When facing a cancer diagnosis, many people want to do everything in their power to fight the disease. For some, this includes looking into alternative or complementary therapies on top of traditional treatments like chemotherapy.
One complementary therapy is the Budwig diet, which adds an increased amount of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese to a person's diet while avoiding processed foods and animal fats.
In this article, we take a detailed look at what the Budwig diet is, whether there is any evidence to support its use, and the possible risks and side effects.
What is the Budwig diet?
The Budwig diet involves many servings of flaxseed oil mixed with cottage cheese or yoghurt. It also includes fruit and vegetables.
People following the Budwig Diet eat multiple servings of flaxseed oil mixed with cottage cheese, or sometimes yogurt or milk.
Dr. Johanna Budwig, the creator of the diet, believed eating a diet very high in polyunsaturated fat from these specific sources would help prevent cancer cells from spreading.
In addition to eating many servings of a mixture of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese, people following the Budwig diet normally eat a lot of the following foods:
- foods that are very high in fiber
At the same time, people on the Budwig diet avoid the following foods:
- meats, especially processed
- butter and margarine
- some other oils
Dr. Budwig also encouraged those following the diet or protocol to spend more time exposing their skin to the sun to increase the amount of vitamin D their bodies produce.
What is the Budwig diet used for?
The Budwig diet was developed as an alternative approach to treat cancer. However, it has also been used as an alternative treatment for the following:
- heart attack
- stomach ulcers
- prostate problems
- immune deficiencies
How does one make the mixture?
The basis of the Budwig diet is a mix of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese or quark, which is another bland cheese.
To make the mixture for the Budwig diet, a person needs to mix 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil for every 2 tablespoons of cottage cheese or quark until the oil is no longer visible.
People on the diet may consume upwards of 6 tablespoons of flaxseed oil and 12 tablespoons of cottage cheese or quark per day to be eaten at different times throughout the day.
Studies are currently inconclusive regarding the Budwig diet as a treatment for cancer.
The traditional medical community considers the Budwig diet to be scientifically unproven.
However, some research does suggest that flaxseed may fight cancer. For example, a study published in Cancer Prevention Research Journal shows that mice that were fed flaxseed had reduced numbers of new lung tumors compared with mice that were fed a diet without flaxseed.
While there is evidence that flaxseed may fight cancer in animals, there is not much research available about the effect of flaxseed in humans with cancer.
There is a case study that exists that followed an individual with breast cancer who used the Budwig diet in addition to traditional treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. While her cancer went into remission, it is unknown whether this happened due to the Budwig diet or the traditional therapies.
Another small trial on 25 men with prostate cancer showed that flaxseed might reduce the levels of the male hormone testosterone. Reducing the amount of this hormone helped reduce the size of the tumors.
While these results are encouraging, randomized studies need to be done on humans with cancer to reach a conclusion about the efficacy of flaxseeds, and before scientists can say categorically that the Budwig diet is a cancer treatment.
Possible side effects of eating a lot of flax, or flaxseed oil, include excessive gas and an upset stomach.
The Budwig diet is a mainly healthy way of living with limited side effects. However, it may have some side effects linked to the high consumption of flax, or the consumption of dairy for those with intolerances.
Side effects related to high intake of flax or flaxseed oil include the following:
Similar side effects are seen in those who have an intolerance to dairy and eat cottage cheese.
Risks and considerations
There are few risks of trying the Budwig diet as a complement to traditional medicine for cancer or another disease, as it follows healthful eating with the addition of a high concentration of flaxseed oil.
Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with the high intake of flaxseed oil. For example, some people on the Budwig diet have reported allergic reactions, possibly to flaxseed.
Despite this, flaxseed allergies are uncommon, so most people following the diet have a low risk of experiencing any adverse effects.
If a person has a flaxseed allergy, they may experience the following side effects with the Budwig diet:
- tingling in the mouth
- hives on the skin
- trouble breathing
A person should seek emergency care if they experience symptoms of an allergic reaction to flaxseed and have trouble breathing.
People following the Budwig diet should also increase the amount of water they drink. Eating flaxseed without drinking enough water can lead to an increased chance of developing a bowel obstruction.
Lastly, because the Budwig diet encourages people to spend more time in the sun, people should be aware of the risk of sun damage and skin cancer that comes from increased sun exposure.
Who should not follow the Budwig diet?
While the Budwig diet is safe for most people to try, there are some people who should not increase the amount of flaxseed in their diet. These are people who could do themselves more harm than good on the Budwig diet.
Groups of people that should not follow the Budwig diet include:
- anyone with diabetes
- pregnant or nursing women
- people with hyperglycemia
- women with certain hormonal conditions
- anyone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Any person outside these groups who wants to try the Budwig diet should only do so after consulting a doctor.
Flaxseed has some promise as a cancer-fighting food. However, there is not enough research yet to prove that it is an effective cancer treatment.
Until further research is done, the Budwig diet should not be considered a treatment for cancer.
If someone with cancer wishes to supplement their cancer treatments by following the Budwig diet, and they do not have any condition that may make the diet unsafe, there is little harm in them trying the diet alongside other medicinal therapies.
A person should always consult their doctor before making any significant dietary changes, including following the Budwig diet.