Keto and Cancer Metabolism

Keto and Cancer Metabolism

Cancer Metabolism

All living tissues need a fuel source for its metabolic needs—from bacteria to fungi to cancer cells.

It turns out that healthy human cells and cancerous cells have some differences in how they use fuel for their metabolic needs.

We can use our knowledge of these differences to decrease our risk of cancer AND to weaken cancer once a positive diagnosis has been made.

If we can weaken cancer, we can help make treatments more effective.

Let’s look at those differences so we can use knowledge and understanding to make lifestyle changes that will help to heal our bodies.

Healthy Cell Metabolism

Oxidative Phosphorylation

Oxidative phosphorylation takes place in organelles of cells called mitochondria.

The process of oxidative phosphorylation produces energy by combining a fuel source with oxygen to produce ATP.

ATP is an energy releasing molecule, and that energy is used by cells for their metabolic needs.

Fuel Sources for Oxidative Phosphorylation

Energy is created by oxidative phosphorylation when cells use glucose or fatty-acids to create ATP.

So, those are the two macronutrient sources for oxidative phosphorylation: carbs and fats.

So long as the mitochondria are healthy and functional, they will combine oxygen with a source of fuel to make ATP.

If oxygen is unavailable OR—more importantly to this discussion—if oxygen is available but cannot be used due to mitochondrial dysfunction, then oxidative phosphorylation cannot take place.

Cancer Cell Metabolism


Unhealthy cells, because of damage to the mitochondria, are unable to produce ATP through oxidative phosphorylation even in the presence of oxygen.  So, they begin to revert to a process of fermentation.

The fermentation process can create energy without the need for oxygen—it is an anaerobic process

Fermentation is fine for creating yogurt or sauerkraut but not for creating energy in the human body.

There are several problems with this fermentation process:

  • It is a “dirtier” way to create energy because it produces more free radicals than oxidative phosphorylation, causing damage to other molecules like fatty acids and DNA.
  • It is far less energy efficient than oxidative phosphorylation, producing less energy.
  • It creates an acidic environment around the cells and tissues that are using it due to lactic acid production as one of the by-products. 

Fuel Sources for Fermentation in Cancer Cells

Cancer cells use one of two sources of fuel for the fermentation process:

1. Glucose from sugar or starchy foods

2. Glutamine an amino acid from protein sources

The Warburg Effect

Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.

Otto H. Warburg


As stated above, fermentation will occur in hypoxic (low oxygen) situations.   It will also be used in cells that are unable to use oxygen because of mitochondrial dysfunction, even when oxygen is present.

This is called the Warburg Effect.

Named after Otto Warburg who in 1931 was given the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his “discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme”.

Warburg concluded from his experiments that cancer was primarily a metabolic disease, resulting from mitochondria that have lost their ability to use oxidative phosphorylation and therefore revert to fermentation to create energy.

This fermentation process mainly uses blood glucose but can also use the amino acid glutamine, which comes from protein sources.

Warburg’s theory essentially suggests that the DNA damage seen in cancer cells is a downstream effect of fermentation by-products that cause inflammation and oxidative stress to an already unhealthy cell.

This goes against the common cancer theories of today which say that the DNA damage results in the unhealthy cell.

Thomas Seyfried, a scientist and professor at Boston College, confirms Warburg’s theory with his own and other scientists’ research to create his theory of cancer as a mitochondrial metabolic disease. 

You can click on this link to read one of his published papers, “Cancer as a Mitochondrial Metabolic Disease, or go to his website,, where he freely shares his peer-reviewed papers, presentations, and interviews about his research.

How Now Shall We Live?

All cancers, no matter what kind of tissue they derive from, show evidence of the use of a fermentation process and the inability to produce energy through oxidative phosphorylation.

What we know:

  1.  Cancer cells use glucose or glutamine for fermentation.
  2. Normal, healthy cells use glucose or KETONE BODIES for oxidative phosphorylation.

Like any living cell, if we take away the source of fuel (food), the cell cannot live.

In the case of cancer, if we can restrict glucose and glutamine, the cells will die and/or be made much weaker.  Cancer cells don’t have a choice.

The only other source of fuel for a mammalian cell to use for energy is fat in the form of ketone bodies.  Cancer cells don’t have the ability to use ketone bodies because of their mitochondrial dysfuntion.


Ketone bodies are not fermentable substrates.  Ketones can only be used in the mitochondria to produce energy through oxidative phosphorylation, and cancer cells have lost the ability to do that.

If we can teach our healthy cells to use ketone bodies for oxidative phosphorylation instead of glucose by restricting blood sugar, our healthy cells can continue to function while any abnormal/cancerous cells lose their ability to live.

Keto and Cancer Metabolism

A ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting are, therefore, useful tools both for decreasing the risk of cancer and in aiding the treatment of cancer.

Keto and fasting provide a way for us to address the energy concerns of both the cancer cell and the healthy cell by taking away the cancer cell’s energy requirements for sugar, while continuing to supply healthy tissue with its energy requirements in the form of usable fat (ketone bodies).

If we try to poison the cancer with one hand, but give it plenty of fuel to live with the other hand, we will sabotage all the efforts we make to try to heal our bodies:  first, by strengthening the cancer and second, by requiring more and more toxic chemotherapy protocols.

Getting off of sugar and processed food is essential to decreasing the risk of cancer, but also to beating a cancer diagnosis.

Decrease Your Risk of all Cancers

Not everyone will need to be on a strict keto diet in order to be healthy.  But the older we get, or the sicker we are, the more a Whole Food approach to Keto will be powerful in our healing journey.

My Whole Food approach to Keto will help you to decrease your risk of all lifestyle diseases by helping you to detox from sugar and processed foods, while putting in the nutrient dense foods that our bodies have been designed to eat.

You can begin to understand how carb restriction affects blood sugar through hormone balance in this related article: Are Ketogenic Diets Healthy or Harmful?

Are you ready for a sugar detox?

You can take my 30-day Whole Food Keto Challenge where you will find all the information you need for success keto diet and you will have unlimited email coaching from me.

The 30-Day Whole Food Keto Diet Challenge

The 30-Day Whole Food Keto Challenge is a 30-day weekly quide that will help you to detox from sugar and processed food and teach your healthy cells to use fat for fuel.

You can expect weight loss, increased energy, decreased brain fog, and the beginnings of reversal of lifestyle diseases like Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, and other inflammatory conditions.

If you are on medication or being treated for a chronic condition, you must speak with your health care provider before purchasing this ebook and beginning a keto diet.

To read about some my own health struggles and my keto testimony you can go here: A Pharmacist Discovers True Health.

It’s your turn!  What has a keto/whole food diet done for you?  Share your experiences or ask questions about your own struggles in the comments below.

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