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What is the Budwig diet?

Can you tell me about the Budwig diet? My father has cancer and a friend said he should try it.

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The Budwig diet

The Budwig diet was developed by a German biochemist called Johanna Budwig in the 1950s. It involves eating flaxseed mixed with cottage cheese or milk. 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. You grind the flaxseed, usually in a coffee grinder. As well as flaxseed and cottage cheese, the Budwig diet is rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre. You also have to avoid sugar, meat, and fats such as butter, margarine and salad oil.

There is no reliable scientific evidence to show that the Budwig diet (or any highly specific diet) helps people with cancer. It is important to make sure that you have a well balanced diet when you are ill, especially if you are undernourished. We know from research that a healthy, well balanced diet can reduce the risk of cancer. You can find information about diet, healthy eating and cancer on our News and Resources website.


Research into flaxseed and related compounds

Johanna Budwig believed that the oil in flaxseed could stop cancers growing. Scientists have tested flaxseed on a number of different types of cancer cells in the lab, including breast, prostate and bowel cancer cells. These laboratory studies suggest that substances in flaxseed may help to stop cancer cells growing and spreading.

Research has also looked at flaxseed and animal cancers. Studies on breast cancer cells in mice suggest that it may help to make the hormone treatment tamoxifen and the monoclonal antibody treatment Herceptin work better. But it is too early to say how it would work in humans.

A small trial in men, looking at how diet affects prostate growth and disease found that flaxseed may help to reduce levels of the male hormone testosterone in the body and help to reduce the size of prostate tumours. The researchers doing this trial say that although these results are promising we need randomised controlled trials to find out if, or how well, flaxseed really works.

Researchers in America are currently looking at whether flaxseed can prevent breast cancer coming back. But it will be some time before the results of these trials are available.

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 anti oxidant and slow cancer cell growth.


Possible side effects

If you are thinking of trying the Budwig diet it is important to talk to your doctor. They will be able to advise on whether it is safe for you. At the moment we don’t fully understand how the diet interacts with other medicines. We know that some people taking flaxseed have had the following side effects

  • 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).

It is important to talk to a dietician before trying any specific diet, particularly if you have lost weight since having cancer or have difficulty eating a normal diet. The dietician will be able to advise you on the most suitable diet for you. Your doctor can refer you to a dietician.


More information

If you are looking for more information about complementary and alternative therapies there is a separate section in the about cancer section. This includes information about the safety of different types of therapies, including nutritional supplements and alternative diets.

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Updated: 4 February 2013