Alex Trebek, known to millions as the host of the long-running game show “Jeopardy!” says he’s determined to fight his stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and medical experts say a low carb, high-fat ketogenic diet may help him manage, or even curb, the disease.
The ketogenic diet has a variety of health benefits that extend far beyond its application as a weight loss tool, cancer scientist Dr. Dominic D’Agostino said on a podcast with bestselling author Tim Ferriss.
D’Agostino has researched the ketogenic diet’s power to curb, or “starve” cancer.
According to D’Agostino, we are only as healthy as our mitochondria, which are the power sources of all our cells, so if we keep our mitochondria healthy, we can stall the onset of cancer and other age-related chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
An effective way to inhibit the growth of cancer cells is to follow a ketogenic diet, he said.
“Most cancer scientists have historically thought cancer was a genetic disease, but only five to 10 percent of cancer is hereditary,” said D’Agostino, who has a Ph.D. in physiology and neuroscience.
D’Agostino’s research showed ketogenic diet therapy was able to double the survival time of mice with aggressive metastatic cancer, as Celebrity Health Fitness has reported. These same anti-cancer properties have also been observed in human cancer patients and reported in published studies.
D’Agostino said his colleague, Dr. Thomas Seyfried of Boston College, told him a ketogenic diet can replace chemotherapy and radiation for many cancers.
Seyfried’s decades of research indicate that cancer is a metabolic — not a genetic — disease. And the best way to treat a metabolic disorder is through diet, not by pumping a patient full of toxic radiation, he said.
The problem with the traditional treatment of cancer, said Seyfried, is that the cancer community has approached it as a genetic disease, so much of the research efforts have gone into gene-focused studies, which he says does not address the root of the problem.
Dr. Seyfried, widely considered the godfather of the nutritional treatment of cancer, joins a growing number of researchers who say the ketogenic diet can treat many forms of cancer.
This is because nearly all the healthy cells in our body have the metabolic flexibility to use fat, glucose and ketones to survive, but cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility and require large amounts of glucose and cannot survive on ketones.
So by limiting carbohydrates we can reduce glucose and insulin, and thus restrict the primary fuel for cancer cell growth.
While this idea may sound new, scientists have been aware of this for the past 80 years. This phenomenon was first observed in the 1920s by German physiologist Otto Warburg, who won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for discovering that cancer cells have defective mitochondria and thrive on sugar.
The “Warburg effect” can be exploited by the ketogenic diet, but so far this approach has not been used to fight cancer. However, the tide may soon be turning. Today, there are about a dozen studies that are investigating the use of the ketogenic diet to manage all kinds of cancer.
“The cancer research community needs to change its view of cancer as a metabolic — not a genetic — disease in order to make meaningful progress,” said Travis Christofferson, author of Tripping Over the Truth: The Metabolic Theory of Cancer.
Thomas Seyfried says the time has come for the medical community to publicly acknowledge the viability of the ketogenic diet as an inexpensive, non-toxic way to treat cancer.
“The standard of care has been an abysmal failure for cancer,” said Dr. Seyfried, author of Cancer as a Metabolic Disease. “The ketogenic diet may one day replace the standard of care for most cancers. To those who doubt me, I say: ‘Prove me wrong.’”
Alex Trebek, 78, tried to get ahead of the news cycle last night and announced the affliction himself in a brief statement on his show.
“Hi everyone, I have some news to share with all of you and it’s in keeping with my longtime policy of being open and transparent with our Jeopardy! fan base,” he said.
“Now, just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working.”
Trebek, who has hosted “Jeopardy!” game show since 1984, jocularly announced that he had three more years on his contract and he was determined to see it through.
“With the love and support of my family and friends and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease. Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years! So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
But for Alex Trebek, the prognosis isn’t good.
About 1.6 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). More than 55,000 new cases were diagnosed last year, the institute estimates.
While pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving, the disease is still considered one of the most deadly forms of cancer. The one-year relative survival rate is only 20 percent, and the five-year rate is only 7 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
The disease accounts for 7 percent of all deaths from cancer, even though only 3 percent of those afflicted with cancer have the disease. Just 8.5 percent of those diagnosed survived five years after the cancer is discovered, according to the NCI.