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The Keto and Paleo Diets for Mesothelioma and Cancer Patients

Diet trends tend to come and go, but there are several reasons why the ketogenic diet and the paleo diet continue to be popular: They are easy to follow, don’t require calorie counting, and really do make weight loss easier. But, can these popular diets actually benefit cancer and mesothelioma patients? Researchers are finding out ways that these diets may help cancer patients, but at the very least eating a healthier diet overall can help reduce inflammation, reduce side effects from treatment, and improve quality of life.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Among the many modern diet and healthy-eating trends that has stuck around for a while is the paleo diet. Perhaps one reason it has consistently remained popular is its simplicity. The diet states that people should only eat foods that would have been available to what humans ate during the Paleolithic period, when we were still hunters and gatherers nearly 10,000 years ago.

During that time, agriculture had not yet been developed, so people did not eat cultivated grains or dairy from farmed animals. Instead humans would have eaten meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, anything that could be collected through hunting and gathering. The diet avoids grains, legumes and beans, dairy, salt, refined sugar, and any processed foods, including vegetable oils.

The idea behind the diet is that agriculture developed rather quickly. What we are eating today may not be what our genetics have evolved for us to eat. If we eat what we evolved eating for millions of years, so the diet’s proponents claim, we will be healthier. Studies have shown there are some benefits of the paleo diet:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Greater weight loss without counting calories
  • Better tolerance of glucose
  • Greater ability to control appetite
  • Lower levels of triglycerides

What is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is similar to the paleo diet in the foods eaten, but not necessarily in philosophy. The keto diet is low in carbohydrates and high in fat. By reducing carbs and replacing them with fat, the body is forced into a state called ketosis, in which it begins to burn fat more readily. This has the side effect of dropping blood sugar and insulin and producing ketones in the liver, which supply energy for the brain. The foods eaten on the keto diet—and restricted by it—are similar to the paleo diet but also include dairy and exclude potatoes and alcohol.

The standard keto diet involves eating 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and five percent carbs. There are different variations on this, such as cycling five diet days with two carb days or eating more carbs before and after workouts. Some of the benefits of the keto diet that have been discovered through research include weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reversing type 2 diabetes, reducing seizures in children with epilepsy, and improving symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Cancer Patients

For many people, the restrictions of the paleo diet represent improvements over what they typically eat. In this way it can be a healthier diet for someone going through cancer or mesothelioma treatment. One of the most important restrictions on this diet is refined sugar. Excess sugar is bad for overall health and may even impact cancer survival among patients.

One study found that in patients being treated for colon cancer, those with a higher intake of sugar and carbohydrates had lower survival times. The effect was even greater in the patients who were overweight. Excess sugar and carbs in the diet may impact survival directly and indirectly according to these results.

Another study compared the sugar intake of the cells of two different types of lung cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. The results showed that the squamous cells were much more dependent on sugar and that when the protein that transports sugar into the cells was inhibited, cancer growth slowed. The researchers will next test a low-sugar diet on patients with this cancer to determine if it helps slow or stop tumor growth.

The evidence so far suggests that eliminating or reducing sugar may have a positive impact on cancer patients. Even if the tumor is not dependent on sugar, a healthier diet and weight will help a cancer patient feel better and be better able to tolerate and benefit from treatments.

The Keto Diet for Cancer Patients

While the paleo diet may be a healthy option for some cancer patients, there is even more evidence that the keto diet may be beneficial. One study, for instance, found that when mice with brain tumors were administered a calorie-restricted keto diet, tumor size shrank. The researchers were uncertain whether the effect was from the diet itself or the restriction of calories.

Other studies have found that the keto diet may even increase the effects of chemotherapy or radiation in shrinking tumors. This may be a result of the low-carb diet causing selective metabolic stress in cancer cells. This then causes the cancer cells to be selectively more vulnerable to chemotherapy drugs or radiation, as compared to healthy cells.

There have been more studies investigating the connection between the keto diet and cancer than the paleo diet. This may be a result of the diet already being proven to help with other medical conditions. For instance, a calorie-restricted keto diet has been immensely helpful in reducing seizures in children living with epilepsy. There are likely to be more interesting discoveries about the keto diet in the future, but for now it is proving to be a diet that may help cancer patients.

Risks of the Paleo and Keto Diets

Much of the foods that are included in the paleo diet are considered healthful, but it leaves out some that experts agree are good for you, namely peas, peanuts, lentils, beans, and dairy. These foods have fiber, protein, and minerals like calcium. It is important when following the paleo diet to be sure you get enough of these nutrients.

Risks seem to be low with the keto diet, but there are some unpleasant side effects that can come from cutting down so drastically on carbs and increasing fat intake. Flu-like symptoms are common in the first few days but eventually disappear. It is easier for some people to gradually make the dietary changes. The diet can also change electrolyte balance, so you may need to eat more salt or take mineral supplements.

Before you make any dietary changes, speak to your doctor or medical team. There may be some important reasons that you are unaware of that you should not try these diets. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, start slowly to let your body adapt and consider working with a dietician or nutritionist to be sure you get all the nutrients you need.

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