Cancer: Keto diet shows promise at preventing and treating bowel cancer

Cancer is ferocious. Despite the devotion of umpteen resources to the task of stopping it – it still kills millions of people each year. However, while research is yet to find a cure or means of prevention, green shoots continue to emerge. Research carried out by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania suggests low-carb “ketogenic” diets can halt the growth of bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer.

The researchers found a molecule produced in the liver in response to low-carb “ketogenic” diets has a powerful effect in suppressing colorectal tumour growth and may be useful as a preventive and treatment of such cancers.

In the study, published in Nature, researchers initially found that mice on low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diets have a striking resistance to colorectal tumour development and growth.

The scientists then traced this effect to beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), a small organic molecule produced in the liver in response to keto diets or starvation.

“Our findings suggest that this natural molecule, BHB, could someday become a standard part of colorectal cancer care and prevention,” said study co-senior author Maayan Levy, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology at Penn Medicine, whose laboratory collaborated with the lab of Christoph Thaiss, PhD, also an assistant professor of Microbiology.

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In the study, Professor Levy and Professor Thaiss and their teams set out to determine, with experiments in mice, whether different types of diet could inhibit colorectal cancer development and growth.

They put six groups of mice on diets that had varying fat-to-carb ratios, and then used a standard chemical technique that normally induces colorectal tumours.

They found that the two most ketogenic diets, with 90 percent fat-to-carb ratios – one used lard (pig fat), the other Crisco (mostly soybean oil) – prevented colorectal tumour development in most of the animals on those diets.

By contrast, all the animals on the other diets, including low-fat, high-carb diets, developed tumours.

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