I believe that we are at a crossroads in oncology and our approach to cancer, where a total paradigm shift in philosophy, strategy, science, and medicine is needed to replace the prevailing “War on Cancer.” This war, declared by Congress in 1971, has yielded little real benefit, despite four decades of effort by conventional medicine and more than $100 billion tax dollars.
I’ve recently received a number of queries from patients and practitioners who are curious about a handful of studies and anecdotal reports that indicate a ketogenic diet may help to curtail cancer growth. For those not familiar with the ketogenic diet, it’s a very low carbohydrate diet that contains moderate amounts of protein and a high percentage of fats.
I prefer to think of foods in their whole, natural forms (for example, almonds, apples, asparagus, blueberries, oatmeal, olives, potatoes, rye, and salmon) instead of in reductionist terms of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Keeping this in mind, the primary purpose of dietary carbohydrates is for fuel—the body converts carbohydrates via the liver into glucose, which is used for everything from powering muscles to brain function. When confronted with a lack of carbohydrates, the body switches to burning fats for energy by converting fats (again via the liver) into ketone bodies.
As October comes to a close, the enormous amount of publicity given to Breast Cancer Month wanes a bit. I’m a strong proponent of education, and of preventive health care. But unfortunately, for many women, the fear of breast cancer has now reached epidemic proportions. Fear is a stressor that, left unchecked, can actually contribute to cancer. Stress heightens endocrine and nervous system activity, contributing to allostatic overload and exceeding our ability to adapt, restore energy, and maintain health and balance. This interferes with our body’s natural cancer-protective abilities. It’s important to realize that much of the fear propagated by the media is fueled by misinformation and misunderstanding. For example, studies show that most women believe that their risk of breast cancer is far greater than it really is.
When someone is confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, in the vast majority of cases doctors recommend surgery — often, as quickly as possible. The goal is to remove the cancer, with the hope that the person can go on to live a normal, cancer-free life. But unfortunately, the reality is often otherwise. For far too many people, cancer recurs; either at the primary site, or the cancer metastasizes, arising at sites distant from where the cancer originated, often in life-threatening areas, such as the lung, liver, brain, or bone.