Ketogenic diets are high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates, with weak to preliminary evidence of anticancer effects, relief of side effects, and benefits on your body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more.

How can a ketogenic diet help you? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

To see more details, click the plus sign to the right of any section.

Improving treatment outcomes

Is a ketogenic diet linked to improved survival? Is it linked to less cancer growth or metastasis? Does it enhance the anticancer action of other treatments or therapies? We present the evidence.

Notable preclinical evidence is listed in Are you a health professional? ›

Cancer as a whole

Insufficient evidencepreclinical evidence only OR clinical studies with such poor or unclear methodology that no conclusion can be drawn OR conflicting findings across clinical studies with no preponderance of evidence in one direction; conflicting evidence occurs when studies find conflicting effects (positive effect vs no effect or negative effect) with the same treatment and the same general study population (same cancer type, for example) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of anticancer effects overall

Advanced cancer

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of tumor response, either with or without chemotherapy, among people with advanced cancer following a ketogenic diet

Brain cancer

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better progression-free survival among people with brain cancer following a ketogenic diet and achieving stable ketosis

Ketogenic diet combined with other therapies

Preliminary evidence of better survival among people with malignant glioma achieving a blood glucose level less than the median by fasting in addition to eating a calorie-restricted ketogenic diet

Preliminary evidence of smaller tumor area among people with recurrent glioblastoma treated with intranasal perillyl alcohol and following a ketogenic diet

Optimizing your body terrain

Does a ketogenic diet promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

See Optimizing Your Body Terrain ›

Find medical professionals who specialize in managing body terrain factors: Finding Integrative Oncologists and Other Practitioners ›

We also recommend that you share with your doctor the information here about how a ketogenic diet might affect these terrain factors if you have any imbalances.

Body weight

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better (lower) body weight and fat mass among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet

High blood sugar and insulin resistance

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better blood sugar and insulin levels among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet

Preliminary evidence of better markers of metabolism during radiation therapy among women with breast cancer following a ketogenic diet

Strong evidenceconsistent, significant effects in several large (or at least one very large) well designed clinical studies or at least two meta-analyses of clinical studies of moderate or better quality (or one large meta-analysis) finding similar results (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better blood sugar and insulin levels among people with diabetes following a ketogenic diet

Hormone balance

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on a hormone promoting tumor growth among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet in a combined analysis of studies

Inflammation

Preliminary evidence of less inflammation during chemotherapy among people with locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer following a ketogenic diet

No evidence of an effect on a marker of inflammation (TNF-α) among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet in a combined analysis of studies

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Is a ketogenic diet linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Is it linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Does it support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Also see evidence of side effects from a ketogenic diet impairing quality of life among some people with cancer: Safety and precautions ›

Side effects as a whole

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better overall therapy side effects during radiation therapy among women with breast cancer following a ketogenic diet

Body composition or cachexia

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of weight loss but no evidence of an effect on blood lipids or cholesterol among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet

Changes in appetite

Weak evidence of worse appetite among people with advanced metastatic tumors following a ketogenic diet

Quality of life and physical function

Preliminary evidence of better quality of life among people with cancer following a ketogenic diet

Weak evidence of worse physical function among people with advanced cancer following a ketogenic diet

Sleep disruption

Preliminary evidence of better sleep quality during radiation therapy among women with breast cancer following a ketogenic diet

Weak evidence of better sleep (less insomnia) among people with advanced metastatic tumors following a ketogenic diet

Helpful links

How to Starve Cancer ›

Jane McClelland’s book and online course for purchase

Keto for Cancer ›

By Miriam Kalamian, EdM, MS, CNS

The Metabolic Approach to Cancer ›

By Jess Higgins Kelley, MNT, and Nasha Winters ND, FABNO, LAc DiplOM

Keep reading about a ketogenic diet

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher

Reviewer

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

Naturopathis oncologist and CancerChoices advisor
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Dr. Alschuler, ND, FABNO, is a professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Arizona where she is the associate director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and completed her naturopathic medical training at Bastyr University where she also completed her residency in general naturopathic medicine. She is board certified in naturopathic oncology and maintains a clinical practice out of Naturopathic Specialists, LLC. Dr. Alschuler co-hosts a podcast, Five To Thrive Live!. She is co-author of Definitive Guide to Cancer, now in its 3rd edition, and Definitive Guide to Thriving After Cancer.

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO Naturopathis oncologist and CancerChoices advisor

Last update: December 12, 2023

Last full literature review: September 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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