Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Low Carb and Cancer

In December 1991, I drove from Houston, where I was living at the time, to Alabama to visit my parents for Christmas. When I arrived, I learned that my mom had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Thankfully, the tumor was benign and it was operable, but of course we didn't know that for a while and the surgery was horrible nonetheless. She's now 81 and all of us still live with the specter of the tumor returning.

Why do I tell that story? Because of the heartening results of a recent study out of Boston College that brain tumors can be successfully treated with KetoCal, a diet prescribed to treat epilepsy in children.

What is Ketocal? Well, as you can probably guess from the name, it is a low carb, high fat diet that induces ketosis. The brain tumor is starved of the glucose from carbs that it needs in order to grow, while the brain and body are nourished by the ketones the body produces for fuel. It offers a viable way of treating brain cancer, which is difficult to treat by conventional radiation/chemo treatment because the good brain cells are killed along with the bad.

Ketocal is a powdered diet that is 90% fat, 1.6% carbs, and 8% protein, roughly, and also is low in calories. How a diet of "real" food with a similar nutrient breakdown would work wasn't addressed that I could tell.

The findings were based on a study published this week in the online journal Nutrition & Metabolism. The authors don't extrapolate, of course, but it makes sense to me that a low carb diet that starves tumors of the glucose they need to grow holds promise for other types of cancer as well.

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