Diet fads- we know them, we try them, we love them, we hate them. Among today’s top trending diet is the low carb regimen known as “keto”. What started out as a diet fad among celebrities like Lebron James and Halle Berry, turned into the most googled diet on the internet in 2018. (1)
But there are more benefits to the keto diet than the notion of losing weight. There’s now been an exciting discovery within the research of cancer potentially linking the ketogenic diet to an anti-cancer drug. The increasing evidence behind the findings are taking the medical media by storm.
The Link Between Sugar and Cancer
U.S Cancer researcher, Lewis Cantley, Ph.D., and his team led a research program where an anti-cancer drug was paired with the ketogenic diet. The theory was intended to starve cancer cells of the necessary glucose and insulin that’s required in order to grow and spread.
Cantley’s work began in the 1980s when he initially discovered an enzyme known as PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase). Known as the ‘master switch’ by many scientists, PI3K has been involved in approximately 80% of all cancers. (2)
The study, which was featured in The Medical Express, stated, “It turned out that the gene that encodes the PI3K is the most frequently mutated cancer-promoting gene in humans – and in the years since Dr. Cantley’s revolutionary discovery. It has been implicated in as many as 80 percent of cancers, including those of the breast, brain, and bladder.” (3)
PI3K is responsible for bridging the gap between insulin being released in the body, cell glucose utilization, growth, and survival. In instances of cancer, the process works overtime. This allows for the sugar-addicted cancer cells to collect more glucose, which is exactly what they need to survive and thrive.
The study was conducted using mice that were genetically engineered to develop pancreatic, bladder, endometrial, and breast cancers. When treated with a new PI3K inhibitor, the researchers noted spikes of insulin reactivated the pathway in tumors, overall countering the anti-cancer effect of the drug.
However, tumors shrank when researchers combined the medication with a diet that restricted carbohydrates. The researchers noted, “Our preclinical research suggests that if somewhere in your body you have one of these PI3K mutations and you eat a lot of rapid-release carbohydrates, every time your insulin goes up, it will drive the growth of a tumor. The evidence really suggests that if you have cancer, the sugar you’re eating may be making it grow faster.” (2)
The Future of Keto
Ketosis is known as a state in which the body relies on the metabolism of fat to be used as the primary source of fuel. The fat is used to supply energy demands as opposed to the preferred source of energy known as glucose. (1)
The metabolic process of ketosis has been practiced since the early 20th century serving as a treatment to minimize seizures for epilepsy patients. Since then the processes of ketosis has evolved, which has resulted in mammals being able to survive food shortages.
From Cantley’s studies, the keto diet has taken on a whole new meaning. With the potential to aid in further cancer research and treatment, his research has shifted to clinical trials in humans.
This new addition to cancer therapies means we now are gaining a sharper understanding with the correlation of glucose and insulin when utilizing the ketogenic diet. While there’s a vast amount of research that will need to be done, these exciting findings within cancer research leave many helpful.