On the anti-cancer effects of a low-calorie and/or ketogenic diet

New research into cancer as a metabolic disease

by Healing Cancer Naturally copyright © 2016

Perhaps there are few things truly new under the sun. Fasting and restricting food intake has been used for millennia to combat all manner of disease and to allow the body to direct all its resources to healing rather than digestion.[1]

More recent research spearheaded by US-American professor Thomas N Seyfried of Boston College's Biology Department points to calorie restriction playing a major part in both cancer prevention and the healing of cancer[9], (thankfully) providing yet another scientific underpinning for what the wisdom of folk medicine - and the instinct of animals - have intuited all along.

The essentially same was demonstrated starting some 100 years ago by Austrian doctor Eduard Salzborn MD who successfully practised into the 1940s, helping many clinically confirmed "incurable" cancer patients to heal by feeding them a carefully chosen "minimalist" starvation diet - to simplify it, by "starving cancer".[2]

While despite numerous inconsistencies in the theory[3], cancer continues to be widely considered a genetically based disease[10], research by professor Seyfried and others has been aimed at demonstrating that cancer more likely is a mitochondrial metabolic disease, as originally posited by Otto Warburg's research, and that cancer can be influenced by dietary energy restriction, particularly but not exclusively in combination with the so-called ketogenic diet.

A ketogenic diet is a regimen that results in an increased level of "ketone bodies" in the blood, brought about by a high amount of fats and a reduced amount of carbohydrates. When eating a normal mixed diet, the body receives the bulk of its energy from blood glucose (sugar), while in a state of ketosis, most of its energy needs are met by ketone bodies. Ketosis can be brought on by fasting or adopting a ketogenic diet, i.e. a diet high in fat but low in carbohydrates. (A typical sign of being in ketosis is what is known as "acetone breath".)

Various animal experimentation[4] has shown ketogenic diets (both with and without calorie restriction) to slow down tumor growth in gliomas ["The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer", see entry further below], stomach cancer[5], and prostate cancer[6]

In humans, we so far have two "official" case reports re advanced astrocytoma ["Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports", see entry further below].

Many "unofficial" reports showing the benefits of not a ketogenic diet per se but one very low in calories (and hence forcibly leading to lowered blood sugar levels) are available e.g. under Dr Eduard Salzborn's terminal / inoperable cancer cures). Two bladder cancer cures have been ascribed to water fasting. A number of cancer cures have also been attributed to mostly juice-based (low calorie) diets

Healthy cells can easily adapt to burning ketone bodies (rather than glucose) as a fuel. This flexibility in switching if need be to stored fat deposits as a source of energy has permitted normal cells (and bodies) to survive even during times of starvation or extreme food shortages.

Cancer cells depend and thrive on glucose[7] since they have mitochondrial defects and so are less able to switch their metabolism to burning ketones.[8] In that manner, reducing calorie intake and carbohydrates will effectively "starve" tumor cells.


The medical PubMed database lists numerous scientifically validated research studies related to "cancer as a metabolic disease", "cancer and ketogenic diet", "cancer dietary restriction" etc. A few examples:

  • Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports.

    This 1995 study followed two girls with later-stage astrocytomas for c. two months. To test whether a state of ketosis would impair the metabolism of their tumors by lowering the availability of glucose, they were put on a ketosis-inducing oil-based diet.

    As shown by PET scans, the glucose uptake by the tumors was reduced by some 20 percent, with one girl showing significant mood improvement and developing new skills. This patient followed the ketogenic diet for another year and has continued to be well and free of tumor progression (as reported thirteen years later).

  • The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer

    This preclinical study was able to show that a nutritionally balanced high fat/low carbohydrate diet "should be considered as an alternative therapeutic option for malignant brain cancer", since brain tumors will only grow minimally on both a ketogenic-restricted diet and a normal restricted diet. (This study can be read online in its entirety.)
  • Metabolic management of glioblastoma multiforme using standard therapy together with a restricted ketogenic diet: Case Report.

    This world-first study (published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010) represents the case of a 65-year-old female diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme who had surgery without her multi-centric tumor being completely removable.

    After surgery, she was put on the standard conventional therapy consisting in radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Both prior to and during those treatments, however, the patient adopted a restricted ketogenic diet of 4 parts fat to 1 part carbohydrate+protein plus vitamin and mineral supplements, providing her with some 600 calories a day (she even underwent a water-only fast of unspecified length at the beginning).

    Two months later, no brain tumor tissue was detectable. Within ten weeks of abandoning the diet, however, MRIs showed renewed tumor activity. Since rapid regression of glioblastoma multiforme tumors is rarely seen in patients of her age bracket who after incomplete surgical removal of the tumor only receive conventional treatment, her favorable response could be at least partially due to her low calorie ketogenic diet.

    This case report can be read in its entirety at .

  • Metabolic management of brain cancer.

    (This study can be read online in its entirety.)
  • Targeting energy metabolism in brain cancer with calorically restricted ketogenic diets.

    (This study can be read online in its entirety.)
  • Cancer as a mitochondrial metabolic disease.

    (This study can be read online in its entirety.)
  • Dietary restriction: could it be considered as speed bump on tumor progression road?
  • Alternate-day fasting and chronic disease prevention: a review of human and animal trials.

    (This study can be read online in its entirety.)

Thomas N Seyfried who co-authored a number of the above studies also is the author of "Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer", see the heading "Books" further below.

Youtube videos: ketogenic diet and cancer

There are many videos on youtube discussing the ketogenic diet and cancer, including ketogenic diet cancer cure testimonials. One of them is the testimonial of Dr. Fred Hatfield whom three different doctors had given just three months to live because of his widespread metastatic cancer in his skeletal structure.

Books on the ketogenic diet against cancer

The Cantin Ketogenic Diet: For Cancer, Type I Diabetes & Other Ailments

by Elaine Cantin

Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer

by Thomas N. Seyfried Ph.D.

This is a book mostly written for doctors and researchers which makes a strong case for a new and more effective approach to the treatment and prevention of cancer.

If you are interested in buying one of these books or any other items from Amazon, please do so via Healing Cancer Naturally's Amazon links, see Support this site.


1 See this site's articles on Fasting and the lighter version of fasting, Juicing.

2 See Dr Eduard Salzborn's cancer treatment and Dr Eduard Salzborn's terminal / inoperable cancer cures)

3 Compare e.g. Do cells become cancerous due to DNA damage? and Angelina Jolie and "breast cancer prevention" via surgery - a role model? (On mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as "cause" of high breast cancer risk).

4 Healing Cancer Naturally both for ethical and scientific reasons does not endorse studies on animals, for the reasons see Cancer Research, Toxicity Testing & Animal Experimentation: an Unholy Union?.

5 "Growth of human gastric cancer cells in nude mice is delayed by a ketogenic diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides" (

6 See "Carbohydrate restriction, prostate cancer growth, and the insulin-like growth factor axis" ( In this study, mice fed a no-carbohydrate ketogenic diet not only required additional calories to equalize their body weight as compared to mice fed a diet comprising 40% fat, 44% carbohydrates and 16% protein, but they also developed one third smaller tumors and survived the longest. They also showed favorable changes in insulin and IGF levels.

7 See On the Link Between Sugar Consumption and Cancer and Otto Warburg on The Prime Cause and Prevention of Cancer.

8 See "Targeting energy metabolism in brain cancer: review and hypothesis" ( This study suggest a radically different approach to brain cancer management that takes advantage of the capacity of healthy neurons and glia cells to switch to burning ketone bodies for their energy requirements when glucose levels fall. This switch includes anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic, and pro-apoptotic effects.

Also see the similar study "Is the restricted ketogenic diet a viable alternative to the standard of care for managing malignant brain cancer?" ( published in Epilepsy Research in 2012. "As long as brain tumor cells have access to glucose and glutamine, the disease will progress.,, the high fat low carbohydrate ketogenic diet can be an effective non-toxic therapeutic option ... for inhibiting the growth ... of brain cancer."

Finally see "Does the existing standard of care increase glioblastoma energy metabolism? " (The Lancet Oncology, 2010,

9 and likely, overfeeding being a contributing cause in cancer genesis, see Obesity and cancer.

10 One of the recent theories with very unfortunate consequences is the widely spread idea that mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are synonymous with higher breast cancer risk. This is a fallacy and you can read why under Angelina Jolie and "breast cancer prevention" via surgery - a role model? On mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as "cause" of high breast cancer risk: prevention by double mastectomy?.

Related content

Related sections


Copyright © 2004- and respective authors.
Unauthorized republishing of content is strictly forbidden. Each and every breach of copyright will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.
Use of this site signifies your agreement to the disclaimer.