Two and a half years ago, at the age of 27, I was working as a personal trainer and was physically very active. However, I was forced to stop working towards the end of 2012 because I was experiencing debilitating fatigue and severe migraine headaches. The doctors I consulted told me that my symptoms were most likely due to excessive stress.
At that time, I was eating a high carbohydrate, high protein, low fat diet, and I had a very low percentage of body fat. I ran and lifted weights, and for all intents and purposes appeared to be in great shape. I felt like I was doing everything right for good health based on what I had studied while working on my undergraduate degree in Sports Nutrition a few years earlier. But looking back, I probably wasn’t all that healthy internally.
After quitting my job, I decided to study for a Master’s degree in Nutritional Therapy. As I got deeper into my course work,I was shocked to discover that everything I had learned during my undergraduate studies was either false, misleading, or outdated information.
However, the new information was fascinating and I was enjoying it. This is where I first learned about the Ketogenic diet to manage drug resistant epilepsy and potentially cancer. My lecturer at the time told me that she followed a Paleo diet and I was intrigued and a little skeptical at the same time.
Five months later in February 2013, following a workout at the gym, I had what I now know was a partial seizure. I became very confused, had a metallic taste on my tongue, was very unsteady, stared blankly into space, and lost the ability to speak. It was scary and confusing, but – as my speech came back a few minutes later – I ignored it and carried on with my day.
There was also a particularly nasty strain of flu going around at the time, and I thought perhaps my weird symptoms were somehow related to that. Additionally, I was traveling around London which was stressful, but – being the stubborn person that I am – I simply soldiered on.
In the weeks that followed, I gradually became more and more fatigued, my balance was getting worse, my ability to concentrate was declining, and I was struggling to find words. I was also starting to get crushing headaches, but I assumed they were just one of the symptoms of this terrible strain of flu!
I finally started taking pain medication for headaches which was a big decision for me because I hate taking drugs. I was also experiencing some weakness around my right eye, so I decided that maybe I need glasses. I went for an exam and a prescription, but – after getting the glasses – the headaches continued unabated and were becoming more and more debilitating. Then, after suffering from serious dizzy spells all day, I rushed to get a train ride home from London.
As I sat down, the crushing headache was becoming unbearable. I felt nauseous and extremely dizzy. I began to have a pins-and-needles sensation in my mouth and on the right side of my face, along with that weird metallic taste I had experienced before, so I quickly scampered to the less busy side of the train clutching my face in agony.
My head felt like it was burning on one side and my right hand started to shake. I made strange yelping noises that I couldn’t control, and my whole body started to convulse. I felt like my head was being crushed until – suddenly – it felt like someone hit me as hard as they could on the side of my head with a hammer. Then, it felt like someone was turning a water tap on inside of my head, and I fell unconscious on the train.
When I finally came around, I was extremely confused and had a lot of injuries. I was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital. Eventually, the doctors determined that I had suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by a highly vascular malignant brain tumor located between the speech and movement areas of my brain. I was misdiagnosed a few times before I received the actual pathology report because there was just so much blood in my brain.
Six weeks after my operation on May 15th, I was told I had an Anaplastic Astrocytoma. It was treatable, but not curable. In other words, they could slow the progress, but ultimately it would prove to be terminal. I reluctantly went ahead with the standard radiotherapy and chemotherapy that my doctors recommended, but I felt extremely depressed.
Based on my previous studies regarding the Ketogenic diet, I began to gradually reduce my carbohydrate intake while simultaneously increasing fat. I read as much information about the Ketogenic diet as my current condition would allow. I was still having seizures on a regular basis, some of which were horrendous and quite traumatic, and I was on a number of strong pain and anti-convulsant medications.
The side effects of these medications were horrible. I asked my oncologist if a Ketogenic diet could help reduce the need for these medications, but I was told that diet would have little-to-no effect. He also stated in a very matter-of-fact way that it would not be a good idea to remove carbohydrates from my diet while undergoing conventional medical treatment because the brain needed glucose to function.
I stopped the chemotherapy and radiation treatments after a few months because they were making me too sick and were not helping to eliminate the cancer. (Sadly, everyone I know who continued with the conventional treatments for this type of cancer is no longer alive.) After all the research I had done, I decided that a ketogenic diet was crucial to slowing the progression of this cancer and was my best hope. Therefore, I adopted a very high fat, very low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet. It included low sugar fruits and vegetables, lots of heavy whipping cream, coconut milk and oil, nuts, cheese, avocados, etc. All the typical high fat, keto-friendly foods.
I was getting decent numbers on my glucose/ketone meter, but I felt absolutely awful. My migraines and seizure activity got so bad that I was bed bound for months and I became very depressed. Eventually, I went to see my General Practitioner, and he prescribed steroids because my arteries had become severely inflamed. I never took the steroids (prednisolone), but decided to start keeping track of exactly when the symptoms became worse.
I decided to lower my carbohydrate intake further and the vascular inflammation improved without drugs. Someone had read one of my blog posts about my symptoms and suggested that I might be reacting to the salicylates present in coconut, avocado, nuts, and other plant foods I was eating. So, I decided to eliminate them as a trial and see how I felt. The difference was astonishing. The headaches and seizure activity reduced almost immediately. The saddened me because these foods were the primary staples of my Ketogenic diet and I wasn’t yet sure how to replace them.
After cutting these foods out, however, and utilizing more animal fats like butter and tallow instead, I was able to gradually reduce the anti-convulsant and pain medications I was taking. Meanwhile, my brain scans continued to show improvement which both surprised and encouraged me.
I began to read more academic journals, text books about nutrition, and studied Neurology (because my neurologists were unhelpful) in more depth. I scrutinized my diet some more and realized I could get all the nutrients I needed strictly from the animal kingdom.
The diet I designed for myself – based on everything I had read and learned – made a lot of sense nutritionally, and I was amazed at how well it worked on a practical level. I was able to completely eliminate my medications, and I started to feel better and better.
I do take some supplemental vitamin D3 (I have photo-sensitivity and cannot be in the sun for long), and a good quality natural sea or rock salt. I also use some MCT oil which – unlike coconut milk and oil – does not cause migraines or seizures in my brain. I suspect that the salicylates are removed during processing, and this is why it does not bother me.
Of all the different Ketogenic diets I have tried over the past two years, the Zero Carb “Carnivorous” Ketogenic diet is the only one that has given me near complete symptom relief. I am doing things in an unorthodox way, but I firmly believe that this type of Ketogenic diet is the most efficacious for brain cancer management and improved seizure control. Except for some mild fatigue, I feel better than I have felt since this whole experience began.
My current diet is 85% fat, 15% protein. I have 70-75 gms of protein per day, and over 200 gms of fat. The only real difference between the recommended Ketogenic diet and what am doing is that I am eating only foods that come from the Animal Kingdom. I do not include any plant foods or the oils derived from plant foods. I am still very careful about my macro-nutrient ratios (protein/fat), but counting carbohydrates is no longer an issue for me since I eliminated all plant foods. The only beverage I drink is water or bone broth.
Each day, I eat 2-4 eggs, liver, lambs brain (from a local sheep rancher who raises his animals with care) or sardines/mackerel, bone broth, mixed with eggs, herbs and animal fat cooked in a frying pan or in the oven, and bacon or red meat with cheddar cheese. I also rotate in a variety of other organ meats like sweet breads. Sometimes I drink heavy whipping cream on its own if I’m on holiday because it’s an easy way to get the fat, but it tends to make me sleepy so I don’t do that very often! Basically, I’m experimenting with new foods all the time and continually learning and expanding my options.
I have also been doing regular short intermittent fasts over the past 2 years, but – now that I am off all of the medications – I feel even more benefit from these fasts. The euphoria and energy I experience is incredible on my fasting days.
I consistently aim for 3-5 mmol/L of blood ketones, 3-4 mmol/L for of blood glucose. Without much effort both my blood ketones and glucose numbers are consistently in the optimal therapeutic range. I can improve both numbers even more with mild exercise, which I am once again able to do and is – in itself – an incredible thing for me.
My most recent brain scans taken earlier this month (May 2015) show no disease and even the scar tissue is healing. I have a new oncologist that I found through a Ketogenic diet conference last year who is completely supportive of the approach I am taking to treat my cancer and rebuild my health. He is one of the few oncologists who supports metabolic diet therapy for cancer management, and I am blessed to have him on my team.
In fact, he is so impressed with my results that he has offered me an opportunity to work and study at Charing Cross Hospital and Imperial College London to push forward the research on this type of metabolic diet therapy.
I would like to express my deep and sincere appreciation to Thomas Seyfried, Dominic D’Agostino, Adrienne Scheck, and many other scientific pioneers who are conducting studies and carrying out research on the therapeutic benefits of a Ketogenic diet, as well as to the Non-Profits groups The Charlie Foundation and Matthew’s Friends. I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with these amazing people and organizations in person, and they have all been enormously helpful to me on my journey back to Well-Being.
All of us at Zero Carb Health would like to thank Andrew for allowing us to share his amazing story! 🙂
Learn more about Andrew’s incredible journey in his Blog; My Brain Cancer Story
New interview on Andrew’s recent brain scans showing remission of his brain cancer.