It’s been said that “you are what you eat” but with so many diet plans and trends, it can be hard to choose. Paleo, keto, Mediterranean, and Nordic are all ways of eating that emphasize “clean eating” in different ways.
Are they just trends or can they produce real health benefits? A new study on cancer treatment and the ketogenic diet (keto) suggests that when a patient is undergoing cancer treatment, their diet could impact the efficacy of treatments and even reduce some side effects of powerful cancer drugs.
One of the newer treatments for cancer involves targeting a specific molecular pathway called phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K.) This pathway is activated by insulin, but in many forms of cancer, it’s disrupted. Years of research shows that in most tumors, there is a mutation of PI3K. Shutting down this pathway is the goal of over 50 drugs that have been studied in clinical trials. Overall, the results have been disappointing, with high levels of toxicity or inconsistent results. So far only two PI3K inhibitors have been approved by the FDA.
Part of the problem with these drugs is that they can cause blood sugar levels to skyrocket. When the pancreas cannot meet the demand for enough insulin, the drug has to be discontinued. The keto diet works to control blood sugar and insulin spikes and researchers led by Benjamin D. Hopkins at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City may have found out how the keto diet can make some of these drugs work better.
The keto diet is high in fat, but very low in carbs and sugar. Many who follow it have done so to control insulin and blood glucose levels. The researchers used lab mice who were taking PI3K inhibitors and had induced tumors. One group was fed a diet of rat chow similar in composition to a human ketogenic diet and the other group was treated with diabetic medications to control blood sugar and insulin levels. The results were more than they could have hoped for. The keto diet mice had the best blood sugar and insulin control and their tumors did not grow. Dr. Hopkins explained, "The ketogenic diet turned out to be the perfect approach. It reduced glycogen stores, so the mice couldn't release glucose in response to PI3K inhibition. This suggests that if you can block spikes in glucose and the subsequent insulin feedback, you can make the drugs much more effective at controlling cancer growth."
The authors were quick to point out that their study demonstrates the importance of a combined approach. A diet that targets insulin and blood sugar levels, along with cancer medications that can inhibit the PIK3 pathway signaling are both integral parts of making the drugs more effective and the patients healthier. It’s not the diet alone. The keto diet has some health benefits, but can also have side effects for some people. In the study, the mice that were only given the keto diet and no PI3K inhibitor drugs had faster-growing leukemia cancers. Take a look at the video to learn more about how the keto diet can help some cancer patients regain their health.