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Can a Keto Diet Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer?


The liver is an amazing organ.

It eliminates toxins within the body, like alcohol, medicines, and other drugs. It is the only organ that can break down fructose (fruit sugar). And now, researchers believe that it may produce an “anti colorectal cancer” molecule in response to the keto diet.

We are all familiar with the keto diet — a low carb, high fat diet that allows you to eat bacon but not bread. The idea is to make your body enter ketosis, or a metabolic state during which your body burns fat for energy instead of carbs.

Interestingly enough, the liver reacts to ketosis by producing a molecule called beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB. This molecule was the subject of a 2022 study published in Nature.

Understanding the Research

According to the study authors, it’s more important than ever that we find new prevention and treatment strategies for colorectal cancer. It’s the third most common cancer diagnosed in the US (excluding skin cancers). While women are less likely to die from this form of cancer, it still affects them at significant rates.

These statistics drove researchers to investigate the potential benefits of a keto diet on colorectal cancer risk. During the study, which was conducted on mice, the researchers divided mice into six groups based on diet. Those meal groupings ranged from a high-carb, low-fat diet to a low-carb, high-fat diet (a keto diet). Then, the study authors used a chemical technique to induce colorectal tumors in all mice.

The authors quickly discovered that the mice on the keto diet had an impressive resistance to colorectal tumor development and growth in comparison to the other mice.

The scientists were able to trace the cancer-resistant benefits back to BHB. (Remember: The liver produces BHB in response to ketosis, a metabolic state during which the body burns fat instead of carbs. Ketosis is caused by the keto diet or starvation.)

“Our findings suggest that this natural molecule, BHB, could someday become a standard part of colorectal cancer care and prevention,” said study co-senior author Maayan Levy, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology at Penn Medicine in a press release.

Does this mean the keto diet prevents colorectal cancer?

Not exactly! The keto diet may cause your liver to produce the BHB molecule. According to the researchers, BHB is what’s really responsible for a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

Also, keep in mind that this was an animal study, not a human one. While mice share many genetic similarities with humans, more research is needed to demonstrate the benefits of BHB.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to know that a keto diet may have benefits beyond weight loss! For more keto tips, check out this guide to ultra keto — and for a quick pick-me-up, use this recipe to make keto-friendly cookies.

And remember: Always check with your doctor before starting any diet. The keto diet may or may not be what’s best for your health.

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