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Budwig diet

The Budwig diet was developed by a German biochemist called Johanna Budwig in the 1950s. There is no reliable evidence to show that the Budwig diet helps people with cancer.

What the Budwig diet is

The Budwig diet involves eating flaxseed oil mixed with cottage cheese or milk. Johanna Budwig believed that the oil could stop cancers growing.

Flax is a plant grown in many parts of the world. Pressing its seeds produces linseed oil to use in cooking or as a food supplement. The seeds contain high levels of fibre and many vitamins and minerals.

As well as flaxseed and cottage cheese, the Budwig diet is rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre. You have to avoid sugar, meat, and fats such as butter, margarine and some oil.

Research into flaxseed and related compounds

There is no good evidence that the Budwig diet treats or cures cancer in people.

Most of the research into flaxseed has been done in the laboratory. Scientists have tested substances in flaxseed on cancer cells. This very early research suggests that these substances may help to stop cancer cells growing and spreading.

Research has also looked at flaxseed and cancer in animals. Studies on breast cancer cells in mice suggest that it might help to make the hormone treatment tamoxifen and the monoclonal antibody treatment Herceptin work better. But there have been no studies into whether it works in people with breast cancer.

A small trial in men found that flaxseed may help to reduce levels of the male hormone testosterone and reduce the size of prostate tumours. The researchers said that although these results were promising, they need randomised controlled trials to find out if, or how well, flaxseed really works.

Recently scientists have been interested in lignans or phyto oestrogens (plant oestrogen) in flaxseeds. Although they don’t understood exactly how they work, scientists think that lignans may act on cancers that depend on hormones, such as some breast cancers. They also think that they may act as an antioxidant and slow cancer cell growth.

Possible side effects of the Budwig diet

Possible side effects of flaxseed include:

  • diarrhoea
  • wind
  • feeling sick

There have also been reports of a few allergic reactions. Taking high doses of flaxseed without enough water can cause bowel blockage (obstruction).

Flaxseed may interact with some medicines. It can stop some drugs being absorbed properly if they are taken at the same time.

It is important to talk to your doctor if you are thinking of trying the Budwig diet. They may advise that you don't have flaxseed if you have certain conditions including:

  • bowel problems such as inflammatory bowel disease
  • diabetes
  • bleeding disorders

Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit is part of a healthy diet. But restricting your diet by avoiding certain food groups may stop you getting enough nutrients for your body to work properly. You could also lose weight.

You might already be weak and underweight if you have cancer. So you need to take in more calories than usual to cope with the illness and treatment. It is important to talk to a dietitian before trying any specific diet, particularly if you have lost weight since having cancer or have difficulty eating a normal diet.

Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian who will be able to advise you on the most suitable diet for you.

Last reviewed: 
12 Jun 2015
  • Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd edition)
    American Cancer Society, 2009

  • Flax and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum): a review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration
    E Basch and others
    Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, 2007. Volume 5, Issue 3

  • Pilot study to explore effects of low-fat, flaxseed-supplemented diet on proliferation of benign prostatic epithelium and prostate-specific antigen
    W Demark-Wahnefried and others
    Urology, 2004. Volume 63, Issue 5

  • Flaxseed and its lignans inhibit estradiol-induced growth, angiogenesis, and secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor in human breast cancer xenografts in vivo
    M Bergman Jungeström and others
    Clinical Cancer Research, 2004. Volume 13, Issue 3

  • Dietary flaxseed lignan or oil combined with tamoxifen treatment affects MCF-7 tumor growth through estrogen receptor- and growth factor-signaling pathways
    JK Saggar and others
    Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2010. Volume 54, Issue 3

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

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