The Keto Diet and Cancer Research: New Insights Emerge

November 7, 2018

Ketogenic diets—which involve higher saturated fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate consumption—have been successfully used to manage human diseases for many years.

Beyond keto’s potential applications for Type 2 diabetes, seizure disorders and autoimmunity, researchers in the late 1980s saw shrinking tumor weight in colon cancer murine models fed the ketogenic diet. In the years since, the ketogenic diet has also showed promise in stomach and prostate cancers, as well as glioma.

And now—as the medical community continues to take a concerted interest in the ketogenic diet for cancer research—TD2 has become among the latest organizations to explore the diet’s potential effects on the therapeutic effectiveness of a variety of targeted and immune-modulating agents.

  • The Research, Lung and Colon Cancers: In an effort to broaden existing research on the ketogenic diet’s impact on anti-cancer agents, we assessed how the diet alters tumor growth in models with mouse lung and colon cancers along with selected anti-cancer agents. A control group involved mice that were fed a standard diet.
  • The Results: While the preclinical investigations are still in their early phases, the studies TD2 has conducted to date have demonstrated a significant slowing of tumor growth in the keto-fed mice.
  • The Reaction: The idea of starving a tumor cell’s fuel supply to impact its growth rate isn’t revolutionary—prior research has also shown that dropping glucose and inducing ketosis enables anti-cancer effects.

Because patients with cancer could decide to try a ketogenic diet while receiving anti-cancer treatments, it will be important to determine if the diet negatively impacts the effectiveness of known and approved drugs. Importantly, TD2 wanted to determine if the ketogenic diet affected immune cells in a way that would limit the effectiveness of immunotherapies. To date, TD2 has not observed diminished anti-cancer activity of immune checkpoint therapies in mice on a ketogenic diet.

Keto’s Impact on Anti-cancer Agents

This past summer, a study in Nature published results of a study exploring the ketogenic diet’s effects on drugs targeting phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K), an insulin-triggered cell signaling pathway that has been linked to hyperglycemia as a side effect.

But when paired with a ketogenic diet, those side effects were minimized in pancreatic cancer mouse models—compared to mice given diabetes drugs, as reported in Medical News Today. Researchers did emphasize that the results shouldn’t be taken as indication of the diet’s anti-cancer powers—but rather their complementary potential when combined with other cancer drugs.

The Future of Keto Research

We are excited that the research we have conducted is in line with similar cancer studies that produced early indicators of keto’s success in specific contexts. The ketogenic mouse model developed at TD2 will be very useful for testing new cancer medicines that may benefit from testing in animals in the ketogenic state.

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