In today’s interview I get to speak with brain cancer survivor, Alison Gannett, about how she uses a ketogenic diet & other natural remedies to beat a malignant cancer diagnosis.
Alison is very passionate about understanding what caused her cancer and how best to treat & manage the type of cancer she was diagnosed with.
She is now a ketogenic cancer coach helping others learn how to use a customised ketogenic diet in combination with other advice to help conquer their cancer.
We not only talk about how she discovered she had cancer with her symptoms, but also how she survived her emergency brain surgery and why she decided not to use chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
If you know someone who is has been diagnosed with cancer and is interested in using a ketogenic diet as part of their treatment plan then this episode is for them!
I enjoyed this interview as I have read how useful a ketogenic diet can be in managing cancer and experts like, Dr Thomas Seyfried & Dr Dom D’Agostino, are fans of the keto diet for cancer, but had not had a chance yet to speak to someone who is living proof and implementing the diet on a daily basis.
After speaking with Alison I have a better understanding of how to start a keto diet for cancer and what else needs to be considered when treating yourself for cancer. I really hope her positive story can help not only give some hope to others in a similar situation, but assist them to know who to possibly turn to and what is needed.
Special thanks to Alison for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!
Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:
Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio.
[00:20] – Introducing Alison Gannett who, in addition to being a world champion extreme free skier and a self-sufficient farmer, is also a brain cancer survivor.
[00:49] – Alison talks about how she first came to learn she had a giant brain tumour – the size was somewhere between an apple and a grapefruit! She noticed issues with her depth perception but like most of us she found ways to explain this away and blamed it on getting older. She shares a story about cooking bacon that finally led to getting herself checked out. (see her brain MRI here)
[03:52] – Most people assume that aches and pains, lack of energy is something we must experience as we age but Alison believes a lot of that is due to the chemicals we are exposed to and the food that we eat. While she thought she was eating well, having organic farm raised produce, she was also following recommended guidelines of eating many servings of whole grains per day which all contain sugar.
[04:52] – Like a true biohacker, Alison experimented with lots of different diets and tracked her blood work often sharing her results online. She explains how most of her life she was a ‘carbo-holic’ and a very poor eating vegetarian. In 2009, four years before her cancer diagnosis, she transitioned to an all organic diet, growing and raising all her own food (grains included). After reading Kris Carr’s book Crazy, Sexy, Cancer Tips she went vegan, but realised that this diet was inadvertently high in natural sugars and caused her blood sugar to soar.
[06:49] – Alison’s terminal malignant diagnosis meant she was given a year to live following the standard oncology treatment. She explains why she chose to forgo chemo & radiation therapy in favour of Dr Nasha Winters’ (who is also a biohacker and loves data!) approach. Dr Winters looks at root causes of cancer and undoing them one at a time. Her book “The Metabolic Approach to Cancer” available on Amazon, goes into the ten areas that drive 99.9% of cancers we see today.
[08:54] – Alison explains how with Dr Winters’ help she really dug into many different aspects of her health – such as her lab results, her DNA, her food sensitivities and her thyroid, just to name a few, in the no stone unturned approached to treatment and finding the ‘new normal’ for herself.
[09:30] – After seeing the amazing results, Alison went back to school to train with Dr Nasha and is now able to provide ketogenic diet consulting for others. She reinforces that cancer is an incredibly complex disease and simply switching to a ketogenic diet is not the only answer. In fact, she herself is still working through the report Dr Nasha gave her after her original diagnosis date back in 2013!
[10:25] – Because Alison lives on a remote farm with her husband there were not a lot of people to recognise how strangely she was behaving before her diagnosis. Her family has a history of migraines and just thought she must be depressed. She explains how even though she appeared normal she has virtually no memory of being taken in to the hospital E.R and how her family found a good neurosurgeon in Colorado who agreed to do her brain cancer surgery after seeing her brain scans. She was also put on a high dose of steroids to bring the swelling down before the emergency surgery, however she now knows steroids increase blood sugar and can therefore further assist the cancer so she would take something like Boswellia instead.
[14:40] – Many people who undergo brain surgery often have lasting consequences and side-effects, but Alison was extremely fortunate to only experience a new inability to struggle to spell as a result of her surgery.
[15:15] – After her surgery Alison was sent home to recuperate for six months; because it was such an invasive surgery there were fears of infection and stroke. She explains how nobody indicated to her that a small tumour was left behind near her right ear & was most likely malignant or how serious her condition still remained. She had to research and find out for herself what she was most likely facing.
[16:30] – Alison explains what ‘success’ means in medical terms and how misleading it can be to patients. The most important questions to ask are: how many people with a similar diagnosis, tumour and surgery are still alive after a year, two, five, ten, etc., with the recommended treatment and what are the outcomes if you don’t do the treatment? While every cancer is different, in Alison’s case people who did the treatment statistically lived 75% shorter.
[19:55] – Dr Nasha put Alison on a ketogenic diet. It is worthwhile to remember that every person is different and every cancer is different; some cancers are driven by sugar some by oestrogen and some by environmental toxins for example. What’s more, because everyone’s blood work and DNA is different there isn’t a one single cancer diet, but we do need an anti-inflammation diet that is good for everybody. Dr Nasha looks at your individual situation and what you need to do specifically to reverse that.
[21:39] – Alison explains that she relies on data and science to confirm her approach is making a difference. She could see the difference in her body as the changes in her diet were implemented, however, while a ketogenic diet decreases the blood glucose and in turn decreases the availability of sugar for cancer cells (which are metabolically inflexible and can only ferment glucose) it is certainly not a one diet fits all approach. We have 5 grams of sugar in our bloodstream at any given time and a therapeutic ketogenic diet tries to mimic having no more than that in the blood.
[23:20] – 20 grams of total carbs should yield a fasting blood sugar of 65 mg/dL (3.6 mm0l/l), which is what Alison consumes. She talks about how she uses the new Keto-Mojo device for testing serum blood ketones and serum glucose, which has cheaper test strips that cost only 99 cents. Alison uses blood glucose to tests her reaction to certain foods, which is how she discovered eating anything containing coconut surprisingly spikes her blood sugar. She also tests her serum blood ketones, which she uses as an overall measure of how she is doing. She tests her ketone levels six hours after her mid-day meal using a Ketonix breath ketone tester for acetoacetate, & her blood beta-hydroxybutyrate ketone levels. She has found the same as Ketonix inventor Michel Lundell that using only blood ketones is not the best measure to test level of ketosis.
[26:41] – There is a five-legged stool for cancer that Alison believes is important to get right. Three of the legs are for therapeutic ketosis for cancer and this means having high beta-hydroxybutyrate (blood ketones), high acetoacetate (breath ketones), as well as testing for low serum glucose. Having one good or two good measures does not indicate that all three will be good and they all need to be. The other leg is non-toxic, organic food which should include high quality ketone inducing fats and high-quality vegetables, rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, to rebuild health cells. As a farmer, Alison believes knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown/raised is crucial. Finally, there is the water source, having a good water filter is paramount as there is an incredible amount of toxins in our water. In the US people can check what is in their water by visiting the ewg.org website.
[29:44] – While Alison switched back to eating meat from her vegan diet, she reinforces the importance of tailoring diets to the individual due to our genetic variability. Alison talks about the leaky gut in cancer and gives us a great example of a genetic condition called hemochromatosis where the body over-absorbs and stores ferritin which can mask this. Alison’s husband has hemochromatosis and should avoid red meat almost entirely while Alison doesn’t and can eat red meat almost every day. Diets should be tailored to the individual’s blood work; looking at the levels of vitamin D3, calcium, ferritin, heavy metals, etc.
[31:24] – How Dr Nasha’s exhaustive tests help uncover different issues you might not be aware of as they won’t show up in standard tests. Looking at the MCB, MCHC and MCH tests in the CBC and CNP blood work for example will show whether the B6 and B12 are being taken up by the cells rather than just floating around in the blood; Alison says that, when looking at people’s DNA, they find that a large majority of people don’t actually have receptors for vitamin B12. All this informs the type of B12 an individual should be taking.
[33:15] – Alison talks about the genetic mutations she inherited, including the vitamin D3 receptor mutation and the absence of enzymes that process folic acid and how she counters this by taking L-Methylfolate (5-MTHF) every day. She points out how foods that are commonly thought to be anti-carcinogenic such as kale and broccoli were potentially causing her to grow tumour cells due to her sulphur gene processing problem (CBS mutation); normally sulphur is essential for detoxing the body. This mutation is often found in people with neurological problems such as autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain cancer.
[35:15] – There are a lot of complicated chemical pathways involved which makes it very hard for a regular person to navigate without some guidance and coaching from a functional medicine doctor. Alison hasn’t been able to find many other practitioners that work with a patient’s history, blood work and DNA the way Dr Nasha does. There are many ketogenic diet coaches that should be trained up to read the DNA and blood work information in order to be able to cater the diet to the individual; to achieve optimal results it should not be based on guess work but rather on a scientific basis.
[36:42] – Going through chemotherapy and radiation takes an extreme toll on people. Alison’s family initially tried to talk her into taking this type of treatment until they were convinced by the spreadsheet she was keeping to monitor her progress on her tailored ketogenic diet; they saw the mitochondrial repair, the inflammation go down, the kidneys repair, the blood sugar come down, the leaky gut healing. Her doctors were amazed but Alison explains that anyone with an AMA licence could lose this licence in the US if they talk about the ketogenic diet in their office so she often has to leave out critical information when talking to them.
[38:11] – Instead of using PET scans, which freak Alison out, she now uses thermograms to track any potential cancer in her body. While she switched to the ketogenic diet for her cancer, the switch also treated a myriad of other health problems that her doctors told her were irreversible; some, like her breast fibroids she was aware of, but others, such as her polycystic ovarian syndrome and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, she wasn’t aware of previously. For all these reasons Alison is a true proponent of the ketogenic diet, it is not just for her treatment but also to prevent numerous diseases we face in the modern world.
[39:40] – Emma Williams from Matthews Friends talked about how after a very strict ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy, the kids are then weaned off to a less strict eating regime. Is the same true for cancer? In Alison’s experience, this is a bad idea, especially for the sugar loving cancers. She has seen the cancer come back within a month of someone eating some sweet potatoes! She also mentions that, because she monitors herself so closely, she does tend to experiment on herself. After three bites of purple potatoes she saw her fasting blood glucose spike from 66 in the morning to 114; normally it stays below 79 throughout the day.
[41:33] – While the large spike in blood sugar could be due to Alison’s DNA, she also argues that it could be that we are not meant to eat large amounts of carbohydrates as people have not been farming or eating grains that far back in history. Living off the land by hunting and gathering meant there wasn’t a large amount of carbohydrates available. Also, someone made a great point at KetoCon about how we are bombarded by hormones, endocrine disruptors and other toxic chemicals daily, overwhelming our bodies. After 48 years of eating a lot of carbohydrates, Alison believes she needs to be strict to undo the damage done.
[42:58] – Alison explains that all healthy humans have cancer cells in the body and stem cells produce 500-2000 cancer cells daily but it’s what we do on a daily basis that gives those cells an opportunity – or not. It is important that we undo these constant ‘opportunities’ provided by the toxins in our food, air and water, and the ketogenic diet is a great way to do that. When Alison got her ketones to the 3-7 mmol range she suffered from keto flu symptoms and felt really terrible while all the toxins came out of her cells.
[45:27] – Alison also practices intermittent fasting, drinking only tea (Alison has the gene that doesn’t allow her to process caffeine!). She eats her first meal between 12-1 pm and then eats all her meals in the six-hour window, fasting in the morning and evening.
[46:38] – Talking about circadian rhythms, which Alison believes to be one of nature’s top ten. She was a night owl, but really noticed a change in her sleep quality and her energy levels when she switched to waking up and going to bed with the sun. She also noticed the reduction in her cortisol levels, which in turn led to a drop in her blood sugar – when she started guided meditation classes. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to meditation so people should try to find what suits them. Alison likes the guided form and will sometimes use an app on her cellphone (in airplane mode) called HeartMath. (Get a HeartMath device from Amazon here)
[49:18] – There are other aspects to consider in addition to diet. Gary mentions the Roseto Effect that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book titled Outliers, which highlights the importance of the Italian settlers’ way of life on the low prevalence on heart disease. The mental state, happiness and mindfulness is just as important for health. We can address all other aspect from diet to exercise but if we have unresolved past emotional issues such as abuse, grief and loss they can factor into a lot of cancers.
[52:10] – Alison talks about her experience with EFT Tapping and processing her past traumas emotionally. She believes some kind of process to help people deal with these kinds of things is crucial for cancer.
[53:43] – Four months after her surgery Alison decided to go back to running, against the recommendations of all her doctors; even Dr Nasha. Her blood work came back terrible showing all the markers for inflammation spike as well as a spike in blood sugar. She explains this is because lactic acid we produce when we get sore from exercise converts into sugar. Now she does moderate exercise keeping her heart rate below a 100. She also says that it has been shown that high intensity exercise three times a week can be anti-inflammatory but we should not be over-doing exercise. (Biohackers Lab Tip: We love using a HRV monitor to monitor stress levels)
[57:01] – Alison used exercise to deal with some of her insecurities from the past, now she has learned to slow down and really enjoy the little moments in life – she found balance she didn’t have previously.
[58:27] – While Alison does do keto diet coaching, she is currently swamped and unable to take anymore clients. However, those people who wish to follow what she is up to, can find her on Facebook Page. She also recommends ketogenic-diet-resource.com website as a great online resource that talks about how and why the ketogenic diet works for different conditions such as Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, heart disease etc… Also Dr Nasha Winter’s optimalterrainconsulting.com website provides great resources and links to doctors to contact in your area. Alison explains people need a great team of people to help guide them like a great oncologist, family doctor, in addition to their functional medicine doctor.
[1:00:07] – It is important to note that there is a difference between the advice given out there with regards to the ketogenic diet for weight loss/strength training and the ketogenic diet for cancer; which has to be 85%, or higher for fat content and includes a much higher quantity of healthy, organic keto fats as well as a great variety of vegetables (4-9 cups a day) for rebuilding a healthy body. For a great way to track this, Alison recommends going to the cronometer.com website and adjusting the setting to high-fat, ketogenic, rigorous.
[1:01:55] – For now, until Alison puts out a cookbook of her own, she suggests Maria Emmerich’s cookbooks and in particular The 30-Day Ketogenic Cleanse: Reset Your Metabolism available on Amazon as it does not have any dairy which can be an issue if your IGF-1 levels are over a 100. If it’s under that, you can still eat dairy.
[1:03:37] – Alison’s own website is alisongannett.com where she can be contacted and where she shares videos and stories.
Miriam Kalamian is a ketogenic diet coach who can also be found online at dietarytherapies.com and also Jess Kelly who co-wrote The Metabolic Approach to Cancer: Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies book with Dr Nasha Winters her website address is remissionnutrition.com In addition to the book mentioned above, Alison also recommends reading the “Tripping over the Truth: The Metabolic Theory of Cancer” book on Amazon.
[1:05:13] – Alison explains how Dr Nasha empowered her to learn how to read her own lab results and track how the key markers are responding. She hopes to share everything she has learned and help others. She recommends that people do their research and inform themselves as much as possible.
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