Could A Keto-Based Diet Aid Fight Against An Aggressive Brain Cancer?

Sep 30, 2019

Researchers at UC want to know if following a special keto-based diet may help in the fight against a rare but aggressive brain cancer. Similar studies in mice showed strong results.

Dr. Rekha Chaudhary, an adjunct associate professor at UC's College of Medicine and a UC Health oncologist, and co-investigator Tammy Ward, a clinical dietitian and specialist in oncology nutrition, theorize a modified Atkins-type ketogenic diet may make glioblastoma treatments more effective.

"Our theory is that ketones can actually get into the brain cells and help the radiation work better," Chaudhary explains. "They're sensitizing the tumor cells to the radiation therapy that they're receiving."

Glioblastoma may be best known for being the type of cancer Sen. John McCain died of in 2018. A ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs and causes the body to go into a metabolic state of ketosis where the body produces ketones from fat. The body uses the ketones for energy rather than carbs.

The study is currently enrolling patients. During the 10-week study, patients will work with a dietician to maintain a certain keto/Atkins diet that will put their body into ketosis. They'll have weekly phone calls and blood work to ensure the body remains in ketosis while undergoing six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. Researchers will also analyze the tumor by taking MRIs before, during and after the study.

Chaudhary points to a successful trial in rats.

"The (animal) models that got ketogenic diet plus radiation actually had nine out the 11 animals cured," she says.

It's too soon to say if humans could see the same result.

The research team is also encouraged by results of a retrospective study looking at Chaudhary's past patients who were treated for glioblastoma while on a ketogenic diet. "They seemed to have increased radiation effect, or radiation toxicity, which usually translates into better outcomes. Now, we don't have survival data on those patients because it's still ongoing."

With the current prospective study, the researchers "are taking a special MRI with spectroscopy while they're on the ketogenic diet and looking to see if their brain cells are taking up the ketones just like the same study they did in the rats."

Chaudhary is aiming to finish the study by March and have preliminary results by the beginning of April but survival data will take a while longer.

While the researchers are hopeful the modified keto diet will benefit glioblastoma treatments, Chaudhary is not recommending it to all cancer patients.

"We're using this diet in a very specific situation. We're using this diet to make the tumors more susceptible to the radiation. I'm not advocating this diet for everybody that wants to prevent cancer from coming back."

You should consult with your physician about what diet is best for your health.