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Ketogenic diet during radiotherapy: cancer patients build muscle mass

Cancer patients who are receiving radiation therapy respond well to a ketogenic diet. They lose a bit of weight, but at the same time their muscle mass increases slightly. This is evident from a small human study that German radiotherapists published in 2016 in BMC Research Notes. The researchers suspect that a ketogenic diet also makes radiation more effective against cancer cells.

For advanced cancer patients, muscle mass is of vital importance. If their muscle mass - as a result of the disease or the treatment - decreases, their chances of survival decrease as well. That's why oncologists increasingly experiment with exercise and nutrition, in the hope that they will find an approach that protects the muscles.

Rainer Klement, a radiotherapist at the German Leopoldina Hospital Schweinfurt, is such an oncologist. Together with Reinhart Sweeney, he published six case studies of patients who were irradiated, while at the same time reducing their intake of carbohydrates to less than 50 grams per day.

Ketogenic diet during radiotherapy: cancer patients build muscle mass

Klement hopes that a ketogenic diet will not only protect the body composition of his patients, but also their health in general. Animal studies and small human studies suggest that a ketogenic diet protects healthy cells against anti-cancer drugs and radiation, while at the same time making cancer cells more sensitive to the treatment. [Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011 Oct 26;8:75.] [Cancer Biol Med. 2014 Sep;11(3):145-61.] [Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2014 Mar;33(1):217-29.]


Two patients - number 2 and 4 - wore a pacemaker. As a result, the researchers, who used bioimpedance analysis to the determinatine their patients' body composition, could not determine thier fat and muscle mass. And then there was patient number 5, who stopped his ketogenic diet halfway.

The measurements in the remaining patients indicate, however, that their fat mass [FM] decreased, but their lean body mass [FFM] - and therefore also their muscle mass - did not. Their lean body mass even increased by a few kilos...

Ketogenic diet during radiotherapy: cancer patients build muscle mass

When the researchers wrote their article, 5 out of 6 patients were still alive. These patients responded to treatment. Patient nr. 5, however, did not. He died.

"We presented a variety of prospectively collected measurements on the first six consecutive patients that undertook a ketogenic diet during radiotherapy treatment in our clinic within a busy community hospital", the researchers write. "No serious diet-related side effects occurred, and subjective feeling on the diet was rated as good."

"Ketosis was not as pronounced as it is usually reported for protein- or caloricaly restricted ketogenic diets, and blood sugar levels did not decrease significantly. This might indicate problems with either compliance or prescribed diet composition [...]."

"Importantly, although significant weight loss occurred in some patients, our bioimpedance analysis data indicate that weight loss was mainly due to fat mass loss."

BMC Res Notes. 2016 Mar 5;9:143.

Ketogenic high-protein diet protects against cancer: animal study 08.10.2011

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