A compound the body produces when fasting or following a ketogenic diet may slow or stop the growth of colorectal cancer (CRC) cells, according to study results published in Nature.

The body creates the beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) ketone when fasted or fed a very low-carb, high-fat diet. Using autochthonous animal models of CRC that were fed varying levels of a keto diet or BHB supplementation, the researchers observed BHB’s effect on CRC tumors triggered to grow either before or after the mice were exposed to BHB. They found that mice eating keto diets or BHB supplementation prior to developing CRC had fewer and smaller tumors and lived longer than those eating higher amounts of carbohydrates or no BHB supplementation. When mice were fed a keto diet or BHB supplements after tumors had already formed, their tumors grew very slowly or stopped growing altogether. When they discontinued the diet or BHB supplements, the tumors started growing again. In all of the scenarios evaluated, BHB supplements produced the same result, even in mice given high-carb diets. They also observed an overall decreased proliferation in the colon’s epithelial cells with no damage to healthy cells.

The researchers cautioned about the health risks of a keto diet for some individuals and that human studies are needed to evaluate BHB supplementation’s efficacy and safety. They began a follow-up study of BHB in patients with Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), which is actively enrolling as of August 2022.

Learn more about Lynch syndrome, its genetic variants, screening considerations, and nursing implications in ONS Voice’s genetic disorder reference sheet.