Diets and Metabolic Therapies: Introduction

Several popular diets claim to act against cancer, side effects, or terrain factors.

What are these therapies?

Several types of diets and metabolic therapies are available:

  • Diets generally recommended for reducing risk of cancer or recurrence
  • Diets used as treatments for some types of cancer
  • Diets or approaches such as fasting used to alter your metabolism

Also see Eating Well for more information about the role of diet in health and wellness.

What are the benefits of using these therapies?

Many people with cancer make improving their diet a part of their treatment approach, and with good reason. Good evidence shows that what you eat can reduce your risks of cancer or recurrence. Your diet can also help you manage side effects and symptoms throughout your cancer experience. 

Following an individualized, health-supportive eating plan together with your primary treatment is a good idea. The American Institute for Cancer Research has concluded that a plant-based, whole-foods diet is the most prudent dietary pattern to adopt for reducing the risks of cancer and possibly cancer recurrence.1American Institute for Cancer Research. Cancer Prevention Recommendations. From World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A global Perspective.Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Viewed January 6, 2022.

Much less evidence supports using specific diets for cancer treatment. Although a few diets have shown benefit, others show little or no benefit or may even be harmful. 

Metabolic therapies aim to control or alter cancer’s growth by changing your metabolism. These approaches include fasting and a ketogenic diet.

Are they safe?

Consult your healthcare team about any dietary changes you are making or considering, especially if you are dealing with changes in your appetite, digestive function, or body weight, or if your cancer directly affects your digestive system. If you need additional support, consult a certified oncology dietician nutritionist. You can ask your physician for a referral.

Browse diets and metabolic therapies

Upcoming reviews

While we create reviews for each of these specific diets, we share brief assessments.

  • Alkaline diet: The American Institute for Cancer Research has concluded that the acidity or alkalinity of foods is not important, but some oncologists find that acidosis is associated with impaired immunity, reduced glutathione and reduced insulin sensitivity—all body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more factors connected to cancer. The alkalinity of foods can contribute to acidosis: “A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal protein and sodium chloride [salt] reduces acid load.”2Pizzorno J. Acidosis: an old idea validated by new research. Integrative Medicine (Encinitas). 2015 Feb;14(1):8-12.
  • Gerson diet: A review of evidence regarding this approach along with other cancer therapies or as a cure did not find convincing evidence of benefit.
  • Gonzalez diet: A small study of people with pancreatic cancer—typically with very poor survival—found substantially longer survival on this diet, although this finding was not repeated in a much larger study with some serious design flaws.
  • Intermittent fasting: Not only what you eat but when you eat can affect your health. Regularly restricting or eliminating food intake for several hours or longer can lower insulin resistance, improve your response to chemotherapy, and reduce some side effects of cancer treatments. It may also reduce your risk of recurrence.
  • Living foods diet (raw foods diet): A review did not find clinical evidence of benefit from a living foods diet among people with cancer.
  • Macrobiotic diet: This approach based on a traditional Japanese diet has been supported by a few reports of people claiming remarkable reversal of their cancer, but evidence to date does not support the use of this diet for reducing cancer risk or improving survival or quality of life.
  • Paleolithic (Paleo) diet: This diet is linked to lower mortality either from cancer or from all causes, and also with lower risk of colorectal adenomas.
  • Vegan diet: A vegan diet was linked to a 15% lower incidence of total cancer in a combined analysis of several studies.

Authors

Maria Williams

Research and Communications Consultant
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Maria Williams is a research and communications consultant who brings over 15 years’ experience in research, consumer education, and science communication to CancerChoices. She has worked primarily in public health and environmental health.

Maria Williams Research and Communications Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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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, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. 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 and Program Manager

Reviewer

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

Last update: May 12, 2022

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.

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