Not all diets are equal. Some diets promote weight loss whereas others aid management of certain health conditions. Nutrition has an important impact on our health and wellbeing. Foods we eat can either contribute to our health or impair it. But, what about cancer? Cancer patients also need to modify their diet and focus on healthy nutrition. There are also specific diet plans that aim to help cancer patients and the Budwig diet is one of them. In this post, we are going to discuss the Budwig diet, how it works, its benefits and drawbacks, and other important info you need to know.
What is A Budwig Diet?
Budwig diet, also known as Budwig protocol, is a diet plan that some people follow to treat cancer. This natural approach is often used as an alternative or a complementary treatment for cancer, but it’s still considered an unproven anti-cancer treatment. In other words, as an alternative treatment Budwig diet is not an officially recognized approach or strategy for the management of cancer. Besides cancer, this diet could aid the management of 50 common illnesses such as those affecting the circulatory system, heart disease, may regulate cholesterol, address liver dysfunction, arthritis, diabetes, eczema, IBS, just to name a few (1).
Budwig diet involves certain dietary modifications to slow the spread of cancer cells in the body. Although the diet has been around for decades, the research on its efficacy is limited. While proponents claim it’s effective, others emphasize a lot more research is necessary to know for sure.
Who Is Dr. Budwig?
The creator of the Budwig protocol was Dr. Johanna Budwig (1908-2003), a German biochemist and author. She was a pharmacist and also had doctorate degrees in chemistry and physics. Dr. Budwig was considered an expert in the subject of fats and lipids. In the early 1950s, she described a diet she claimed had anti-cancer effects and called the Budwig protocol. The primary focus of this diet was on modifying the consumption of dietary fats.
A dietary imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammatory substances in the body to which many diseases are attributed. Dr. Budwig often claimed the absence of the highly unsaturated fatty acids can weaken many functions (2). The idea of the Budwig diet continued to live even after her death. In 2003 Budwig Center was founded based on the authorization the founder received when he visited Dr. Budwig in Germany before her death.
How Does the Budwig Diet Work?
Budwig diet is based on common sense which calls for the intake of natural, fresh food, and focuses on nutritious and organic fruits and vegetables. This eating pattern recommends an intake of cottage cheese, honey, and flaxseed. Consumption of high amounts of polyunsaturated fats from flaxseed oil and cottage cheese could slow the growth and spread of cancer cells, according to Budwig (3).
For that reason, people who adhere to this diet consume the so-called Budwig mixture which combines flaxseed oil, cottage cheese, and honey. They take the mixture several times a day. To make the mixture, it’s necessary to combine cottage cheese and flaxseed oil in a 2:1 ratio, then add a small amount of honey. When it comes to the mixture, the exact amounts may include 8.5oz of flaxseed oil, 16oz of cottage cheese, and 4 tablespoons of honey.
People on the Budwig diet are encouraged to eat 2oz (60ml) of flaxseed oil and 4oz (113g) of cottage cheese or quark a day. This combination should be prepared fresh for each meal and consumed within 20 minutes. You can eat them at different times each day, but make sure they’re consumed in combination.
Besides modifying the diet to increase the consumption of certain foods or avoid others (see below), you should also:
- Spend at least 20 minutes outside in the sun each day to boost immune function
- Increase consumption of vitamin D
- Balance blood pressure
- Manage cholesterol
- Maintain pH balance in the body
What Are the Benefits of the Budwig Diet?
Since the Budwig diet relies on a healthy diet, unprocessed foods, and recommends an intake of fruits and vegetables it does have certain health benefits. Consumption of these foods enriches the body with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, healthy fats, and antioxidants all of which are necessary for a strong immune system.
But what about the main function of the Budwig diet – to prevent or aid management of cancer? While studies focusing on the Budwig diet are limited, evidence shows that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of certain types of cancer (4, 5).
Even though the Budwig protocol revolves around the mixture described above, no studies have researched it. That being said, evidence shows that flaxseed oil may have the potential to fight cancer (6, 7, 8). For instance, one study found that 0.3ml of flaxseed oil administered for 40 days led to decreased formation of lung tumors. Scientists concluded flaxseed oil administration re-altered the levels of metastatic markers and contribute to better control of metastasis development (9). Evidence also shows that long-term flaxseed consumption can decrease ovarian cancer incidence (10).
It’s also useful to mention that flaxseed oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which have the potential to alleviate inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health.
Budwig diet may improve cellular health, circulation, and heart health, support cognitive health, and strengthen the immune system. However, more research about this diet and its effectiveness is necessary.
Potential Drawbacks of the Budwig Diet
Every diet has its downsides and the Budwig diet is not the exception. The biggest disadvantage of the Budwig protocol is the lack of research that would confirm its effectiveness and support claims made by its advocates. For example, one study found that “cancer diets” are not effective and may even induce side effects (11). The lack of research opens a lot of questions regarding the safety of this approach and underlying mechanisms.
Moreover, the Budwig diet is quite restrictive. Even though it focuses on a healthy diet, it still proposes eliminating certain foods from the menu significantly or entirely. For example, you can eat meat only in small amounts. Meat is an abundant source of many nutrients including protein, zinc, iron, and B-complex vitamins. Insufficient intake of these nutrients can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies (12).
The restrictive nature of the Budwig diet may only contribute to weight loss. Losing weight could be dangerous for people with cancer. The reason is simple, cancer patients are in a hypermetabolic state. That means their calorie and protein needs are elevated. Inadequate consumption of nutrients, e.g. on the Budwig diet, may lead to weight loss and cachexia (muscle wasting) (13).
Other downsides of this diet include:
- Flaxseed may interact with some pain relievers and drugs for bleeding disorders, high blood pressure, and diabetes
- People with lactose intolerance may not be able to eat cottage cheese
- Some contents of the diet may not be suitable for people with certain types of cancer
The Budwig diet may cause adverse reactions such as:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Sun exposure increases the risk of sunburn and skin cancer
- Excessive intake of flaxseed can also induce negative consequences
Side effects of flaxseed intake include (14):
- Frequent bowel movements
Although rare, some people can develop an allergy to flaxseed oil. In that case, the affected person experiences difficulty breathing, hives on the skin, and tingling in the mouth.
Despite the fact that foods from the Budwig diet are healthy and may benefit pregnant women, you should still ask your doctor if you’re pregnant and want to start with this eating pattern. A diet high in flaxseed oil during pregnancy could increase the risk of breast cancer in the offspring (15), but more research is necessary on this subject.
Is the Budwig Diet for Everyone?
Budwig diet is safe for most people. However, it’s not for everyone. You should not follow this diet if you have:
- Bleeding disorder
- Diabetes or hyperglycemia
- Inflammatory bowel disease and other intestinal problems
- Some hormone conditions
Even though Budwig Center claims the diet can address a wide spectrum of health conditions, you shouldn’t try it without a doctor’s approval. This is particularly the case with cancer patients. Cancer is a serious condition that requires a strict protocol. While dietary adjustments are necessary, you should still adhere to doctor’s orders and consult them if you intend to make lifestyle changes such as starting with the Budwig diet.
What to Eat When on A Budwig Diet?
The key component of this diet is the Budwig mixture which consists of cottage cheese, flaxseed oil, and honey. While it’s possible to swap cottage cheese for yogurt or quark, the flaxseed oil in this mixture is crucial and must be consumed if you want to follow the diet properly.
Men and women who opt for the Budwig diet should also consume:
- Beverages such as herbal tea, water, and green tea
- Dairy products like cottage cheese, yogurt, goat’s milk, and raw cow’s milk
- Fruit juices e.g. grape, grapefruit, apple, and pineapple juice
- Fruits such as oranges, apples, berries, bananas, mango, kiwi, plums, and peaches
- Legumes e.g. beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds including walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pistachios, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds
- Oils like flaxseed and olive oil
- Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, spinach, and carrots
What to Avoid?
Budwig diet relies on the consumption of healthy foods abundant in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients the body needs to remain strong. Foods that are off-limits on the Budwig diet include:
- Fats and oils e.g. margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and butter
- Meats and seafood such as pork and shellfish
- Processed foods such as cookies, baked goods, convenience meals, French fries, candy, and pretzels
- Processed meats like bologna, bacon, hot dogs, and salami
- Refined grains such as white bread, pasta, chips, crackers, and white rice
- Soy products such as soybeans, edamame, soy milk, tempeh, and tofu
- Sugars e.g. table sugar, molasses, brown sugar, and corn syrup
It’s useful to remember that some types of meat such as poultry, fish as well as free-range eggs are permitted for consumption in small amounts. As mentioned above, pork and shellfish should be off-limits.
Budwig Diet FAQs
How to know if flaxseed oil is rancid?
Flaxseed oil is an integral component of the Budwig diet. That’s why it’s important to recognize when it’s going bad. Generally speaking, flaxseed oil doesn’t have a strong scent. You can notice rancid flaxseed oil by its fishy, paint-like smell and bitter taste.
What’s better for making a Budwig mixture: a hand whisk blender or a hand-held electric blender?
Either mixing method is acceptable. However, proper preparation of the mixture is crucial and it’s useful to remember that oil and dairy usually don’t blend well together. The best way to ensure flaxseed becomes water-soluble is to use a hand-held electric blender. Just avoid mixing too fast and too long to avoid unnecessary heating that would damage the mixture.
Is the Budwig diet safe for pregnant women?
Yes, the Budwig diet is suitable for pregnant women. However, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before you start with this (or any other) diet. Even more so if we bear in mind that consuming too much flaxseed oil in pregnancy could elevate breast cancer risk in the offspring. Your doctor will tell you whether it’s safe to try the Budwig diet or not.
How long should you do the Budwig diet?
Budwig protocol doesn’t have a specific timeframe. Ideally, patients should adhere to the diet until they are cancer-free. Once free of cancer, patients shouldn’t return to old eating habits. Instead, they are encouraged to move over to the Budwig Maintenance program. The maintenance program isn’t as strict as the diet, but it does focus on healthy foods.
Can the Budwig diet help with chronic digestive issues?
Actually, it could. Budwig diet eliminates processed foods and adds fruits, vegetables, and even fermented foods to your menu thereby improving the health and function of the digestive system. That being said, you shouldn’t start with the diet before consulting your doctor. Keep in mind that the consumption of large amounts of flaxseed oil could lead to gastrointestinal disturbances.
Does the Budwig diet recommend consumption of whey protein?
The alternative source of protein to cottage cheese or quark is not specified. The doctor behind this diet never suggested or approved adding whey protein into the Budwig mixture.
The main focus of this post was the Budwig protocol. This diet poses an alternative approach to the prevention and management of cancer and other health illnesses. Even though the Budwig diet recommends an intake of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods evidence focusing on its mechanisms of action and effectiveness is scarce and anecdotal. A lot more research on this subject is necessary, particularly regarding safety. Cancer patients should follow doctor-recommended treatment. The choice of whether to start with the Budwig diet or not depends on you, but you should also consult your doctor about this subject. The restrictive nature of this diet may cause problems and make it difficult for people to stick to the program.