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Starving Cancer and the Ketogenic Diet

Written By Claire C

In this TED Talk, Dr. Dominic D’Agostino discusses the role of the ketogenic diet in the treatment of various neurological diseases.  Although his research originally focused on the role of ketones in the treatments of seizures caused by Navy Seal diving equipment, he eventually realized the power of ketosis in the treatment of cancer. 

A Brief Summary:

What were they interested in? The researchers were originally interested in developing a proper treatment for seizures caused by Navy Seal diving equipment. 

What did they do? They researched various methods of treatment for these seizures, including typical prescription drug treatments, lack of treatment, and the ketogenic diet. They then analyzed how the ketogenic diet may be applied to other disorders such as cancer. 

What did they find out? Researchers found that the ketogenic diet was actually more effective than typical drug treatments.  They also discovered the inability of cancer cells to use ketones as a fuel source in place of glucose.

What direction could be next? The inability of cancer cells to survive using ketones suggests that there may be a way to replace or supplement current cancer treatments with the use of the ketogenic diet to starve cancer cells.  

The Need for the Ketogenic Diet:

  • Discussed a problem with Navy Seal diving equipment which caused the potential for an underwater seizure 
    • Neurons in the brain can be overstimulated when subjected to high oxygen and high pressure 
    • This causes a decrease in brain energy metabolism
  • Many of the drugs used to limit these seizures have severe side effects

The Role of the Ketogenic Diet:

  • Found that the ketogenic diet could be more effective than anti-epilepsy prescription drugs in reducing the frequency of seizures 
  • Has even been shown to completely eliminate epilepsy in certain patients
  • Glucose transporter type I deficiency syndrome: patients lack the ability to transport glucose to the brain, so the brain is essentially starved
    • The brain can readily adapt to using ketones in place of glucose during periods of limited glucose availability 

Cancer and the Ketogenic Diet:

  • Almost all cells are able to use ketones in place of glucose as a form of energy
  • However, cancer cells are unable to effectively transition from using glucose to using ketones as fuel 

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Youtube Description:

Dr. D’Agostino is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida College Of Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology where he develops and tests metabolic therapies, including alternative energy substrates and ketogenic agents for neurological disorders, cancer and wound healing. While studying the effects of gasses on the brains of Navy Seal divers, he developed an approach for metabolically starving cancer cells through diet and compressed oxygen, replacing chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation.

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