Ketosis and calorie restriction improve outcomes for dogs and cats with cancer

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This innovative dietary approach to cancer involves a ketogenic diet and calorie restriction to improve longevity and quality of life in dogs and cats (and humans!).

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in dogs and cats. Pet parents fear this disease more than any other, not only because of the reduced quality of life it brings, but also because we often fail to treat it successfully. Combine that with endless hospital visits and horrendous costs, and it’s no wonder people dread a diagnosis of cancer in their dogs and cats. In this article, we’ll focus on a dietary approach involving ketosis and calorie restriction, and how it helps treat cancer in pets.

Why is cancer still so hard to treat?

It seems counterintuitive that cancer — into which more research dollars have been invested than any other disease — lags so far behind other health conditions in its response to treatment. We see improved longevity and quality of life in dogs and cats with other common conditions, such as diabetes or heart and kidney disease, so what is missing when we treat cancer?

It turns out that we don’t understand the true nature of cancer. To successfully treat a disease, we must first understand it.

Over the past decade, integrative human and veterinary practitioners have increasingly turned to the work of 20e German Scientist of the Century and Nobel Laureate, Otto Warburg, for his groundbreaking cancer studies. Warburg discovered that cancer cells have a different type of metabolism than normal cells; they produce their energy by fermentation, a process that “burns” only the sugar. In contrast, normal healthy cells use a process that is 18 times more efficient and burns not only sugar, but also fat and protein. Warburg showed that because of this difference in metabolism, cancer cells have an “Achilles’ heel”: we can starve them by removing all starch and sugar from the patient’s diet and replacing them with the fat. In short, he had discovered the Holy Grail of cancer. Even though we’ve known it since the days of World War II, Warburg’s work has been ignored in favor of theories that only rely on drugs to treat cancer.

The ketogenic diet

Over the past few decades, an American geneticist and biochemist named Thomas Seyfried has verified and expanded on Warburg’s work. He showed that a diet high in fats and carbohydrates, combined with caloric restriction, would not only starve cancer cells – controlling their rampant growth – but would do so with dramatically increased longevity and quality of life for the patient. .

This high-fat, high-calorie, high-carb diet is called the “ketogenic” diet. It forces the body to produce “ketones”, tiny water-soluble molecules rich in energy. These ketones are produced by the liver from fatty acids (a process called ketogenesis), and there are three of them: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.

Mammalian bodies were forced to develop ketones hundreds of millions of years ago. Their role (along with fatty acids) was to ensure survival. At the time, ketones and fatty acids replaced glucose under the very common conditions of starvation and/or extreme exercise, or when carbohydrates were not available. All of these situations produce a metabolic state called ketosis, in which fatty acids and ketones become the main sources of energy, largely replacing glucose. Importantly, ketones take over from glucose to supply the brain with its energy supply. Today, we primarily use a ketogenic diet combined with fasting to induce ketosis.

A ketogenic diet requires lots of fat, not too much protein, and virtually no soluble carbs (fiber is good!). Fats typically make up over 80% of the diet, with protein levels between 5% and 20%. Starch/sugar levels are generally kept below 5%. Note that protein is limited as excess protein will be converted into unwanted sugar.

Keto Diet with Calorie Restriction = More Cancer Survivors

Cancerous tissues cannot cope with ketosis. It is unable to use fats or ketones as an energy source; cancer cells can only use sugar. This means that anything that forces the body into ketosis (fasting, exercise, ketogenic diet) can be used to starve the cancer. In ketosis, after three to seven days, blood sugar drops while ketone levels rise, as they and fatty acids take over sugar’s role in energy production.

The increasing use of ketogenesis combined with caloric restriction (by integrative practitioners), is producing increasing numbers of animal and human cancer survivors who enjoy an excellent quality of life despite original prognoses of ” hopeless”. The critical difference between these cancer survivors and a corresponding population of cancer victims (now deceased) was, and is, their diet. Cancer survivors benefit from a diet low in sugar, high in fat, and somewhat restricted in calories and protein. Although many still have cancer, it is successfully managed, like any other degenerative disease process.

Feeding a ketogenic diet

For decades, my approach to cancer management has involved a fresh, whole, raw foods program based on evolutionary principles. While this program has always produced great results, the introduction over the past eight years or so of the ketogenic, low-calorie version of this program has produced results that far exceed previous results in terms of longevity and quality of life.

See Table 1 for an example of a ketogenic diet suitable for dogs and cats. Here are some notes on this recipe:

  • All ingredients are finely ground (retaining some texture – not a paste!), mixed well, then divided into meal-sized portions and frozen.
  • Sources of fat and meat (protein) can include beef, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, turkey, etc. Add more fat when using leaner cuts. Coconut oil, olive oil, and salmon or krill oil (for omega-3s) are all suitable.
  • The ground bone must come from young animals/poultry; this ensures that it is (relatively) soft, toxin-free and rich in cartilage.
  • Ground organ meats should include (at least) liver, heart and kidney, with liver predominating.
  • Cartilage is added because it inhibits cancer growth by preventing it from developing a blood supply.
  • Vegetable pulp/juice is included because many of the “phytonutrients” found in vegetables are “cancer-fighting”. Plant matter is best pulped using a juicer. The pulp is the fibrous part of the diet, important for intestinal and kidney health. Because the juice contains sugar, it can prevent the animal from entering ketosis; in this case, use less juice and/or use fermented raw vegetables (kimchi/sauerkraut).
  • The additional ingredients (see Table 2) fill in the nutritional gaps in this diet, replacing the nutrients found in a wide range of foods that a dog or cat would eat in the wild.

Transitioning to a ketogenic diet

The transition to this diet should be a gradual process in order to prevent digestive upset. The sudden introduction of a high-fat diet can also trigger pancreatitis, although the use of fresh foods raw fats have largely overcome this problem.

During the transition period, it is important to start measuring and recording ketones and blood sugar. Blood tests are ideal for this, but can be difficult for the “home” dog or cat. Urine collection is simpler; once urinary ketones are present, blood sugar is assumed to be low. If ketones are not detected, gradually increase the fat content (which also decreases the protein content), until ketones are detected. The goal is to achieve and maintain ketones as high as possible, with blood sugar as low as possible, while maintaining optimal body weight. Now we starve the cancer and feed the dog or the cat, an idea how to proceed!

Although still an emerging field of veterinary (and medical) science, we have amassed a wealth of evidence supporting the use of a ketogenic diet and calorie restriction in the majority of canine and feline cancer patients, regardless of the other treatments they are receiving. As a bonus, we also know that a state of ketosis is highly protective against much of the damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy!

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