27 AUGUST 2015

Ketogenic diet*: Do they work?

The ketogenic diet has received great interest since the 1990s and while some studies have shown that it does reduce or prevent seizures in some children with epilepsy, there are those who believe the diet could also be useful to prevent or manage cancer.

The ketogenic diet is a diet low in carbohydrates, with adequate protein, and high in fat content.

The fundamental tenet of the diet is that cancer cells need glucose to survive; while healthy cells can easily switch to burning fats if there is insufficient glucose, cancer cells cannot – thus, the theory is, without available glucose they will wither and die.

But is this just a theory with little data to support it?

Senior Dietitian Fahma Sunarja and Dietitian Chloe Ong, both from Parkway Cancer Centre, tackle some important questions about this method of managing cancer.


Are cancer patients usually prescribed a ketogenic diet?

Cancer patients are not usually prescribed a ketogenic diet.

Such a diet comprises of at least 80 per cent fat of the overall calorie intake.  A very high fat diet puts patients at risk of other chronic diseases like heart diseases, metabolic syndromes and gastrointestinal cancers.

We would not recommend any cancer patient to go on a ketogenic diet. The diet does not provide sufficient and the necessary nutrients needed to support the immune system while patients are going through cancer treatment.

We would advise our patients to follow a healthy, balanced diet which includes carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables and fats, and encourage them to eat a variety of foods from the main food groups.


Are such a diet prescribed on the basis that cancer cells do not multiply as fast without glucose (carbohydrates)?

There is no proof to show that cancer cell multiply faster or slower with carbohydrates intake.


Are there benefits to go on such a diet to prevent or manage cancer?

There are no benefits from taking a ketogenic diet. 

In fact, the side effects of following a ketogenic diet are many.

They include acidosis (increased acidity in the blood and other body tissues) and excess ketosis (from converting fat to glucose as a source of energy), growth inhibition (as the diet has a lack of protein), some nutrient deficiencies (as the diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals usually obtained from various carbohydrates and protein foods) and elevated serum lipids from the obvious very high fat intake.

By Charmaine Ng

*A diet low in carbohydrates, adequate protein and high fat content.

POSTED IN Nutrition
TAGS cancer diet & nutrition