Is the Budwig Diet Supported by Cancer Research?
Special diets are a hot topic in online cancer forums among patients seeking information about how diet can impact cancer treatment and survival.
Anecdotal accounts of one special diet, known as the Budwig diet, claim it can cure cancer. However, no clinical trials have been conducted in cancer patients to prove this claim.
People with mesothelioma who are considering the Budwig diet should talk to their doctor before making any changes because the protocol could lead to complications and negatively impact patient survival.
The Budwig diet is a set of dietary and lifestyle recommendations created by German pharmacist and biochemist Johanna Budwig in the 1950s. Proponents say it can prevent and cure cancer, but no research supports this claim.
Also known as the Budwig protocol, the mostly vegetarian diet focuses on a blend of oil and protein in the form of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese.
The diet also emphasizes whole foods, juicing and herbal teas. The protocol recommends sun exposure and enemas, but the latter is not recommended by oncologists because it could cause infections in cancer patients.
When developing the diet, Budwig claimed it could prevent cancer, shrink tumors and sometimes make them disappear entirely. She believed eating processed fats was the primary cause of most diseases, particularly cancer.
Budwig theorized that combining the fatty acids in flaxseed oil with the protein in cottage cheese would have an effect on the growth and spread of cancer.
Scientific evidence does not support that theory. Despite lack of evidence, many people with cancer choose to follow the Budwig diet after reading supportive anecdotal accounts online.
Approved Foods Within the Budwig Diet
The Budwig diet protocol involves a mostly vegetarian diet, a flaxseed and cottage cheese mixture, enemas and daily exposure to the sun.
Approved Foods on the Diet
- Mixture of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese
- Beans and pulses
- Whole grains
- Fermented foods
- Herbs and herbal teas
Foods Avoided on the Diet
- Pork and cold meats
- Animal fat
- Refined sugars
- Most dairy products, including butter
- Refined flours and grains
- Refined or hydrogenated oils
- Processed foods
- Food should be fresh, organic and eaten raw or lightly cooked
- Take a 20-minute walk in nature each day for sun exposure
- Use enemas (Budwig believed this promoted detoxification)
Budwig recommended flaxseed oil enemas to her patients, but modern descriptions of the protocol recommend coffee or water enemas. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Heath, there is no scientific evidence that enemas promote detoxification.
Oncologists warn against enemas because of the serious risk of infection for cancer patients.
Nutrients in the Budwig Diet
The Budwig diet may provide omega-3 fatty acids such as ALA, EPA and DHA as well as high amounts of protein.
Benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids include anti-inflammatory effects, reduced blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
A 2013 study published in ASCO Educational Book showed that high levels of EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and prostate. A 2015 study published in Breast Cancer Research found EPA and DHA may prevent breast cancer.
However, no study has proven that the Budwig protocol can prevent any kind of cancer.
Side Effects of the Budwig Protocol
Side effects associated with the diet may be caused by flaxseeds, dietary restrictions, sun exposure and enemas.
Flaxseed side effects include stomach pain, bloating, constipation, gas, frequent bowel movements and bowel obstruction.
Restriction of meat consumption may lead to vitamin B deficiency, weight loss and fatigue. Overexposure to the sun can cause skin redness and blistering, dehydration and an increased risk of skin cancer.
The Budwig diet recommends enemas to promote detoxification in the body, but oncologists warn against this because it can cause infections in cancer patients. Other possible side effects of enemas include inflammation of the rectum and colon, rectal burning and pain, and electrolyte imbalance.
Patients with the following conditions may experience serious complications on the Budwig diet:
- Bleeding disorders
- Bowel problems such as inflammatory bowel disease
Review of Similar Diet: Bill Henderson Protocol
Researchers have not conducted clinical trials to study the Budwig diet as a potential cancer treatment. No case reports have been published, and the safety of the diet hasn’t been directly assessed in medical literature.
However, a diet similar to Budwig’s, called the Bill Henderson Protocol, was reviewed by the nursing faculty at the University of Calgary in Canada.
In 2011, the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients published a review of the Bill Henderson Protocol including a history of the Budwig diet.
Henderson’s protocol follows the Budwig diet, including the flaxseed and cottage cheese mixture. The primary difference between these protocols is the addition of supplements to Henderson’s protocol.
The review reports that Budwig believed incomplete cellular division caused cancer. She made her recommendations to speed up cell division because she believed it would cause tumors to self-destruct. Researchers today believe that incomplete cellular division does not play a role in cancer.
The review states, “Although Budwig lived until 2003, and was actively lecturing until the late 1990s, there does not appear to have been any attempts to test her theories using modern technology or different source materials, such as fish oil.”
Evidence Is Lacking for an Anti-Cancer Diet
Most of the research conducted on diet and cancer involves the potential of a particular diet to prevent cancer, not treat it.
According to a 2004 study published in Nutrition Journal, cancer researchers do not believe any diet can cure cancer.
However, there is growing evidence that certain dietary choices may reduce the risk of developing cancer, including:
- Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, especially allium and cruciferous vegetables
- Consuming foods rich with antioxidants and omega-3s
- Eating a diet rich in carotenoids, chlorophyll, folate, selenium and vitamins D and B-12
- Supplementing with digestive enzymes and probiotics
Additionally, there is evidence that a high-fiber diet reduces the risk of rectal cancer, according to a 2004 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A 2003 study published in New England Journal of Medicine reported that avoiding overeating may reduce the risk of developing obesity-related cancers.
Mesothelioma patients should consult their doctor before starting any special diet or complementary therapy. Your oncologist may recommend a licensed dietician to help you maintain proper nutrition before, during and after mesothelioma treatment.