A Diet for Brain Cancer
There are two specific diets that should be considered for treating brain tumors, either separately or in combination.
The Ketogenic Diet: The Ketogenic Diet is a very high fat, high protein, and extremely low carbohydrate diet typically used to treat epilepsy (Porta N et al 2009).
Without carbohydrates, the body shifts from using glucose to ketones for energy. Healthy brain cells can utilize either glucose or ketones. Brain tumor cells can only burn glucose. The theory is that switching to ketones for energy starves brain tumor cells.
A 2007 study tested this theory on mice implanted with malignant brain tumors. The treatment group was fed a drink high in fat and protein that was designed to cause ketosis in children with epilepsy, and the control group was fed a low fat high carbohydrate diet. The ketone-producing diet decreased growth of the brain tumors from 35 to 65%, depending on the tumor line, and significantly enhanced health and survival compared to the control group, which was on the low fat, high carbohydrate diet (Zhou W et al 2007).
In 1995, doctors from Case Western Reserve reported treating two young girls suffering from astrocytomas with low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. One of the girls had a favorable clinical response without reported disease progression for 12 months at the time of publication (Nebeling LC et al 1995).
In April 2010, a case report was published describing an older female patient treated for glioblastoma multiforme with an initial 2-day water fast followed by a ketogenic diet and then simply a caloric-restricted diet. The tumor regressed during treatment, getting smaller on subsequent scans from January until July, at which point the patient stopped following the diet. The tumor returned ten weeks later (Zuccoli G et al 2010).
At this point the evidence supporting the management of brain cancer through a ketogenic diet is intriguing, and the risks are minimal (Seyfried TN et al 2010).
Caloric Restriction: Caloric restriction also appears to slow brain tumor growth. A 2002 study reported experiments on mice with brain tumors. Compared to mice that were not restricted in their food intake, the brain tumors in mice on a calorie-restricted diet grew slower, were less dense, and displayed less angiogenesis (building new blood vessels to feed the tumor). The tumor cells in the caloric-restricted mice were more likely to undergo apoptosis (Mukherjee P et al 2002).
A July 2010, paper confirmed the benefit in mice with glioblastoma multiforme. Caloric restriction was effective in reducing malignant brain tumor growth and invasion (Shelton LM et al 2010).
Caloric restriction, although it may put the body into ketosis, is thought to act differently than the ketogenic diet. Hunger puts a mild stress on the body. Mild stress is, in turn, hypothesized to create a hormetic reaction awakening protective mechanisms within the body, stimulating the individual cells to fight the cancer (Kouda K et al 2010).
Researchers at Boston College are now investigating the simultaneous implementation of both of these dietary strategies by using a caloric-restricted ketogenic diet against brain cancer (Seyfried TN et al 2008).
Given the inadequacy of standard medical treatment in controlling high-grade malignant brain tumors, this approach of co-treating brain tumors with brain tumor-specific diet and nutritional supplementation, in addition to the medical oncology standard of care, is an option that offers hope to those afflicted with brain tumors.
Because of the synergistic effects between various anti-cancer nutrients and phytochemicals, Life Extension Foundation recommends use of a wide variety of these substances rather than attempting to rely on large doses of single nutrients to fight cancer.
The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Lists of naturopathic physicians who specialize in naturopathic oncology as well as naturopathic physicians who have been board certified in naturopathic oncology are found on this website.
Essential Guide to Brain Tumors (National Brain Tumor Society)