Ketogenic diets in pancreatic cancer and associated cachexia: Cellular mechanisms and clinical perspectives

Natalia E. Cortez, Gerardo G. Mackenzie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive and extremely therapy-resistant cancer. It is estimated that up to 80% of PDAC patients present with cachexia, a multifactorial disorder characterized by the involuntary and ongoing wasting of skeletal muscle that affects therapeutic response and survival. During the last decade, there has been an increased interest in exploring dietary interventions to complement the treatment of PDAC and associated cachexia. Ketogenic diets (KDs) have gained attention for their anti-tumor potential. Characterized by a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high fat composition, this diet mimics the metabolic changes that occur in fasting. Numerous studies report that a KD reduces tumor growth and can act as an adjuvant therapy in various cancers, including pancreatic cancer. However, research on the effect and mechanisms of action of KDs on PDAC-associated cachexia is limited. In this narrative review, we summarize the evidence of the impact of KDs in PDAC treatment and cachexia mitigation. Furthermore, we discuss key cellular mechanisms that explain KDs’ potential anti-tumor and anti-cachexia effects, focusing primarily on reprogramming of cell metabolism, epigenome, and the gut microbiome. Finally, we provide a perspective on future research needed to advance KDs into clinical use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3202
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Cancer cachexia
  • Cell metabolism
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Ketone bodies
  • Microbiome
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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