Nutrition in Healthcare: Ketogenic Diet and Cancer

Atkin’s diet, South Beach diet, paleo diet, oh my! Diet trends are extremely common in society and populations tend to cycle between them often. There has been research conducted of the pros and cons of many diet trends, but most researchers can not come to an agreement as to which diet is “best”. When it comes to diseases, following a specific diet can be beneficial or harmful to the maturation of the disease. Currently, scientists and researchers have been disputing over the effect of the ketogenic diet in regards to cancer patients.

What is the ketogenic diet?

    The ketogenic diet is a controlled diet of low-carbohydrate intake and high-fat intake that causes the body to go into ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose to use for energy. Instead, fats are broken down, resulting in a build-up of acids called ketones (2). Ketogenic diets are great for those wanting to burn fat off the body because ketosis forces the body to burn it for energy instead of carbohydrate. However, too many ketones can be harmful to the body, developing in a condition called ketoacidosis in as little as 24 hours.

How does the ketogenic diet help cancer patients?

    Cancerous tumors primarily feed off of glucose, which come from carbohydrates. However, tumor patients exhibit an increased peripheral demand of fatty acids and protein (3). Therefore, eating a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrate (ketogenic diet) could potentially starve the cancerous tumors. In one study, researchers found that patients put on the diet did indeed show signs of improvement of quality of life and classical blood parameters. However, in order to tell whether it decreases cancer progression, more randomized studies with more patients are necessary (3).

    Dr. Fred Hatfield, a patient with metastatic cancer in his skeletal structure, was told by three separate doctors that he only had three months to live (4). Determined to fight back, Hatfield cut all carbohydrates from his diet and began his ketogenic recovery. Dr. Hatfield, along with his doctors were shocked at the results, the diet completely rid him of the disease and he has been cancer free for over a year (4). Dr. Dominic D’Agostino was thrilled to hear of Hatfield’s recovery as he has researched the effects of removing carbohydrates from the diets of lab mice with metastatic cancer. The mice showed faster survival results than those mice being treated by chemotherapy (4).

    Some people may argue that the ketogenic diet is not heart healthy because of the increase fat intake. However, the ketogenic diet supports eating natural and healthy sources of fat such as: coconut oil, fish, avocados, nuts and more. By cutting carbohydrates and eating healthy fats, it is possible to improve heart health and decrease cancer maturation (4). While research on the effects of a keto diet amongst cancer patients requires more randomized investigation, studies have proven that the diet does support the shrinkage of cancerous tumors.



  1. What is the ketogenic diet?

  2. Ketosis: What is Ketosis?

  3. Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 cancer patients

  4. Starving Cancer: Ketogenic Diet a Key to Recovery