A ketogenic diet (aka “keto”) is a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Many popular diets are based on this premise. In a recent study described in Oncotarget, Volume 8, Issue 39, researchers wanted to find out if a keto diet supplemented with over-the-counter partially man-made fats (medium-chain triglycerides) enhanced the anti-tumor effects of chemotherapy on a cancer most commonly found in children (neuroblastoma).
Neuroblastoma (NB) is the second most common solid cancer in children occurring outside the skull, accounting for ~15% of pediatric cancer deaths. Despite treatment advances, the outcome for high-risk children with NB remains poor. These children are usually treated with several cycles of chemotherapy, followed by stem cell transplantation and irradiation. This has lifelong effects, as large numbers of adult survivors of childhood cancer have higher chance of death from side effects of the treatments they received as children.
To address this challenge, researchers looked at the addition of adjuvant treatment regimens that might improve the effectiveness of current treatments, minimize their toxicity, and improve patient quality of life. An adjuvant is a drug or substance that is added to a treatment to amplify or assist its effect. In this study, the keto diet and added high-fat supplements were the adjuvant.
What effect did the keto diet have on the current treatment options?
Reducing calories in the cancer patients wasn’t really an option, so the aim of the study was to optimize the keto diet benefits without reducing calories. Researchers combined chemotherapy with keto diets of varying fat levels and found that one diet, which contained 8-carbon medium-chain triglycerides (fats) had a strong anti-tumor effect. This combination suppressed tumor growth and significantly reduced the size of tumor blood-vessels and hemorrhage.
Most notably, the keto diet caused a significant reduction in the serum levels of essential amino acids, but increased the levels of the amino acids serine, glutamine and glycine. The findings suggest that targeting energy metabolism with a modified ketogenic diet may be considered as part of a treatment plan to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy in children with neuroblastoma.