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:

Comment

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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PS

Do you have a success story you want to share on this blog? Send it (photos appreciated) to frida@dietdoctor.com, and please let me know if it’s OK to publish your photo and name or if you’d rather remain anonymous.

It would also be greatly appreciated if you shared what you eat in a typical day, whether you fast etc.

17 comments

  1. Susan
    No photos to share, but I will tell you, I went Keto in October 2017, as a result of some research for controlling my seizures (AA3), I was still having occasional mild seizures even though I am taking anti seizure meds. I have not had any seizures since I began this WOE. The weight loss is a great side effect, but the lack of seizures is the best. I am now 9 years post diagnosis,and feeling great. All my best wishes for your daughter.
  2. Chike Ogbonna
    There’s plenty of stories and enough research that points to ketogenic eating being the main tool used in reversing cancer. Traditional MD’s are brainwashed and clueless about how to best treat cancer. Meanwhile, God-sent holistic doctors are making leaps and bounds curing various major conditions, including cancer with natural methods that don’t include dangerous pharmaceuticals. It’s time for MD’s to start opening their eyes if they want to truly help people
    Reply: #16
  3. bill
    "Carbs are strictly for those must-have nutrients."

    Well, no. Carbs are never needed in any way of eating.
    You can get all necessary nutrients without ever eating
    any carbohydrates.

    Reply: #9
  4. Cynthia Moir
    Being a 3 time cancer survivor (ovarian, breast, thyroid) I am all on board the effects a Ketogenic diet may have in preventing and putting cancers into remission. Whether they have solid evidence supporting ketogenic & IF eating patterns, I will continue these eating habits for life. They have only found a few genetic markers - that may be cause for my cancers -- none of them currently correlated to these particular varieties. Throughout my chemo & radiation treatments I stayed on a keto diet -- and as of 8 yrs of my last cancer (thyroid -- most likely caused by radiation) -- I have been in remission of all 3 cancers! Doing research, I've found via this diet & eating patterns-- particularly OMAD (1 meal a day) -- there is correlation to longevity -- as well as lowering risk of chronic diseases. It was very hard at first -- I was a "sugar addict". But by staying in ketosis (lowers hunger & cravings) & having 'fat bombs' available I have been very successful. For me, I believe Keto & IF have been life-savers. It is worth the sacrifice & feel bright, focused and strong. I'd recommend it to everyone. :)
  5. STACY R BROWN
    As stated in Tom's story, the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1930s. It has been used for helping with seizures, amongst other benefits that I won't go into.

    Also there is data research about carbs "feeding" cancer. So by starving the cancer cells, the cancer is restricted in its growth.

    I had not heard of any of this until this last spring when I was watch Thomas Delauer speak on the topic. I wish I had heard years before, as this past October marked the 2 year anniversary of the death of my former step-daughter...due to GMB.

    It may not be a cure, I get that, but it is a step in the right direction. Too many MD's tend to dismiss or down play these positive effects. Yep, it may have been in cooperation with the chemo and the radiation. Or, it may have been the keto diet, a natural way or eating, which not only may have helped the lack of regrowth of the brain tumor, but also helped properly nourish his daughter while pushing all of those chemicals into her body as well.

    More research needs to be done, I understand that, but there has been more research done out there, than people are acknowledging.

    Congratulations on your Alina surviving this horrid disease. She gives hope to many, as have you, for sharing your story.

  6. Heather Smith
    That is great news that your daughter is doing so well!! Praise God!! And the ketogenic way of eating. My father had a gbm 2 years ago, I did a lot of research and he was going to begin this. Unfortunately for him, his course was different and 2 weeks after surgery he went into a.fib then brain bleed and death 2 weeks later:( I had heard of the way of eating (don't like the term diet) prior to his diagnosis but was afraid to try myself due to the side effects after starting. I am proud to say I have lost 70 pounds over the past year from adapting this lifestyle. As someone who had been over 200pounds since a teenager and now late 30's, this is HUGE! I had never lost weight any other way before cutting out sugar and carbs!
  7. Maria
    Tom - what a wonderful story. I have no doubt that the food that people generally eat is directly attributable to the escalating rise in life-threatening diseases that we are seeing today. As a family we follow the ketogenic diet, principally, and when my husband goes for his annual check ups to his GP, the doctor always says something like this...well I don't know what you are doing, but whatever it is, keep it up. To which I say, 'Isn't he even interested?"
    If doctors don't change their practice they may well have to change their jobs, because people are wising up the notion that food really is medicine. We spend more money on food because it's a lot cheaper than the drugs that so many have come to rely on, and dare I say, trust?
    Congratulations to both you and your daughter. You both look wonderful.
  8. N Stinson
    Is anybody aware of use of this diet with anybody suffering with eosinophilia eosphagatis?(EE))
    My daughter had suffered with that for over 14 plus years. We both also suffer from Fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
  9. Thomas
    Hi Bill,

    When I said that carbs are strictly for "must have nutrients", I was talking about the difficulty of totally avoiding carbs when eating natural food like vegetables, nuts, and cheese to get nutrients like vitamins and fiber. While we were in the study, we followed a menu of meals that were designed with the help of a dietician along with input from DietDoctor. To limit yourself to 20 g or below of carbs and get appropriate nutrients without the use of supplements, we had to eat things like broccoli (4 g per serving), asparagus (also 4 g per serving), and nuts (varying amounts based upon type). I researched lots of food choices for the study, and found that to get nutrients and not to torture ourselves, we had to include some carbs. We even screened our medicine, toothpaste, shampoo, sopa, and lotions to make sure that no "hidden" carbs were there (getting carbs through you skin is another area of research). Clearly it is beneficial to limit carbs as much as possible. Our goal during the study was to maintain strong ketosis yet to have Alina stay healthy and be able to enjoy her meals.

  10. Thomas
    Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful comments. I appreciate the feedback. I was sorry to hear of Stacy losing her step-daughter and Heather for losing her dad. GBM is an awful disease, and while there is lots of research going on, long-term survival depends on many factors like tumor location, tumor genetics, patient age, and the experience of your doctors (kudos to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore). While there are lots of trials going on, many of them are pretty narrow, have strict qualifications, and they can be hard to join. Following a ketogenic diet during cancer treatment can be challenging, but it is something that anyone with GBM can do whether or not you qualify for a trial. So for the person who asked about EE, I would encourage trying it. I did learn two major lessons from the trial, the ketogenic diet generally can’t hurt you but having a dietitian helping doesn’t hurt, and secondly, it is important to follow a strict protocol if your purpose is something other than weight loss. So having specific recipes with the right ratios and calories is important. Also, measuring ketones in your blood is very useful (we did it twice a day, before eating in the morning and at least two hours after dinner). Finally, make sure that your doctors are at least aware that you are following a ketogenic diet during cancer treatment because it can have some impact on test results.
  11. Breanne
    My dad recently passed away after fighting GBM for 19 years (to the day) after originally being five 3 years. He was a miracle, he did everything in his power to fight and it served him well. Now that I have been researching Keto and it’s benefits I can’t help but wonder if this diet change could have been the cure he had been searching for for so many years. I hope your daughter lives a long and happy life.
  12. Lisa
    What a wonderful story, I’m so pleased this has worked for your daughter and you were able to support her and benefit so much too - awesome. My Dad was diagnosed with GBM in 2015 and sadly died in 2016. I did a lot of research at that time and discovered the keto diet and various helpful GBM support groups online who also promoted keto. Sadly it wasn’t something my family wanted to try, which I had to respect - it’s such a huge step to radically alter your diet when you’re already dealing with all the awfulness of GBM treatment. But from everything I read I’m sure that keto is the way to go to stop GBM in its tracks. I’m so pleased you found it in time for your daughter. Wishing you many more years together and thanks for sharing your story.
  13. Thomas
    Lisa, it is a stressful time to start a ketogenic diet when you get the initial GBM diagnosis. We had a relative who has used a similar diet for her hard tumor cancer, and she had long term survival even though the doctors held out little hope. Because everyone in the family knew this story, we were encouraged to look into low-carb diets. It is my hope that with further research people will understand the benefits so that doctors and dieticians will promote the diet's use and that patients get support for trying it. Right now, while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and lots of promising results, the ketogenic diet isn't consider to be standard care. With further research, perhaps we can get more people living 19 years after their diagnosis like Breanne's dad.
  14. Wendy
    Tom, where is your evidence for shorter lifespans for people who eat a lot of meat? Please do some research on carnivorous diets, and you can start with the Inuit and the book, THE FAT OF THE LAND.
    Great article, so happy you've discovered good health..
  15. Thomas
    Wendy, I have no evidence that eating a lot of meat gives you a shorter life span. However, there has been recent criticisms in the news of the ketogenic diet for that reason. Unfortunately in the format I had, I couldn't expand on some of the ideas, but my point was that there are journalist who criticize the diet but they shouldn't. The article often they sight to justify the criticism is from Lancet "Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis." My point is that the ketogenic diet is not a "meat diet" as some people think. In addition, the role of dietary cholesterol is being reexamined. I think that the DD web site has some articles about both these subjects. My point to the audience was that the ketogenic diet is unjustifiably criticized for this reason.
  16. Gene
    Amen!! I agree wholeheartedly!
  17. Bev Robertson
    Wow what an amazing story!

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