The ideal internal environment for the growth of cancer cells results from a diet high in carbohydrates and protein to provide these unwanted invaders plenty of fuel along with the building blocks needed for the production of new cells. Ironically, this type of diet is precisely what the majority of Americans eat on a daily basis. Is it any wonder why cancer impacts more than 40 percent of the nation’s population (1) and is the second most common cause of death (2)? Doesn’t it logically follow that a diet which restricts cancer cells’ access to the fuel they need can halt the growth of virtually any type of cancer? More and more experts believe so, and a growing body of evidence exists to support this conclusion (3).
Glucose – The Perfect Cancer Fuel
Cancer cells use glucose as their exclusive form of fuel and have a significantly greater number of insulin receptors (4) on their cellular surfaces than human cells. These extra insulin receptors provide cancer cells preferential access to any glucose found in the human bloodstream. As a result, people who eat a high carbohydrate diet are essentially providing cancer cells an unlimited food source which gets utilized via a fermentation process that converts blood glucose into lactate (5).
Regardless of the type of carbohydrate consumed, the process of digestion breaks down all carbohydrates into the simple sugar known as glucose (6). Most people, including the majority of doctors, have been led to believe a “healthy” diet should contain plenty of fruit and be rich in complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole grain products and potatoes. Unfortunately, all of these food items increase blood sugar and insulin levels and readily feed cancer cells present in your body. Fortunately for humans, carbohydrate consumption is not essential and every nutrient found in these types of foods can easily be replaced with other food sources more conducive to health.
Cancer Requires Protein for Reproduction
While cancer cells require glucose for energy, their cellular reproduction requires the presence of key amino acids found in dietary protein sources such as meats, dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds (7). In the presence of sufficient amino acids and glucose, cancer cells of all types and in any location within the body will typically thrive and multiply at a shocking rate (8). The exponential growth pattern observed with small tumor masses explains the unexpected nature of many cancer diagnoses. In just a matter of weeks or months, tumors may go from invisible to palpable and detectable with the help of technology and/or a trained technician.
Excess protein in the human diet provides more that just the building blocks needed for cancerous reproduction. When glucose is in short supply (such as when people restrict their carbohydrate intake), more than half of every gram of protein consumed can be converted into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis (9). Although protein is digested and partially converted into glucose more slowly than foods rich in carbohydrates, the end product is still the perfect food source for all cancer cells.
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Low Carbohydrate, High Protein Diets NOT the Answer
In years past, low carbohydrate and high protein diets such as the Atkins Diet became very popular for weight loss. While many did and still do lose weight by severely restricting carbohydrate intake as Dr. Atkins suggested, this type of diet is far less likely to slow the progression of cancer or promote long term, sustainable health. Dr. Atkins (and other proponents of low carb, high protein diets) did not restrict the amount or type of protein consumed; as a result, many people on his diet ended up replacing carbohydrate calories with protein rich food sources.
Excess protein consumption is harmful to the body at numerous levels (10) and provides fuel and amino acid cellular building blocks which can be utilized by cancer cells via the process mentioned above. To add insult to injury, many people eating a high protein diet consume processed proteins which contain significant amounts of nitrates and nitrites recognized as carcinogens by many health organizations (including the World Health Organization, 11).
Finally, non-organic sources of meat typically contain hormones, pesticides and other contaminants which bio-accumulate in the bodies of farm animals after a lifetime of being fed non-organic, chemically laden feed; toxins contained in these types of meat force the body to work harder to maintain balance and at best do nothing to help the body heal from serious aliments such as cancer. Evidence suggests that non-organic animal products increase the number of cellular changes that ultimately lead to cancer development (12).
Cancer Cells Unable to Use Fatty Acids for Fuel
Dietary fats contained in quality food sources such as coconut and olive oils, grass fed butter, avocados, nuts and seeds are broken down by the enzyme lipase into various fatty acids. Although the body can use fatty acids as a limited fuel source when sufficient glucose is available to meet the majority of the body’s energy needs, fatty acids must be converted by the liver and kidneys into ketones when glucose is in short supply. The production of ketones is the indicator that the body has entered the alternate yet natural metabolic state known as ketosis (13). Ketosis has numerous advantages, including the ability to diminish the fuel supply available to cancer cells.
Cancer cells are incapable of utilizing fatty acids or ketones for fuel (14) and are unable to reproduce to any appreciable degree when glucose is in short supply. Human cells, on the other hand, have the ability to simply switch over from the primary mode of glucose metabolism and are able to begin utilizing ketones as an energy source. Ketones are not only an acceptable but superior form of fuel for the majority of human cells (15), as their metabolic breakdown at the cellular level results in the production of far fewer free radicals than those formed during glucose metabolism.
A Low Carb, Low Protein, High Fat Diet to Starve Cancer
Like proteins, fatty acids can be converted into glucose, but in much smaller quantities. A mere ten percent of all fat consumed may end up being turned into glucose (16) to provide the fuel needed for bodily functions which cannot be powered by ketone bodies, yet cancer cells will have an extremely difficult time existing in this glucose starved environment. Humans, on the other hand, can thrive in a carbohydrate restricted state, even for extended periods of time. A diet low in carbohydrates with low protein intake and the liberal consumption of high quality fat and non-starchy vegetables may be ideal for weakening and starving cancer cells. An experienced keto coach can get you started quickly and help you select the optimal proportion of foods to ensure your nutritional needs are met.