A hallmark of cancer is increased glucose dependency. This means that cancerous cells need glucose in order to grow and spread because they can’t utilize other fuel sources, like ketones.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is one of four types of thyroid cancer. It is a highly aggressive form that spreads quickly and is often fatal. N-acetylcysteine is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine and functions as an antioxidant.
Furthermore, the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate has been shown to function as an antioxidant. Since increase glucose dependency leads to oxidative stress in cancer cells, researchers hypothesized that a combination of n-acetylcysteine and following a ketogenic diet as nutritional intervention could inhibit cancer growth.
Researchers injected mice with anaplastic thyroid cancer cells. These mice were then sectioned into 4 groups: a standard diet group, a ketogenic diet group, a standard diet with N-acetylcysteine group, and a ketogenic diet with N-acetylcysteine group. Glucose and ketone levels were monitored, in addition to tumor volume. Additionally, researchers performed tests to quantify oxidative stress within the tissues.
The ketogenic diet and N-acetylcysteine treated group showed the largest decrease in tumor volume. To compare, the tumor volume was 22.5 ± 12.4 mm3 in the ketogenic diet and N-acetylcysteine group as compared to the standard diet group of 147 ± 54.4 mm3 (P<0.05).
The researchers concluded that the keto diet in combination with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine did significantly reduce tumor growth in anaplastic thyroid cancer.
While this research is promising, it does warrant further investigation since it was conducted on a pretty small sample size and in animals.
- Aggarwal, a., et al. Ketogenic diet combined with antioxidant N-acetylcysteine inhibits tumor growth in a mouse model of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Surgery. 2020, 167 (1): 87-93.