What is a ketogenic diet, and what is its role in treating and preventing cancer? Basically, it is a diet that trains the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. Why is this important? There is a basic principle that was discovered by Dr Otto Warberg: “Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar. All normal body cells meet their energy needs by respiration of oxygen, whereas cancer cells meet their energy needs in great part by fermentation. All normal body cells are thus obligate aerobes, whereas all cancer cells are partial anaerobes. From the standpoint of the physics and chemistry of life this difference between normal and cancer cells is so great that one can scarcely picture a greater difference. Oxygen gas, the donor of energy in plants and animals is dethroned in the cancer cells and replaced by an energy yielding reaction of the lowest living forms, namely, a fermentation of glucose.”
Cancer cells require sugar to grow and thrive, while normal, healthy cells can switch to a fat-burning metabolism. Therefore, by decreasing the intake of simple sugars and giving the body ample fat to use as a fuel, the cancer cells are essentially starved.
It is still necessary for your pet to consume a balanced diet, complete with all the essential vitamins and minerals. Here’s the bonus – well-sourced fats contain an abundance of nutritional value. The sourcing here, is the key though. Only animal fats that are pasture-raised and fed a species appropriate diet free of chemical additives will provide these nutritional benefits. Saturated animal fat has gotten a bad reputation for causing a number of health problems including cardiovascular disease in people and pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Fats from factory-farmed animals that are raised in crowded, stressful conditions and fed chemical laden, genetically modified grains will most definitely cause disease.
So how do we facilitate the switch to a fat-burning metabolism? There are two primary fuels that the cells in the body can utilize for energy, glucose and fat. The body will use whichever fuel is most abundant. Any diet that is high in carbohydrates, which for pets includes grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and squash, legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils will keep the body in a sugar-burning state. In addition, any food that is highly processed will alter the metabolism
The energy center for most cells in the body is a tiny organelle called mitochondria that produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by combining the available fuel source with the oxygen in the blood. Fat is a more stable form of energy that does not create the effects of blood glucose swings such as weakness and light-headedness. Once the body changes to a fat burning metabolism, it will also use up available fat stores if ingested fat is not available. This means that a lean body mass is attained without calorie restriction. The body will be able to operate on a much lower glucose levels without any side effects, and feel satiated by the increased fat in the diet.
Training the body to burn fat is possible only when blood glucose and insulin levels drop. This is accomplished by reducing the intake of sugars and starches, which causes the body to start burning fat, either from the diet, or from that stored in the body. The fat is then broken down into free fatty acids, which are then converted into ketones in the liver. There are three types of ketones: Beta-hyrdroxybutyrate, Acetoacetate, and Acetone. BOHB is a super fuel for the body, and is the most efficient energy producing ketone. There is actually no dietary requirement for carbohydrates.
The best way to know if the body is burning ketones instead of glucose is to measure the blood level of ketones and glucose at the same time. This is a simple process that can be done in the clinic, or you can purchase a meter and measure the levels at home. There are some cells in the body that have few or no mitochondria and will need to burn glucose instead of ketones. These include the renal medulla (a part of the kidney), white blood cells, and testes. Cells with no mitochondria include red blood cells, and the retina, cornea and lens of the eye. The amount of glucose required in these cells is very small. The body can manufacture enough glucose through the process of glycogenolysis, or breaking down liver glycogen to form glucose. In addition, gluconeogenesis, or the process of manufacturing glucose in the body, is very efficient and able to make enough to meet cellular demands. There is no need for dietary glucose to meet the needs of these cells.
The health benefits of a ketogenic diet are numerous, and include treating, and in some cases, resolving conditions such as diabetes, seizures, cancer, auto-immune disease, hormonal imbalances, and weight issues. In addition, a ketogenic diet helps support the immune system to prevent infections and helps the body to detox.
Additionally, there are a number of very important vitamins that are only found in well-sourced fat that are essential for optimal health, and responsible for some of the benefits listed above. (see The Skinny on Fat handout for more details)
There really is no reason to NOT try this diet for your pet. Getting started is not difficult, it is just new information that you are not accustomed to. We have very simple, yet effective dietary guidelines, and we will assist you in measuring your pet’s blood to be sure that we are on the right track.