Keto, Inflammation & Cancer

Keto, Inflammation, and Cancer

Disclaimer: This article does not give any medical advice or suggest that keto can cure or treat cancer and inflammation.

And with that…. let’s get to the topic for today which is keto, inflammation, and cancer.  We will dive into inflammation first and then give some sobering statistics about inflammation, health, and death in America! 

What is Inflammation

At the most basic level, when the immune systems is gearing up to fight some bad things like bacteria or even heal tissues that have been damaged, it will send out inflammatory cells. These have a purpose and do their job well.  The problem comes into play when those inflammatory cells are sent out and there is nothing to fight or heal. This is chronic inflammation.

Common Causes of Inflammation

Some common causes of inflammation are:

  • Autoimmune disorders where the body attacks healthy tissues.  An example is lupus.    
  • Toxin exposure is another one that will cause inflammation.
  • Lifestyle choices such as drinking, and smoking
  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Lastly (but not really lastly), is ignoring and not dealing with acute inflammation.

What is Chronic Inflammation

As I mentioned, chronic inflammation is when there is lingering inflammation that has no purpose. 

Chronic inflammation contributes to things like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses and conditions. 

Here is the sobering part: 3 out of 5 people will die from a disease related to inflammation.  Isn’t that crazy to think about?  Over 50% of people will DIE from something where the root of it is inflammation.

How do you fight chronic inflammation?  Well, the basics: movement, weight management, sleep, don’t smoke, limit alcohol, manage stress and…. Diet.  The diet part is what I want to focus on for this article.

One of the great things about keto is that it removes sugar and gluten, or at least it should if you are doing it properly.  Because, remember, one of the goals for keto is to reduce inflammation.  Therefore, sugar and gluten are both booted.

I have a whole handful of studies but the consensus is the following:

  1. Removing gluten reduces inflammation and insulin resistance
  2. A high sugar diet increase inflammation
  3. A specific study the participants that consumed gluten showed higher signs of pain, bloating, tiredness, and markers of intestinal inflammation.

So, if that doesn’t have your attention yet, let’s dive down a bit more.

We will focus on sugar, but I did want to throw gluten into the mix to just get you thinking that there is more to it than just sugar.

Cardiometabolic Diseases

We know that inflammation is a great contributor to cardiometabolic diseases – so, again, things like type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, non alcoholic fatty liver syndrome, heart attack and so on…

What we also know is that these are all preventable diseases. 

According to the National Institute of Health, nearly half of all the deaths in the United States in 2012 that were caused by cardiometabolic diseases were associated with diet.

Let me lay it out for you – sugar and gluten (among other things) contribute to inflammation, inflammation kills 3 out of 5 people, inflammation contributes to cardiometabolic diseases (again, that are preventable), ½ the people who die from cardiometabolic diseases were related to diet.

I’m going to go on a bit about sugar and then we’ll circle back to keto.  This is all relevant to keto obviously since the first thing you do is remove sugar and that is important.

I’d highly suggest you read my article on insulin resistance if you haven’t already.  I could write forever about it, but I won’t since we just covered it a few articles ago.

What about sugar and cancer?

Studies show that cancer consumes WAY more sugar than normal cells.  In actuality it is glucose, but we’ll just say sugar for ease of understanding.

They also show that decreased insulin inhibits cancer growth.  They related this to ketosis, duh, and showed there were no adverse side effects of the ketogenic diet.

And what decreases insulin?  Decreased sugar, or more specifically, a keto diet.  I mean, you don’t have to be keto to lower sugar obviously, Paleo is another great one.  But paleo is still reasonably high in carbohydrates, which get broken down into glucose.

I watched this amazing youtube video from Dr. Anette Bosworth who is an internal medicine doctor.  It is called “How to Fight Cancer with Ketones”. 

I’ve watched it literally 3 times because it is pretty technical, but it is very straightforward.  She goes into great detail and I want to recap what she talks about.

She focuses on the mitochondria which deliver energy to the cells. The first thing to note is that the mitochondria of cancer cells are not healthy and dysfunctional.  They are stubby and short.

I’m going to briefly take you through the energy pathways for both healthy mitochondria and dysfunctional mitochondria and then we’ll get into keto and cancer. 

Healthy Mitochondria and Glucose

Glucose enters the mitochondria and turns to pyruvate, we get about 5% lactic acid in the step. The next big step is Acetyl CoA.  Then we enter the Krebs cycle (which we get about 5% succinic acid here that she called kind of a trap door where a bit escapes).  Anyway, we enter the Krebs cycle which takes the Acetyl CoA, we go through the Electron Transport Chain, and long story short we get about 89% ATP which is pretty efficient.  ATP is just… energy.

Dysfunctional/Cancer Mitochondria and Glucose

Glucose enters the cancer mitochondria and turns into pyruvate.  But here is the major source of energy production from a cancer cell and we get 20% lactic acid. Same as in healthy mitochondria, the next step is Acetal CoA and into the Krebs cycle (in which we have 75% succinic acid that comes out here).  So we already have a wasteful 95% here.  So through the Krebs cycle we go and we get a remaining 5% of ATP.

The takeaway is that cancer cells are very wasteful whereas healthy cells are very efficient.  According to Dr. Bosworth, an old detection test for cancer was to test for lactic acid.

Healthy Mitochondria and Ketones

BHB (a ketone body) enters the mitochondria and becomes Acetyl Acetate and then we go to Acetyl CoA, sent through the Krebs Cycle, and ends with still an 89% energy source.  Still very efficient.

Dysfunctional/Cancer Mitochondria and Ketones

BHB enters the mitochondria and becomes Acetyl Acetate and then we go to Acetyl CoA, sent through the Krebs Cycle and only a tiny amount of ATP emerges.

What is important is that glucose and glutamine are fermentable fuels.  Ketones are not.  What this means is that they HAVE to go through the full electron transport chain and come out the other side for energy.  So ALL that waste from the cancer cell that was fermentable into energy is no longer available and the cancer cells only get a TINY amount of energy when ketones are the fuel.

I’m not going to into the rest where we bring oxygen into the picture because I just wanted to focus on the ketones vs glucose piece.

Keto Food

Keto Diet

So we’ve talked about two different ways that sugar (or glucose) can promote things we don’t want in our bodies, namely, inflammation and cancer.

Additionally, we talked about how when glucose is not present and our cells must run on ketones, our healthy cells are just as efficient at utilizing them as fuel, whereas cancer cells lose most of their ability to inefficiently create energy.

Now we bring keto into the mix because 1) it removes sugar and 2) it introduces ketones as the fuel source vs glucose.  So not only will you continue to encourage efficient energy production, but you are discouraging efficient cancer cell utilization of energy.

Again, I am not a doctor and am not suggesting the use of the keto diet for any treatment or cure for anything.  But let me share a personal story of the potential of keto and cancer.

I’ve been dealing with some breast lumps in my left breast.  The mammogram was inconclusive.  Then the ultrasound (which can often give you more details and give you all the ALL OK) was also inconclusive.  My doctor and I opted against the biopsy for now and are doing some natural things as well as waiting for an MRI.

Here is the interesting thing.  When I first felt the lumps, and they were pretty large, I immediately fasted for 2 days and really tightened up my keto diet.  I was doing other things too, but these were the main 2.  I noticed after a few weeks that the lumps decreased in size.  I kept my ketones between 2 and 3.5 and all the while my blood sugar was a beautiful 70 ish.  I haven’t seen that kind of blood sugar in a long time.  So not only was my blood sugar lower and healthy, but that also means my insulin requirements were dramatically decreased and down to almost nothing.

What is the takeaway?

There is nothing good about sugar.  Period, end of the story.  I could throw gluten in there too, but this is mainly about sugar for now.  Both Keto and Paleo remove added sugar.  So both are great in that regard.  But Paleo has no restrictions on carbs so you can still be getting a reasonable amount of glucose with a Paleo diet.  But I will say that Paleo is WAY better than the standard way of eating still.  But with keto, you get that drastic reduction in carbohydrates, hence glucose, and you force your body to start creating and utilizing ketones for energy instead of glucose.

So with that drastic reduction in sugar, not only does it reduce inflammation but it has the potential to interrupt the way that cancer cells utilize and produce energy. Keto and cancer destruction seems like a definite avenue to investigate further.

For me, that is a win/win.  Again, I am not giving medical advice in any capacity but am talking about this from my personal point of view.


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