In a brand-new animal study published in Cell Reports, researchers found that by restricting circulating blood glucose (aka blood sugar) levels in mice with lung cancer, they were able to prevent the growth of squamous cell carcinoma tumors.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers lowered circulating blood glucose in mice by feeding them a ketogenic diet and by giving them a diabetes drug that prevents blood glucose from being reabsorbed by the kidneys. Both of these interventions by themselves inhibited the further growth of these tumors (but did not shrink the tumors), suggesting this type of cancer might be quite vulnerable to glucose restriction.

This study builds on an exciting body of research on using the keto diet to help fight certain types of cancer. But how exactly are keto, blood sugar, and cancer all related? The connection has everything to do with how cells behave, explains L.J. Amaral, R.D., who is board-certified in oncology nutrition:

“In his research, Nobel laureate Otto Warburg, discovered that 80 percent of human cancer cells have an increased intake of glucose and, without the presence of oxygen, produce very little energy. This is incredibly unusual in comparison to normal energy metabolism—where a small amount of glucose yields a large amount of energy in the presence of oxygen. In other words, he discovered that the metabolism of most cancer cells is altered. Using the ketogenic diet, we can potentially change the tumor’s metabolism by reducing the amount of glucose and other nutrients, like insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), it gets to feed on. This can reduce the blood flow going to the tumor, making it much less favorable for cancer cells to grow.”

The key finding of this new study: A ketogenic diet alone has some tumor-growth inhibitory effect in squamous cell cancer, said Jung-Whan Kim, Ph.D., in a news release, adding that “when we combined this with the diabetes drug and chemotherapy, it was even more effective.”

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