Alternative and Popular Cancer Diets
Also known by these names
Dozens or even hundreds of diets are available, promising outcomes that may include weight loss, muscle gain, greater energy, detoxification, philosophical or spiritual purity, disease prevention and even cure. Some people may use diets promoted as “alternative” while also undergoing conventional treatments. A number of these are strictly diets, but others are a component of an alternative therapy regimen that may also include coffee enemas and a host of nutritional supplements, as well as other components.
While most of the diets discussed here show at least some benefit regarding cancer, some risk may also be involved, including nutrient insufficiencies and elimination of food groups proven beneficial for cancer prevention and general health.1
For more information about nutritional needs with cancer, see our Eating Well summary.
Some of the more commonly used alternative cancer diets are described here.
Part of an overall program of healthy living, this diet is derived from a traditional Japanese diet. When a few people found improvements from following this diet, it became regarded as an anticancer diet.
More Information on Macrobiotic Diet
Developed by Max Gerson, MD, in the 1930s to 1950s, the Gerson Therapy Regimen is complex and exacting. It includes strict diet, dietary supplements, fasting and coffee enemas. The regimen is based on the “theory that disease can be cured by removing toxins from the body, boosting the immune system, and replacing excess salt in the body's cells with potassium.”5 The diet is vegetarian and emphasizes raw vegetables and fruit juices. Clinics in the US, Mexico, Canada and Europe include the Gerson Regimen solely or in combination with other therapies.
More Information on The Gerson Diet and the Gerson Regimen
Part of a larger regimen developed by the late Nicholas Gonzalez, MD, this diet “emphasizes fresh raw fruits, raw and lightly steamed vegetables, and freshly made vegetable juice daily. The diet protocol relies on plant-based sources such as cereals, nuts and seeds and whole-grain products such as whole-grain bread and brown rice. The patient may eat one or two eggs daily, whole-milk yogurt daily, and fish two or three times a week, but no red meat or poultry.”10
More Information on the Gonzalez Regimen
Living Foods Diet (Raw Foods Diet)
Developed by Ann Wigmore of the Hippocrates Institute, this diet consists of only raw foods, fermented vegetables, sprouted grains, and juices such as wheat grass juice.
This diet, currently quite popular among many cancer patients, is a plant-based diet that people can follow on their own. Promoted as helpful for weight loss and fighting cancer, it recommends high intake of foods that supposedly produce higher blood alkalinity, particularly vegetables and other plant foods. Those following the diet are supposed to measure their pH (in saliva or urine) on a regular basis. Some patients claim it is a complex regimen to follow and eliminates many of the foods that are allowed on more moderate regimens, such as lean meat, gluten and low-fat dairy.
More Information on the Alkaline Diet
Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet
The Paleolithic diet has an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while restricting refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and alcohol. However, the diet opposes AICR dietary guidelines by being high in saturated fat and low in legumes and cereal grains, a combination associated with worsened colorectal cancer survival.
More Information on the Paleo Diet
A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey. This goes beyond the plant-based diet, which includes small amounts of eggs, dairy, fish, fowl and red meat.
Eating a vegan diet is thought to increase intake of foods regarded as “cancer-fighting”, such as berries, greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds, while eliminating foods such as dairy products and red and processed meats that may increase cancer risk.
More Information on the Vegan Diet
Other Popular Alternative Diets
- CAM-Cancer: Budwig diet
- Cancer Research UK: Budwig diet
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Budwig Diet
Although many of the diets are plant-based and generally considered safe, attempting to use diet alone as treatment can be dangerous, especially when effective evidence-based therapies are available. Naturopathic oncologist Neil McKinney cautions that raw food and juice plans such as the Gerson Diet, Living Foods and the Hallelujah Acres regimes are “dangerous to the majority of cancer patients because they are grossly deficient in protein and often add a high glycemic load.“37
Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on July 8, 2020. BCCT is grateful for the review of this document by our advisor Rebecca Katz, MS, director of the Healing Kitchens Institute. BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of alternative and popular cancer diets. This summary draws from sources as noted.
- Zick SM, Snyder D, Abrams DI. Pros and cons of dietary strategies popular among cancer patients. Oncology (Williston Park). 2018 Nov 15;32(11):542-7.
- Gurdev Parmar and Tina Kaczor: Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology
- Moss Reports: The Center For Better Bones Conversation
- Dr. Deirdre Orceyre: Naturopathic and Integrative Cancer Care
- National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health: PDQ® Cancer Information Summaries
- Raymond Chang, MD: Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-Cancer Cocktail
- Neil McKinney, BSc, ND: Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition
- Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella: The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition
- Keith I. Block, MD: Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment
- Ralph Moss, PhD: The Moss Reports
- CAM-Cancer Collaboration: CAM-Cancer
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products
- National Cancer Institute: Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Health Professionals
- National Cancer Institute: Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Michael Lerner: Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer
- Cancer Research UK