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High-Fat Diet Helps Radiation Fight Brain Tumor

December 5, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A ketogenic diet—a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet sometimes used in the treatment of childhood epilepsy—seems to make radiation therapy more effective against brain tumors.

Researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute (affiliated with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center) in Phoenix, Arizona, implanted malignant gliomas in mice and studied the effects of a ketogenic diet versus a standard diet.

The ketogenic diet alone prolonged life. Median survival rate of ketogenic-diet mice was five days longer than that of standard-diet mice (28 days compared with 23 days). One ketogenic-diet mouse was apparently cured of its tumor.

Combining a ketogenic diet with whole-brain radiation therapy produced stunning results. The 11 standard-diet mice survived an average of 41 days after treatment began. Of the 11 ketogenic-diet mice, 9 were cured. Their tumors evidently vanished and did not return, even when the mice were switched back to a standard diet.

Adrienne C. Scheck, PhD, who led the researchers, said:

We found that the ketogenic diet significantly enhances the anti-tumor effect of radiation, which suggests that it may be useful as an adjuvant to the current standard of care for the treatment of human malignant gliomas.

Dr. Scheck is principal investigator in neuro-oncology and neurosurgery research at Barrow and senior author of an article about the research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. She was quoted in a St. Joseph’s news release.

A ketogenic diet forces the body to burn fats—ketones—rather than carbohydrates. The PLOS ONE article says the results are consistent with earlier research suggesting that normal brain cells can use ketones as an energy source but tumor cells cannot.

Dr. Scheck said a ketogenic diet could easily be added, without the need for Food and Drug Administration approval, to treatment plans for brain tumors. The news release added, “She is currently exploring options for clinical trials.”

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