How diet kills cancer cells

Category: Cancer

Article summary: Nutritional and complementary medicine strategies against cancer, as explained by the doctors of the Magaziner Center for Wellness.

  • Recent research suggests that cancer cells are “stressed out” and that during these times of “stress” diet may be an effective weapon for patients whose cancers have returned or have become chemotherapy resistant.
  • Radical diet changes may help some

Researchers publishing their findings in the medical journal Oncogene, doctors found that  chromosomal instability (cell mutation)- which is a signal of rapidly dividing cancer cells – stresses the cancer cells and makes them mild metabolic disruption. Metabolism is the normal process by which the body turns food into energy. Changing diets or changing the energy source may stress the cancer cells enough to weaken or even destroy them.

Lead researcher Dr Stephen Gregory noted: “A common problem in treating cancers is that they don’t respond to chemotherapy, or they respond for a while, but then come back. One reason this happens is because a tumor is usually not made up of identical cells but rather a diverse population of cells that changes all the time, losing and gaining chromosomes as they divide – so-called chromosomal instability. Sooner or later they change enough to be able to resist chemotherapy drugs.”

A change in diet and a small metabolic push may kill cancer cells

“(the) research has shown that chromosomal instability has some consequences for cells – they get stressed, and it only takes a small metabolic push to kill them.” Dr Gregory says this may give some validity to theories of alternative treatments such as going on a radical diet.1

Before you read on – it is strongly advised any dietary changes be discussed at length with your physician.

Ketogenic Diets

High-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets have been used for almost a century for the treatment of epilepsy. In recent years the use of ketogenic diets has experienced a revival to include the treatment of adulthood epilepsies as well as conditions ranging from autism to chronic pain and cancer.2

Researchers say Ketogenic diets could represent a potential dietary manipulation that could be rapidly implemented by exploit the metabolic stress in the change of fuels cancer cells may suffer from.Another study found that the diet did in fact impede and delay tumor growth in mice.4

Caloric Restriction Diet and Breast Cancer Study

A caloric restriction diet has been touted as way to help people live longer. Recent research from doctors at Thomas Jefferson University suggests that there may be other benefits, including improving outcomes for women in breast cancer.

According to a study published  in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, the triple negative subtype of breast cancer – one of the most aggressive forms – is less likely to spread, or metastasize to new sites in the body when mice were fed a restricted diet.

Breast cancer patients are often treated with hormonal therapy to block tumor growth, and steroids to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy. However, both treatments can cause a patient to have altered metabolism which can lead to weight gain. In fact, women gain an average of 10 pounds in their first year of treatment.

Recent studies have shown that too much weight makes standard treatments for breast cancer less effective, and those who gain weight during treatment have worse cancer outcomes.

New research suggests that breast cancer survivors, particularly those who went through chemotherapy, are more prone to weight gain and agrees with the noted study above from Thomas Jefferson University. The treatment causes weight gain, the weight gain causes increased risk of cancer occurrence.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, found that breast cancer survivors gained more weight—3.6 pounds on average—than cancer-free women over a four-year period. Furthermore, survivors treated with chemotherapy were 2.1 times more likely than cancer-free women to gain at least 11 pounds during follow-up. A family predisposition for breast cancer increased that risk.

The study also linked weight gain in breast cancer survivors to other factors, including the use of cholesterol-blocking statins and the presence of invasive disease and cancer cells lacking receptors for estrogen.5

Caloric Restriction and cancer – the evidence mounts

In a broad review of the medical research over the past thirty years, doctors at the The University of Texas at Austin agree that calorie restriction is one of the most potent broadly acting dietary interventions for inducing weight loss and for inhibiting cancer.6

In their study, the doctors point to the following:

  • Observational studies support that caloric restriction has beneficial effects on longevity and cancer risk in humans.
  • Moderately reduced caloric intake decreased disease and death rates among Spanish nursing home residents.
  • Inhabitants of Okinawa, Japan, who until recently consumed significantly fewer calories than residents of the main Japanese islands, have lower death rates from a broad spectrum of cancers and other chronic diseases than inhabitants of the Japanese mainland.

In more recent research from the University of California doctors show that periodically adopting a diet that mimics the effects of fasting may yield a wide range of health benefits.

Bimonthly cycles of fasting/low calorie diets that lasted four days which started at middle age mice;

  • extended life span,
  • reduced the incidence of cancer,
  • boosted the immune system,
  • reduced inflammatory diseases,
  • slowed bone mineral density loss and improved the cognitive abilities of older mice tracked in the study.

In this study the diet slashed the individual’s caloric intake down to 34 to 54 percent of normal, with a specific composition of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and micronutrients.

The same research had shown that can help starve out cancer cells while protecting immune and other cells from chemotherapy toxicity.7

Other articles on our site can help understand the vital role of diet in cancer. Please see Onions and Garlic decrease cancer riskPancreatic cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changesDiet after the cancer diagnosis.

  • Nutrition for cancer support should be discussed with a and experienced healthcare professional.
  • Contact Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Magaziner via or

  • Call US 856-424-8222


The following research is cited in this article.

1. Stressed-out cancers may provide drug target.  Shaukat Z, Liu D, Choo A, Hussain R, O’Keefe L, Richards R, Saint R, Gregory SL. Chromosomal instability causes sensitivity to metabolic stress. Oncogene. 2015 Jul 30;34(31):4044-55. doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.344. Epub 2014 Oct 27.

2 Boison D. New insights into the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet. Curr Opin Neurol. 2017 Jan 30.

3. Allen, Bryan G. et al. “Ketogenic Diets as an Adjuvant Cancer Therapy: History and Potential Mechanism.” Redox Biology 2 (2014): 963–970. PMC. Web. 10 May 2016.

4. Klement RJ, Champ CE, Otto C, Kämmerer U. Anti-Tumor Effects of Ketogenic Diets in Mice: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2016 May 9;11(5):e0155050. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155050. eCollection 2016.

5. John Hopkins-Breast Cancer Survivors Gain Weight at a Higher Rate Than Their Cancer-Free Peers

6 Hursting, Stephen D., et al. “Calorie Restriction, Aging, and Cancer Prevention: Mechanisms of Action and Applicability to Humans*.” Annual review of medicine 54.1 (2003): 131-152.

7. Diet that mimics fasting appears to slow aging. Keck School of Medicine at USC