TLDR: I don't like linoleic acid much.
Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) is a genetic disease which affects mTOR signalling and predisposes to many problems, one of which is early onset kidney tumours. People with TS also have a tendency to suffer from intractable epilepsy so, almost by accident, a number of them have had their tumours closely monitored while eating a deeply ketogenic diet for the epilepsy. Does the KD help slow tumour growth?
To look at this in more detail a group in Poland has used a TS rat model and tried to manage the disease with a KD. This is the study:
Long-term High Fat Ketogenic Diet Promotes Renal Tumor Growth in a Rat Model of Tuberous Sclerosis
It is a very interesting paper. All rats were euthanased at 14 months of age, having spent differing periods of time eating a close derivative of the F3666 ketogenic diet. The longer the rats had spent on this diet, the more aggressive the renal tumour progression was found to be, especially in the rats which ate it for eight months (the longest duration).
Other than this there were some additional interesting findings. Insulin and glucose did (almost) exactly what you would expect:
What is more interesting is that growth hormone increased progressively with duration of time spent on the KD:
This was noted by the authors and was considered as one of the potential explanations of the increase in tumour burden after 8 months on KD:
"Likewise, it has been shown that the growth hormone activates the MAPK pathway, thus its overproduction in the ketogenic groups may also boost ERK1/2 phosphorylation. We believe that HFKD induced the ERK1/2 activation results as a cumulative effect of the renal oleic acid accumulation and the systemic growth hormone overproduction".
I'm not convinced by the oleic acid idea but no one would argue against identifying elevated growth hormone as a stimulant for tumour growth.
Overall we have progressively falling levels of both glucose and insulin, with a progressively rising growth hormone concentration, over the eight months of a ketogenic diet. I asked myself if there might be an explanation for the nature of these reciprocal changes, before thinking about the tumour growth.
Looking at the insulin-glucose levels we can say that insulin sensitivity increased with time on the ketogenic diet, using the surrogate HOMA score based on the product of insulin and glucose. That's despite a concurrent tripling of GH levels, which should induce insulin resistance.
The obvious concept is that GH was being used to maintain normoglycaemia in a set of rats which were developing progressively increasing (pathological) insulin sensitivity and might, theoretically, have become hypoglycaemic on a very low carbohydrate, very low protein diet. That is, despite having been on a high fat diet, they failed to maintain adequate (ie physiological) insulin resistance to spare glucose for the brain.
Does GH sound like a metabolic solution for the problem of pathologically increasing insulin sensitivity? Pathological insulin sensitivity: Is anyone thinking linoleic acid? Well, I am (now there's a surprise).
The rats were raised on a standard chow of un-stated composition before switching to their KD. It seems a reasonable assumption that the chow was relatively low in fat. Exactly how much linoleic acid was supplied is unknown but other rodent chows I've seen described or analysed tend to provide about 2% of calories as linoleic acid.
The F3666 derived diet looks, depending on the lard composition, to be in the region of 18% omega 6 PUFA. That's high (yes, another rodent study has shown that mice develop NASH on this diet, no surprise there).
The rats were raised initially on a starch based diet so their juvenile adipose tissue would probably be composed of DNL derived saturated and monounsaturated fats, supplemented by a little PUFA from the diet. Transition to F3666, which provides approximately 18% of calories in the form of linoleic acid, generates a metabolism much more dependent on linoleic acid. The younger the rats were when they switched to F3666, the less "normal" adipose tissue they would have had available and the more rapidly they would end up with adipose tissue (and plasma) high in linoleic acid.
Rats on true ketogenic diets do not become obese, even on F3666. So we have slim, omega 6 fed rats. Small adipocytes, no excess FFA release, no insulin sensitivity differential between adipocytes and the rest of the body. There is nothing to over-ride the insulin sensitising effect of linoleic acid. Both adipocytes and the rest of the body become progressively more insulin sensitive mediated through linoleic acid. They don't become obese because insulin stays so low due to the lack of carbohydrate and protein. The excess insulin sensitivity only kicks in gradually because their pre-stored, chow derived adipose tissue provides a supply of physiological FFAs which can act as a buffer to the sensitising effect of 18% linoleic acid for a while.
Glucose falls progressively due to the development of progressively increasing pathological insulin sensitivity, linoleic acid induced. GH may well be a stress response to maintain normoglycaemia under these conditions. The GH may or may not be acting as a tumour promoter, but we cannot ignore the role of linoleic acid in its elevation.
Now the tumours.
We all remember Sauer's rats with their xenografts which grew like wildfire as soon as he starved them? Yes. The tumours grew because they were exposed to linoleic acid released from their adipocytes under starvation. Linoleic acid is a precursor for 13-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid, better known as 13-HODE. Sauer demonstrated that this was the problem very neatly, at the cost of extensive vivisection. I doubt anyone would be allowed to replicate his work today.
We have no idea of either the linoleic acid or the 13-HODE concentration in the plasma of the F3666 fed TS rats. It would be interesting to know. It might matter...
I particularly think it might matter because F3666 is going to be the "off the shelf" KD that a lot of researchers are going to use.....
At the end of the last post I mentioned that fact that any person who is currently obese through following conventional advice to replace healthy saturated fats with 13-HODE generating linoleic acid is probably carting around kilos of a tumour growth-promoting precursor. In Sauer's study all that was needed to release the linoleic acid was starvation. I would suggest that ketogenic eating might do the same, especially if it is based around saturophobic stupidity (think of kids in the USA with tuberous sclerosis on a "medical" ketogenic diet, or the rats in the above study). There is also anecdote on tinternet that patients of Dr Atkins did fine if they had CVD but those with cancer did badly. I find this plausible. They were obese because they were loaded with linoleic acid and they may well have followed an Atkins diet high in hearthealthypolyunsaturates. That's a good way to grow a cancer.
Sauer found a solution in the form of fish oil to limit tumour growth in his rats, most especially EPA. The very long chain omega 3 PUFAs activate g-protein coupled receptors to reduce lipolysis from adipocytes and activate fatty acid oxidation from the diet. VLC omega-3 fatty acids do not promote excessive insulin sensitivity via the Protons based FADH2:NADH ratio concept because they are specifically oxidised in peroxisomes, not mitochonria. The peroxisomes shorten them to C8 length and then pass this to mitochondria as caprylic acid which has a "palmitate-like" FADH2:NADH ratio of 0.47 which is fine for maintaining physiological insulin resistance.
You do have to wonder whether the benefits of fish/oil in a population loaded with linoleic acid might stem largely from this effect of limiting adipocyte release of that linoleic acid. An interesting idea.
I still find it breathtaking how much the lipid hypothesis of heart disease might have done to injure individual people exposed to its recommendations. Which includes much of the world.