Alkaline Diet – Can it Help Prevent or Treat Cancer?

By Dr. Sharon Gurm ND, FABNO

If you are dealing with cancer, chances are at some point you’ve come across the idea that an alkaline diet and/or alkaline water can treat or prevent cancer. My patients will often ask me of my opinion on this subject. As a physician of naturopathic oncology, I evaluate interventions using a predicted harm-to-benefit analysis. 

Is it helpful or harmful? 

Proponents of the alkaline diet will claim it “alters pH in the body”. While it may cause alterations to urine pH, acid-alkaline balance in the body is very complex. Our blood will generally maintain pH at a steady state and a recent study demonstrates the alkaline diet does not impact the pH of the blood. Furthermore, the mechanisms that impact the pH of the tumor environment itself are extremely complex and cannot be altered by dietary factors. 

Alkaline water systems can be very costly, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $10K or more. There is benefit if purchasing an alkaline water system motivates you to stay more hydrated because you like the taste of the water (or because you’ve just spent a ton of cash on a fancy system and you better use it). 

Alkaline diet has a focus on high intake of vegetables and fruits and only moderate amounts of protein, which are healthy dietary habits to follow regardless. No harm in that, only benefit. However, those who market the alkaline diet are usually selling costly supplements and other treatments along with it – most of which is not substantiated by evidence. Those supplements could be potentially harmful if they interfere with your standard cancer treatment. 

As referenced earlier this study caught my attention. It is the first systematic review to evaluate the evidence for an association between dietary acid and/or alkaline, or the effectiveness of alkaline water, for the prevention or treatment of cancer. The study investigators did not find any research on alkaline diet for cancer treatment and found there is a lack of evidence regarding association of alkaline diet/alkaline water and cancer risk. Meaning there is no actual research to prove (or disprove) the claims made by proponents of alkaline diet and alkaline water for cancer prevention and/or treatment. 

Taken together, even though the theory of the alkaline diet is not legitimate, there may be some benefits such as good nutrition and hydration. However, the majority who subscribe to the concept of alkaline diet also believe that it is a  cure for cancer – the most harmful aspect of the alkaline diet. 

The benefits of a healthy diet and targeted nutrition

My dietary advice for anyone with cancer: Consume 4-6 servings of vegetables daily, follow a low-glycemic and whole-foods based nutrient-dense diet, avoid or minimize alcohol and processed foods. Stay hydrated with filtered water if possible, but don’t spend thousands of dollars on an expensive water system. Do a test to learn about your food sensitivities using a reputable lab that provides IgG-based testing. The immune system is a critical component of the promotion and prevention of cancer – not to mention many other diseases. The information provided in an IgG-based blood test for food sensitivities is a valuable tool to help you further personalize your diet to avoid foods that may have a negative influence on the health of your immune system. 

Nutritional support in the form of supplements should be supported by evidence for safety and efficacy. It should also be personalized and targeted to meet the specific needs of the individual based on their current health status and cancer treatments they are undergoing. 

Let’s not forget the importance of lifestyle and mind-body balance! There is a substantial amount of research that supports the benefit of exercise in prevention and treatment of cancer. Studies also demonstrate better treatment and quality-of-life outcomes in patients who exercise and practice stress-relieving relaxation techniques such as meditation. 

Taken together, it is the sum of the parts that produces benefit rather than any one intervention alone. Naturopathic Medicine has a focus on the whole person and Naturopathic Oncology provides patients undergoing cancer treatment with quality, evidence-supported whole-person care to safely augment standard treatments such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapies. 

All of the global leading cancer centres in the US, Germany, Asia and other parts of the world are now using an integrative cancer care approach (the combination of naturopathic and conventional therapies) on the basis that mounting evidence demonstrates better survival and quality-of-life outcomes for patients. In Canada, integrative cancer care is offered at select private clinics, such as Port Moody Health. 

If you or a loved one is dealing with cancer, please share this article with them.

Dr Gurm is the Clinic Founder and Medical Director at Port Moody Health and you can find out more about her and her medical focus here. 

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