Diets and Metabolic Therapies: Overview

Diet as an Alternative Treatment

Occasionally, we hear of people with cancer who used diet alone or as a component of a program, such as the Gonzalez Regimen, as an alternative to conventional cancer treatment. Some of these people associate this diet or program with control, remission or cure of their cancer. Others have not found it effective. 

If you are thinking of foregoing conventional cancer treatment and using diet as an alternative treatment, we encourage you to learn all you can about the potential benefits and harms of this option. We suggest you talk to your oncologist and let him or her know what you're thinking and why you're considering this.

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Making dietary changes is perhaps the most common healing practice that Cancer Help Program participants say they will adopt after their retreat. In fact, many people with cancer are keenly interested in using diet as one of the ingredients in their integrative cancer treatment plan. 

We think it’s a good idea to incorporate an individualized health-supportive eating plan to complement your primary treatment. However, we can think of very few, if any, instances, where it’s a good idea to use diet as your sole cancer treatment. Some alternative cancer diets can be dangerous, whether in and of themselves or because they were followed in lieu of conventional treatments that would have likely been effective.

We recognize that there is so much information out there about diet and cancer that is easy to become confused if not overwhelmed. We hope to help you sort through this in “bite-size portions” so that you can find something that makes sense for you. That’s why we devote a number of summaries to informing you about diet and metabolic therapies: those with good scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness, and those found not to be effective or those that may be dangerous. 

Our Eating Well summary provides extensive information on what is considered the most effective general dietary pattern for people with cancer (and actually most people): a plant-based, whole foods diet. There are many versions of eating this way. The Mediterranean Diet and Ornish Diet are examples of plant-based, whole foods dietary patterns. 

The American Institute for Cancer Research, which continuously updates the research on diet, physical activity and cancer, concludes that a plant-based, whole foods diet is the most prudent dietary pattern to adopt for reducing the risk of cancer and possibly cancer recurrence. All of BCCT’s integrative oncology clinical advisors recommend some iteration of a plant-based diet in their integrative cancer treatment plans. Cancer culinary translators/chefs Rebecca Katz and I center our recipes, menus and cooking instructions around a plant-based diet.

Some therapeutic diets and metabolic therapies, such as the ketogenic diet, are in clinical trials for specific cancers. In addition, some researchers are looking into whether or not manipulating the timing of eating and fasting, such as intermittent fasting, has any effect on tumors. 

We help you learn more about alternative and popular cancer diets as well. You can see a summary of the evidence, understand what is required to follow these diets, and sort through which are likely to be helpful versus those that over-promise their benefit and downplay their risks. 

If you’ve decided to put some of  your cancer treatment money where your mouth is, we invite you to explore our BCCT summaries on Eating Well and various diets and metabolic therapies. 

Cancer-Fighting Kitchen Course

Join BCCT and you’ll be granted access to Commonweal’s Cancer-Fighting Kitchen course free of charge. CFK is a comprehensive course including detailed information and delicious recipes, along with culinary skills and techniques that will support a nourishing experience during treatment and recovery.

Join BCCT

We are delighted to provide you free access to Chef Rebecca Katz’s incredibly rich and useful online Cancer Fighting Kitchen Course. Thank you, Rebecca and the Healing Kitchen Institute at Commonweal! See the information at right about access.

Laura Pole

Several diets are backed by solid evidence regarding reduction in risk or recurrence, or for symptom management. Other diets and metabolic therapies show promise for cancer treatment. Some diets may show no benefit or may even be harmful.

Examples:

For these and other diet therapies, browse or search the BCCT Therapy Summaries.

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