Ketogenic Diet: Fighting Back Against Cancer

Nasha Winters is a naturopath based in Colorado and the co-author of a lucid, persuasive book called The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. She is an articulate, energetic and unstoppable advocate of the ketogenic diet as a therapy for cancer and a host of other maladies. Ketosis — not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition — is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides most of the energy. Ketosis is a nutritional process characterized by serum concentrations of ketone bodies over a certain level, with low and stable levels of insulin and blood glucose. Longer-term ketosis occurs when people stick to a food regimen that is extremely low in carbohydrates and can be medically induced to treat a patient for diabetes or epilepsy. Along with a growing cohort of medical practitioners and ordinary citizens, Winters believes it holds the key to reversing some of the scourges that threaten to bankrupt our health care system. Herself a cancer survivor, Winters approaches her work with the fervor of one who knows it in her bones. She graciously made time for a long chat in between seeing patients, lecturing and writing.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Understanding Cancer from a Metabolic Level

Photo courtesy of Kyla Jenkinson, PhotoDivine

ACRES U.S.A. What do you think is the biggest barrier to our understanding of cancer? For many years we’ve been hearing that millions of dollars are being spent and many millions more are needed for research. There are occasional stories of research breakthroughs and less frequent stories of significant new therapies. Yet cancer marches on. It is a subject of fear and incomprehension for most people.

NASHA WINTERS. Yes, exactly. I don’t know if I have the answer, but I have my thoughts and a quarter-century of personal experience with thousands of patients and hundreds of colleagues. First of all, when you hear the big C, when you hear “cancer,” it conjures up terror. It conjures up fear, and it conjures up a certain value and belief system. In the United States the only people who are allowed to say they treat cancer are oncologists and dental surgeons. Even your family practitioners are not allowed to treat cancer. It’s a turf war, if you will. If somebody’s diagnosed with cancer, they have to be referred to an oncologist. Well, that’s great. Oncologists know a lot about the actual cancer cell, the cancer cell cycle and the tumor itself, but frankly, they do not have any training in the terrain, in the medium in which that cell or tumor grows. That’s where we have the biggest disconnect and biggest loss in the past 70 years of cancer treatment, certainly since Nixon declared War on Cancer in the early ’70s. We have not made any headway. Just to back up and give a few statistics, one in two men and one in 2.4 women in the United States are expected to have cancer in their lifetime. When you have cancer in places like the United States, you also have a 70 percent chance of having a recurrence. Not only do you get to deal with it once — you have a high likelihood of dealing with it again. We’ve seen a 300 percent increase in brand-new secondary cancers in patients who’ve already been treated for cancer. Months to years later, they have brand-new cancers that are not related to the original diagnoses, and we find those are secondary to the treatments they received the first go around.

ACRES U.S.A. Is that a recent trend?

WINTERS. Yes, it’s a recent trend. In our book we give out the references to this research. Everything I’m telling you is referenced, and most of it comes directly from the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization and the CDC, as well as the IARC, which is the main investigative body for cancer research. So this is big. And yet, we haven’t made very much headway. We’ve not seen any change in survival rates basically in 50 years. We are seeing people being diagnosed earlier because of certain technologies, but it’s not changing their outcomes. So early diagnosis is not changing survival rate, unfortunately. What we’ve focused on for the past 70-75 years is the tumor and the tumor cell, and we’ve gone at it with all this traumatic theory or the DNA damage theory of cancer, as seen in Dr. Vogelstein’s work out of Johns Hopkins and people like him. They say that cancer is simply bad luck, that it’s a genetic mishap, and you’re just more or less a sitting duck, waiting for it to happen to you. I completely disagree, as does a growing body of knowledge, including researchers from Vogelstein’s group. Dr. Peter Pedersen’s work at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Thomas Seyfried at Boston College, Dr. Dominic D’Agostino out of Florida University and others are really picking up the momentum where Dr. Otto Warburg left off in the 1920s. He was looking at cancer as a metabolic disease back in the ’20s, but shortly thereafter Watson and Crick came onto the scene and pushed us into the world of DNA and genetics.

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ACRES U.S.A. Does the genetic mutation idea, the bad luck thesis, have something to do with our incomplete record of the past? If we had a better record of the past, wouldn’t it be clearer that our cancer rates have gone up so much that simple bad luck can’t explain it?

WINTERS. You got it. I also think, boy howdy, we really didn’t figure out the genome until the late ’80s, early ’90s. We really expected that to be a home run for us, and it’s fallen very short of that. The people who are still pushing the gene theory alone are standing on the Titanic saying, “This is the way to go. We’re fine. Everything’s good here.” Yet we are coming to understand from the metabolic approach that it doesn’t throw the damaged DNA out with the bathwater. It says the DNA damage isn’t because of cancer. The cause of cancer is damaged mitochondria.

What Are Mitochondria and How Do We Damage Them?

ACRES U.S.A. Can you refresh our memory from high school biology?

WINTERS. Mitochondria are the little organelles within each and every one of our cells that create energy, that make adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which is our energy source, from what we feed it, from our diet. The discussion is changing from 75 years of saying, “Gene damage equals cancer.” Now we’re saying, “Damaged mitochondria equal DNA changes, which equals cancer.” We’re backing it up a notch by saying the problem is a little more upstream than we’re giving it credit for. This is the power of the metabolic theory of cancer and the metabolic approach to cancer — looking more at prevention and truly understanding how each and every one of us can tune up our mitochondrial function and help us become more resistant to cancer and chronic illness.

ACRES U.S.A. How do we damage our mitochondria?

WINTERS. The biggest offenders doing damage to our mitochondria are our diets and our lifestyles. This is where we’re able to show in the research that upwards of 95 percent of all chronic illness, and especially cancer, is secondary to our diet and lifestyle choices. We have come to trust and believe in our government giving us good information about our food, and yet we’re one of the few countries that doesn’t label GMOs or outright ban them. We’re one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t ban or label glyphosates. We’re one of the few countries that doesn’t ban certain chemicals added to our food, or hormones and antibiotics added to grain sources that feed the animals we eat. We have a way in the United States of saying, “We’ll keep doing it until proven otherwise,” whereas the rest of our industrialized colleagues say, “Prove it to us that it’s safe, and then we’ll use it.” They take a little bit different approach, just like I’m trying to put out there that we should probably take a different approach to cancer, that it’s not DNA damage that equals cancer. It’s cleaning upstream that prevents the DNA damage that causes cancer. It gets into the politics. It gets into Big Ag. It gets into chemical companies. And it gets into the medical system. When I talk about food, I mean it on all levels that impact our world.

ACRES U.S.A. Do people in the field resist the metabolic understanding of cancer because they are reluctant to accept that genome research just didn’t pan out as hoped? It’s not the master key to the most challenging locks. A scientist who has put a couple of decades into a certain way of thinking about something would be as reluctant as anybody else to abandon it if it’s not working.

WINTERS. Well, that’s just it. By the year 2020, the cancer industry — because that is the reality, it’s an industry — is expected to surpass a trillion dollars. We’ve invested a lot of time, money, effort and research dollars, as you say, into the gene model, the epigenome model, and it hasn’t panned out as we had hoped. Now, being a person who sees those sides of that equation, I don’t think we necessarily have to throw that out entirely. I just think it should not be our central focus. You still can have actionable targets within that genetic expression. But we need to be thinking more globally. We need to back it up from the tumor and the tumor cell, and we need to understand how we got here and how to get away from it. That’s what the emerging science is doing. Thankfully, at the end of the Obama administration, Joe Biden helped launch a concept called the Precision Medicine Initiative, which basically said, “We have money to give a bunch of scientists, but they have to talk to each other.” Because today the way our research works is that everyone hoards and hides their information because it’s worth something. It’s got value. The Precision Medicine Initiative says we’re spinning our wheels by hoarding our data — let’s bring our data together and compare it, and together we can make a bigger difference. I’m hopeful that it’s going to change some of the dialogue in the future. I also hope we start looking at the individual. Just this past week, a study came out in which they’re finally looking at somebody’s genes to truly decide what the best conventional drug treatment is.

ACRES U.S.A. This is a new idea?

WINTERS. I’ve been doing that for a decade, but it hasn’t been covered by insurance. People have to pay for these genetic tests out-of-pocket to determine the best treatment for them. But with this new study coming out, this may be part of your normal regimen — you get diagnosed with cancer and you get a precision, personalized medical approach. That is really a groundbreaking moment in 75 years of oncology care. Also, people are paying more attention to why we have more cancer, and that segues into talking about the industry that’s behind the gene research. There is a lot of industry behind the treatments. If you then say, “Gosh, that chemical we put on the food is toxic” — admit that once and entire multimillion if not multibillion-dollar industries could go down the tubes. No one in that industry wants to have people label known carcinogens. It would not be good for business. These are the kinds of things that we talk about in the book — who these industries are and where you need to look to educate yourself. You cannot depend on your government or Big Ag or big industry or even big medicine to do that for you. They’re all in bed together.

 ACRES U.S.A. Do you think there is a lot of walking on eggshells around the idea that we would like to solve this problem, but not really?

 WINTERS. Oh, totally. I think that’s actually a perfect statement. When you have something that’s encroaching on a trillion-dollar moneymaker, my goodness. We are not very compelled to change. There are people being paid to come and troll sites like mine, saying everything I’m doing is hooey, totally refutable and not standard. Then they jump on the fact that I’m not a conventionally trained medical doctor, even though I’m a naturopathic doctor. I went through the same board exams and studied to learn all of this personally and professionally. I work with conventional colleagues around the world and can communicate on their terms. There are people who are committed to blocking this information from being available and being transparent.

Understanding the World of Cancer Research

ACRES U.S.A. Let’s talk about your research activity.

WINTERS. I help consult on Institutional Review Boards on research projects at major medical universities and academic institutions on a regular basis. An IRB is an independent ethics committee that reviews your permission to do a research project through the FDA, for example, which vets the research. They give you a stamp of approval that you can run with this project — “It’s ethical. It makes sense. You’re asking a good question. Yes, let’s do the research.” I work within that arena, and I know what they’re saying yea and nay to, and they’re happy to say yes to the types of things that I want to study, but they’re not willing to fund it. That’s the other piece. A lot of the things that we need to be talking about, no one wants to fund. Thankfully, in this era we have a lot of philanthropic, entrepreneurial dollars and personal money being filtered into the world of research that may actually make a difference and get us somewhere. In the past we really depended on the industry, on the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. We’ve looked at all of these other resources to do our research for us, but no one felt compelled to do some of it, because you can’t make money off food. You can’t make money off certain nutrients or supplements or herbs, and you can’t make money off lower dosing of some of the more toxic therapies. So it’s an interesting dance that we’re in.

ACRES U.S.A. You also have a personal connection to the world of mainstream cancer research, if I’m not mistaken.

WINTERS. Yes, my husband worked in cancer research. He was a cancer drug designer in grad school. He’s a biochemist by training, and he worked for Merck Pharmaceutical. He runs a medical marijuana-testing lab in the state of Colorado to make sure that people are actually doing what they say they’re doing, and also make sure it’s not fraught with chemicals and pesticides. We are very passionate about quality, quantity, research and the scientific method around all of these things, but we also recognize the many roadblocks that are put up to get real research done and to get information disseminated to the masses.

ACRES U.S.A. With your husband as a window into the world of high-dollar biochemistry, biomedical research, then you are highly informed about the world that you’re more or less opposing, if that is the right word.

WINTERS. Exactly. Or trying to create transparency, communication and some real change. I don’t think that it has to be us or them. I think there are different conversations. But they would see me as the opposition, right? That’s pretty clear.

ACRES U.S.A. Are they paranoid?

WINTERS. Judging by the way I’ve been addressed — yes, exactly. What is that old Schopenhauer quote about truth? First they laugh at you, then they vehemently oppose you, and then they accept it as fact. I have lived and practiced long enough, through 25 years of my own cancer diagnosis, as well as helping thousands of others, to have watched that process unfold multiple times. I used to be laughed at, like, “Oh, she’s just a kooky naturopath.” Now that I’m out there on a bigger stage around the world and even advising on conventional research and therapies, they’re starting to get really mean.

ACRES U.S.A. Recent experience tells us that armies of clever and nasty trolls can be hired.

WINTERS. Definitely. I don’t even respond. Luckily, I don’t have to. Most people who know me, who have worked with me, know that what I do is about education and empowerment. My mission is exactly the one you have at Acres, except mine says, “I bring you everything you need to know to grow a bountiful, nourished body and preventative terrain that doesn’t leave a welcome mat for disease and chronic illness.” We’re on the same exact path, trying to bring informed consent and understanding to the world. That’s what it’s about. I’m passionate. Doctor means teacher. It’s docēre in Latin, and I feel like that’s been my purpose, to help people understand that we are so far from what Mother Nature intended.

ACRES U.S.A. Something you said earlier really caught my attention. What is your theory on why we’re seeing this upsurge in secondary cancers?

WINTERS. It’s not even a theory. In fact, even the research says this 300 percent increase since the 1970s of brand-new, secondary cancers in people who’ve had a previous cancer is caused directly by the treatment they received. Radiation is a known carcinogen. Methotrexate, which we often give out like candy to rheumatoid arthritis patients, is a known carcinogen. It causes B-cell lymphoma. We know that people who’ve undergone lots of radiation or chemotherapy are likely to have leukemia or lymphoma. We know that children who’ve undergone childhood cancer treatment are almost guaranteed a cancer in their adulthood. It’s like a 90 percent rate of adult cancers in children who have undergone treatment. These are horrifying to me, and no one is asking questions. So treatment itself is the poison. If we come at it from a metabolic, mitochondrial approach, it’s not that we don’t do those treatments. It’s to say, “Clean up and enhance your mitochondrial function so you don’t end up being that statistic.” That’s where I’m coming from. That’s where this book is coming from. That’s where the metabolic approach to cancer research is coming from. Tidy up your mitochondria. Lower your risk of cancer and chronic illness.

ACRES U.S.A. How do you feel when you see somebody in the news such as Angelina Jolie having her breasts and her uterus removed because of her high genetic propensity for cancer?

WINTERS. The BRCA gene mutation that motivated Angelia Jolie to choose preemptive surgeries is simply a problem with how our mitochondria are functioning and how we methylate, which is just the way we process chemicals in our foods and things we’re exposed to — including emotional exposure, not only in our environment. What’s really sad is that she set us back about 10 years. We were moving forward in our understanding of this more as a metabolic, dietary, lifestyle, preventative approach. Angelina Jolie comes out, removes her breasts, and the world takes notice. Suddenly we see a huge upsurge in BRCA testing. We see a huge upsurge on surgeries. We see a huge upsurge in a lot of industries that fell from the tree of that announcement. In private practice, I’ve seen seven women who preemptively removed breasts and/or ovaries and ended up dying of stage IV metastatic disease. This is what is so crazy. The location is not the issue. The terrain is the issue. Simply removing an area that might have a likelihood of having cancer is like saying, “Well, great, I might have brain cancer someday, so I’d better remove my brain.” It’s insane, that approach.

ACRES U.S.A. It would present a severe difficulty.

WINTERS. Exactly. I have this gene in myself. I have hundreds of patients with this gene. I educate them. I empower them and help them understand what makes that gene express cancer, and they turn their diet and lifestyle around to make sure that they’re not expressing it. Some of them may do the surgery. Some of them may even do prophylactic treatments, but they also know they have to take this more global, terrain-centric approach. We’ve had a BRCA uptick, approximately 47 percent since World War II. That should tell us we’ve done something to our systems to make BRCA gene more prevalent today, and it’s because of the things we’ve put into our bodies. People think, “Hey, my DNA is broken; therefore, I’m going to get cancer.” We’re trying to explain, “No, no, no, no. That’s not it. Your mitochondria are going to keep that DNA healthy or unhealthy, depending on what you feed that mitochondria.”

ACRES U.S.A. There is something heartbreaking about these irreversible preemptive surgeries.

WINTERS. I had an experience recently with a young woman who had a prophylactic surgery, removing her breasts because of the family dynamic of this gene, and she said, “Well, great. I get a new pair of boobs. I get to keep smoking.” As she was telling me this, she was wearing her cell phone in her bra. I about cried, because invariably she will have this cancer raging through her body in few years. She’s just been given this false sense of security by simply removing a body part, and it has not changed her mitochondria one iota. She’s still exposing herself to well-known risk factors that cause mitochondrial damage that will lead to that BRCA mutation expressing.

Sugar Is a Culprit of Mitochondrial Damage

ACRES U.S.A. Which risk factor concerns you the most?

WINTERS. The other thing that drives this is sugar — sugar, sugar, sugar. We’ve gone from 5 pounds of sugar per person per year at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, to 175 pounds of sugar per person, per year, in a recent statistic that came out in 2014. That is a metabolic catastrophe. Our body does not even know what to do with that information, and the mitochondria are overwhelmed. We are overfed and undernourished and we are oxidizing the heck out of ourselves with all of the growth factors and all of the inflammatory markers that sugar stimulates. That’s what leads into this. How do we pull back the reins on metabolic approach to cancer? Sugar is one of the center posts of this discussion.

ACRES U.S.A. What has changed in the last 10 or 15 years to sharpen our understanding of what sugar is doing to mitochondria?

WINTERS. You probably heard that there were some researchers — one of them at Harvard — in the 1960s who basically got paid off by the sugar industry. That was what changed. We decided that fat was bad and sugar was fine. Then, of course, we got completely away from what our grandparents, our great-grandparents and upstream several generations before them had been eating. We said, “Boy, fat is bad. Eggs are bad. We need to go to a whole-grain diet,” thank you to agricultural subsidies, not to your health, which then also fed into the sugar industry. They’re all very much in bed together. Basically, Big Ag, like Big Sugar, took on a huge role in our post-industrial revolution after World War II. They put the spotlight on fat being bad and grains and sugar being good. Now, grains turn into sugar, mind you. I lump them into one conversation. What happened then is that we went barking up the wrong tree for a very long time. Over the last 10 years we’ve made no change in cardiovascular disease despite all the drugs we’re throwing at people, especially statins. The low-fat diet has not gotten us anywhere on cardiovascular health. By 2020, cancer is likely to be the number one cause of death in this country. It’s now the number one cause of death in 12 European Union nations, where heart disease always had been before.

ACRES U.S.A. But at least the danger of sugar is getting more attention?

WINTERS. We can now really see that cardiovascular disease and cancer are very much fed by sugar and carbohydrates and starch and grains. We are finally doing the research. We have people like Gary Taubes, who wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories and The Case Against Sugar. We have the famous doctor Robert Lustig and his book called Fat Chance. Specifically, we’ve had a lot of studies, but we’ve buried every one of them.

ACRES U.S.A. Can you give an example?

WINTERS. For instance, we’ve known for a very long time that diabetics have a higher rate of cancer. We’ve known that in the research well since the ’60s. We’ve known since we started using PET scans that when we give them a bolus of radioactive glucose, we see where it goes, and guess what? It goes to the cancer sites. It goes to the cancer cells, because there are more than 300 times the receptor sites for insulin and for sugar on the cancer cell than there are in our healthy cells. We’ve known that for a while, and your doctors use the technology that says sugar is a problem, and everyone still has their head in the sand. It’s ridiculous. We’ve known that the higher your hemoglobin A1c, the more you oxidize, the more damage to your blood vessels, and the more damage to your nerves. We’ve known this causes mitochondrial damage for a very long time. And yet we bury the data. It’s insane to me.

ACRES U.S.A. It wouldn’t be very difficult to write a science fiction story where somebody 100 years from now says, “You know, these people were real nutjobs. They made themselves incredibly sick to drive one-sixth of their economy.”

WINTERS. Exactly. We have all become metabolically inflexible. The disease that’s taking the Western world by storm today is Alzheimer’s. The research is mounting that Alzheimer’s is diabetes of the brain. Cancer is expensive, but Alzheimer’s is way more expensive. It takes a lot more to care for somebody with Alzheimer’s than it does for somebody with cancer. So it may be the Alzheimer’s group that gets us to start talking about sugar.

ACRES U.S.A. It will turn the gasoline into crude napalm.

WINTERS. Yes. That’s what we’re doing. We are napalming the heck out of ourselves. Imagine going from a 5-pound bag to 175 pounds of that dumped into your personal gas tank, on average, every year.

ACRES U.S.A. When you say, “the terrain is the issue,” are you referring to the mitochondria in every cell?

WINTERS. In Western science we would call that the extracellular matrix. It’s the goo that our cells frolic about in. It’s everything from the cell and the cytoplasm, which is the goo inside the cells, to the extracellular matrix, which the cell floats about in, to the lymphatics, the blood, the plasma that circulates through our bodies, to the tissues and organs and structure that holds our container together. So when I say terrain, I’m talking all the way down to the infinitesimal nuclei of mitochondria and even to the electrons of that mitochondria, all the way up to the external shell of our skin, our bone, our muscles. Terrain is the entirety, as well as how we interact with the people and the world around us. When I think about terrain, I think about our microbiome. I think about our hormones. I think about our blood sugar balance. I think about our immune system, our night and day circadian rhythm cycles, our stress response. It’s all-inclusive.

The “Evolutionary Gift of Ketosis” and the Ketogenic Diet

ACRES U.S.A. So the terrain of many people is in bad shape. The evidence in the medical media, along with what is happening all around us, seems persuasive.

WINTERS. Even when I was eating my vegetarian diet and exercising like a madwoman, I had some of the worst blood sugar ever, because I was living on grains and legumes and fruit and not a lot of vegetables and not enough protein and animal fat, and good, non-animal fats as well. I was on the low-fat, vegetarian diet kick, and even vegan for a while, and my sugars were out of control, as was my cancer. Basically, ketones are these little chemical messengers in our body. It’s an alternative fuel source. Just like we can convert our oil to gasoline or diesel, we can also do that in our own body. We can convert our glucose-burning mitochondria into ketone-burning mitochondria. We call that becoming fat-adapted and becoming metabolically flexible. Historically, even just a century ago, we weren’t able to access food 24/7/365. So we would naturally use this evolutionary gift of ketosis that gives us clarity, gives us fortitude, and gives us the ability to run smoothly so we can keep seeking our food. It was a built-in mechanism that came with the model that we were given. We then got further and further away from natural ketosis, and we became incredibly overfed and undernourished in the last 75 years. Now when we feed the body sugar, it gets converted into ATP — energy. But interestingly enough, we make more ATP when we burn fat over sugar. It’s actually a more efficient and more effective fuel source. It offers a lot more protection for the mitochondria than burning carbohydrates.

ACRES U.S.A. What are some of the positive effects?

WINTERS. When we look at the “Terrain 10” issues that I focus on in my book, we know that ketosis impacts positively each and every one of those, so it lowers inflammation. It lowers blood circulation vessels to the tumor. It stimulates and immunomodulates the immune system. It balances out hormone dysregulation. It changes the microbiome. Those are just examples. It heals our mitochondria. It encourages new stem cell growth, new, healthy stem cells, and induces actual cancer cell death as well. It has all of these assets in a really profound way. We don’t have a pharmaceutical or a chemotherapeutic agent that does. We might have something that hits one or two of those targets, but certainly not all 10. Ketosis has the ability to hit all 10. It’s not meant to be a standalone treatment. It’s meant to enhance other therapies. For instance, radiation will not work if somebody has high sugar levels. That’s well documented in science, well documented in the literature, and yet it is never described and discussed with the patient. If you have elevated blood sugars and you’re having radiation, the likelihood of that radiation working well for you is very slim, the side effects are even higher, and your potential for that radiation to cause a future cancer is even higher. If we actually have people in ketosis while they get their radiation, they’re going to get a better response to the radiation while protecting their healthy cells at the same time. It’s a win-win across the board.

ACRES U.S.A. What is a ketogenic diet? In your book, you mention that vegetarians or vegans will eat too many carbohydrates, and that reminds me of the confusion that surrounds complex versus simple carbohydrates, which in turn recalls the confusion around healthy versus unhealthy fats.

WINTERS. Exactly. The ketogenic diet has been utilized as a direct therapy for epilepsy since the 1920s. It started at Johns Hopkins. It was revived later by a man whose son had epilepsy. After the epilepsy drug Depakote came on the market in the ’40s it lost favor. Doctors found it easier to give out a pill than to teach a patient how to do this diet. But a parent whose son wasn’t responding to the pill found the literature and put his child on the ketogenic diet, which stopped the grand mal seizures. He later started a corporation called, and they have taught thousands, if not tens of thousands, of parents how to implement a ketogenic diet for their kids with neurological disorders. Then folks like Thomas Seyfried brought this more into the limelight a few years ago. Now we’re even seeing that it’s working on the autism spectrum and on Alzheimer’s.

ACRES U.S.A. How does it compare to popular diets of the past?

WINTERS. Basically this diet gets away from sugar. It’s 70-90 percent fat, depending on the level that people need to go into. Some people need to be in deeper ketosis than others to get the therapeutic effect. We often think back to the Atkins Diet, which was high-protein. A true ketogenic diet is not a high-protein diet. In fact it’s the opposite, low- to moderate-protein at most. You have to determine that person to person, because protein can switch over and turn into gluconeogenesis, making more sugar. If we get too much protein, which we tend to do in this country, that also converts to sugar in a low-carb environment. The protein amount for these folks is 20-25 percent and the carbohydrates are anywhere from 0-10 percent, depending on what’s needed for that person’s therapeutic response.

ACRES U.S.A. Are you talking about complex or simple carbohydrates?

WINTERS. It all turns into the same thing. On the outside of the body, it might be simple or complex, but on the inside there’s no discrimination. Sugar is sugar is sugar, whether it comes from a bean, a banana, a potato, a bowl of rice; it’s all the same.

ACRES U.S.A. I always thought eating asparagus was a lot better for me than eating white rice.

WINTERS. It sure is. That’s why we want our patients to eat vegetables as their carbohydrates versus grains or legumes, because you get all of the other co-factors, all of the nutrients that are anti-cancer, that clean up the mitochondria, that stabilize our epigenetic expression. You’re going to only get that from green, leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables. You’re not getting anti-cancer benefit from your grains and starches — not to the level that you get from a real vegetable. We really try to break down the mythology. We help people understand how to test for this to make sure they are, in fact, in ketosis. If someone’s not in ketosis and they think they are, they can feel pretty crummy. And once you hit ketosis, it’s like you hit this sweet zone. Your brain works better. Your body works better. You become what’s called metabolically flexible.

ACRES U.S.A. What are some things we associate with health that are misleading? You favor fasting, but it sounds like you’re not really a fan of the master cleanse trend.

WINTERS. The master cleanse base is maple syrup. If you pulled that out, you’d probably do great. We actually have patients do water with lemon juice, sea salt, baking soda and cayenne, and that works beautifully as a way to get your electrolytes. People use maple syrup to bring in the electrolytes. Well, guess what? We just bring ’em in with baking soda and sea salt. There are great ways to upgrade, if you will, some of these old fad cleanses and whatnot to make them more metabolically effective. At a time when we weren’t gorging on sugar, a little bit of maple syrup would’ve been great. But today it’s like adding fuel to the fire.

ACRES U.S.A. What are the pillars of a typical ketogenic diet?

WINTERS. When I say “animal protein,” from eggs to dairy to butter to flesh, poultry and fish, I have to qualify this. We are extremely fanatical about quality. If it has been industrially farmed, do not eat it. It is not worth it. It is loaded with cancer-causing agents. That’s where you see the studies saying meat causes cancer. It’s been done with that type of meat or dairy or what-have-you.

ACRES U.S.A. How would you describe an animal that’s raised in one of those facilities?

WINTERS. My colleague, Jess Higgins Kelley, who co-wrote this book with me, calls them four-legged Superfund sites. And that is exactly what they are. I know my farmers and ranchers around here in Durango. We just were at the farmers’ market this morning getting raw cheese and eggs and bones for this week’s bone broth. I know exactly how those cows and sheep and eggs are raised. If you don’t know where that meat’s coming from, it’s probably not worth the risk of ingesting it. We try to get folks to focus on vegetable as their base camp, shooting for three cups of leafy greens, three cups of colorful vegetables and three cups of cruciferous vegetables a day. All of those are in the lower-glycemic family.

ACRES U.S.A. What about squash and fruits?

WINTERS. Your lowest-glycemic squash is zucchini, spaghetti squash and pumpkin, so those can be woven into this. Tomato is actually a fruit, so that would be considered one of your fruits, as are avocado and olives. And once you become more metabolically stable, you can bring in some fruit and then eating really good, organic, low-glycemic berries and maybe organic — small Granny Smith apples. We’ve bred food to be more sugary, so most of the apples on the market are just little sugar balls. You want to go with the small, tart apples over the giant, sugar-ball apples. Corn, as much as everyone would like to think it’s a vegetable, is not. It’s a grain. Today it’s pretty much impossible to find corn that is not drenched in glyphosate and GMOs, and it’s also super high in sugar, which turns into insulin growth factor which is a known growth factor for cancer cells, so we just say no way on that. Potatoes are little starch balls as well.

 ACRES U.S.A. Please don’t take away potatoes. I’m from the Midwest.

 WINTERS. If you can get your hands on some organic, non-GMO, purple potatoes, or you can get your hands on non-solanaceae family sweet potatoes or yams in extreme moderation, then those can be great additions for the color added to your diet, the phytonutrients. On top of that, we have fat. After the vegetable base camp, we go with fat, and that’s olives, olive oil, coconut, coconut oil, avocado, avocado oil, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts — highest in omega-3s. We definitely bring in butter, ghee — again, grass-fed, finished, pastured. We want it rich with CLA (conjugated linoleic acids) and vitamin D. Then, if people tolerate dairy well — if they don’t have an allergy, their insulin growth factor isn’t too bad, and they know the quality of their dairy — whole cream. Whole sour cream has incredibly fat-dense nutrients to bring on board. Then meat or poultry or seafood becomes a condiment sprinkled on top of that. Again, quality is key. Then there is literally the cherry on top. We might use stevia or monk fruit as a sweetener that we might put into our beverages or bake with. Once you’re more glycemically stabilized, you can add some berries and low-glycemic fruit into the mix.

What is TH2 Dominance, and How Does a Ketogenic Diet Address It?

 ACRES U.S.A. Everybody knows somebody or is somebody with autoimmune problems. What is TH2 dominance, and how does your ketogenic diet address it?

WINTERS. Think of a teeter-totter on a playground. On one side you have TH1, on the other side TH2, and in the center you have something called T helper cell 3 or T3. Cancer is predominantly a TH2-dominant process. Autoimmunity is predominantly a TH1 process. Some of us, like me, for instance, could be both TH1 and TH2 dominant. I had the pair going at the same time, both autoimmunity and cancer. Some people can be completely TH1 and 2 depleted, so there’s no immune system left at all, and that’s Dangerville. What happens with a ketogenic diet is, it goes right into the center, right at that TH3, and balances the teeter-totter. If you’re having an autoimmune flare, it will bring it back to balance. If you’re having a cancer flare, it will bring it back into balance. And if you’re flaring on both or extremely depleted in both, it will bring it back into balance. We’re doing a lot of immune therapies in cancer right now, and the ketogenic diet is considered nature’s checkpoint inhibitor. That basically means that it balances the immune system. It’s quite powerful.

ACRES U.S.A. What kind of cancer did you have?

WINTERS. I had cervical cancer in my teens. They just did the old cryotherapy to burn it off with cold. There was a whole slew of reasons why my terrain was broken, and I have spent 25 years cleaning it up. At age 19, I ended up with Stage 4 terminal ovarian cancer. They’d missed it because of my age. We just didn’t know. And at that point, it was so far gone that they didn’t even recommend treatment. They recommended hospice. They said, “Well, we can do palliative treatment, but it’s likely going to make things worse,” because I was very, very sick. Probably the biggest gift they ever gave me was to say, “There’s nothing we can do,” because it stimulated something within me to say, “Well, then I’ll figure out what I can do.” And that’s what set me off on a 25-year journey and saved my life as well as thousands of other people who were also sent out to pasture, if you will. That’s why it’s been my joy, my purpose and my absolute passion to learn everything I can about the terrain, about cancer, about the metabolic approach and mitochrondrial reboot.

Nasha Winters will be presenting at the 2017 Acres U.S.A. Eco-Ag Conference and Trade Show in Columbus, Ohio. Her book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer: Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet and Non-Toxic Bio-Individualized Therapies is available from Acres U.S.A. Visit our bookstore, or call 800-355-5313.

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