I slept better, felt better and hopefully look better.

Don’t expect to turn into a muscle-bound. There is unfortunate hype surrounding this diet. There are no magical “ketone” supplements that turn you thin. But studies show it might improve your thinking, help with type 2 diabetes, dementia, seizures and inflammation. Every diet has its detractors. Recent “news” has been particularly harsh with dramatic headlines. Some considered it a “fad.” Others question sustainability. So, are they right?

The diet has been in use since 1930, so it is hardly a fad. While people who eat a lot of meat may have a shorter life, a ketogenic diet is not a meat diet. There have been many studies of this diet for serious medical conditions, and they have shown it can be sustained over time. Diet commercial will tell you; it is all about the food. Here are some sample ketogenic meals that I think anyone would enjoy. You eat lots of good healthy oils, fish, eggs, cheese, some meat, and vegetables. The diet is satisfying and easy to prepare.

Of course, be skeptical of diet-health claims. Here are two websites that will explain the ketogenic diet. Diet Doctor is the best overall with great videos. Charlie Foundation is particularly useful for medical issues. Both have great recipes.

Today, my daughter Alina is a cancer survivor. We are now two years beyond her initial diagnosis. There has been no evidence of tumor regrowth. The ketogenic diet may have helped. Please support brain cancer research so we can find out. Survival is the best ending to our story. And, that is why I lost 105 lbs (48 kg).

I wanted to thank DD for being a great resource for both my daughter and myself during our ketogenic diet.

I recently gave a presentation on the ketogenic diet entitled “Why I lost 110 lbs”. This was done in the format of an Ignite presentation (20 slides 15 seconds each, 5 minutes total) so there wasn’t a whole lot of room to give details. You can watch my talk here:


Congratulations, Tom on your success, and our very best wishes for your daughter in her struggle.

While a ketogenic diet has been proven to help with weight loss and other metabolic issues, the effectiveness (as a complement to other treatments) for brain cancer is still largely unknown, as no major human study on it has yet been published.

In theory, and in the opinion of some experts, it might have a positive effect used in addition to conventional treatments. We have explored the topic in this article.

Regardless of the outcome, by participating in a study on the ketogenic diet for brain cancer, your daughter will help advance the knowledge on the topic. For the 200,000 people worldwide who get a devastating GBM diagnosis every year, she’ll potentially offer hope.

/ Andreas Eenfeldt, MD

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