The double-edged sword of keto: aiding cancer fight but fueling a silent killer

Credit: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash.

Are you looking to lose weight? Then you might have heard about the keto diet. Keto diets are high in fats and low in carbs.

They trick your body into burning fat instead of carbs.

You can lose up to 10% of your body weight on this diet. But that’s not all. Some people say this diet could also help fight cancer.

It does this by stopping tumors from getting the sugar they need to grow. Sounds great, right? But hold on, because there’s more to the story.

The Unwanted Side Effect

Sadly, research tells us that keto diets might have a dangerous side effect for cancer patients. It could speed up a deadly disease called cachexia.

This disease makes people lose their appetite, lose weight, feel tired, and weakens their immune system. It’s very serious and causes about 2 million deaths each year.

“Cachexia is like a wound that doesn’t heal,” says Tobias Janowitz from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). “People with growing cancer often get cachexia.

They become so weak they can’t handle cancer treatments anymore. Even simple tasks become very hard.”

The Silver Lining

But there’s hope. Janowitz and another researcher, Miriam Ferrer, found a way to use the keto diet without this nasty side effect.

They gave mice with cancer a keto diet and a common type of drug called corticosteroids. The mice did not get cachexia. Their tumors got smaller, and they lived longer.

Healthy mice also lose weight on keto, but they don’t keep losing weight because they produce a hormone called corticosterone.

This hormone helps control the effects of keto. Mice with cancer can’t make enough of this hormone. That’s why they don’t stop losing weight.

The keto diet makes cancer cells fill up with harmful fats and die. This is good because it slows down tumor growth. But it can also cause cachexia.

When the researchers gave the mice corticosteroids, the keto diet still worked against the tumors, but it did not cause cachexia.

The Journey Ahead

“Cancer changes the body’s normal processes to help it grow,” says Ferrer. “Because of this, mice on a keto diet can’t use the nutrients, and they start to waste away.

But with the steroid, they did much better. They lived longer than with any other treatment we tried.”

Janowitz and Ferrer are working with an international team to tackle cachexia. They are now figuring out the best time and dose of corticosteroids to use with the keto diet.

Their goal? To make cancer treatments work better and help cancer patients live longer.

The study was published in Cell Metabolism.