Low-carb diets may slow or stop cancer, obesity and diabetes

Changes in diet may play a role in slowing or stopping the progression of most common breast, endometrial and colorectal cancers, according to a study published in Cell Metabolism.

This work suggests that low-carb, low-fiber diets may offer an alternative strategy for breast- and endometrial cancers. In addition, these trials had few participants of any age, gender or other ethnic groups, which suggests that these cancers may not be as discriminating genetically as previously thought.

“Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in young adults,” said first author Marisa Walters, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Even though these cancers are highly prevalent and treat as few patients as possible, their prevalence and their apparent genetic mutation offer a major opportunity for women to participate in research into their cancer and their diet, specifically to develop new cures.”

“In one of our trials in nonhuman primates, we also fed them diets that were in the ‘low carb’ or ‘moderately high-fat’ range, which can be as low as 25 calories a day,” said co-author Matt Singer, PhD, of the University of New South Wales and one of the team members. “The low-carb diets included foods including nuts and some seeds, and the high-fat diet included eggs, soft cheese and some meats.”

Play a role in shaping the defense systems of cancer cells.

Attacking breast cancer cells with a low-carb diet generally removed 99.5% of the cells without an iron chelator and without a tool to remove human red blood cells. Low protein levels in the diet were associated with lower rates of cancer progression.

The team found that the low-carb diet disrupted intercellular communication, including the ability of cancer cells to absorb nutrients and kill them. In this, they failed to show improvement in overall survival and increased deaths from the disease.

“This study highlights an important role for the microenvironment in shaping the tumor environment,” said co-author Peggy Maysent, PhD, of the University of Rochester. “The absence of iron in this setting, which results in a high burden of iron, may lead to constipation, or of malnutrition, among other health defects.”