Monday, January 4, 2016

Andrew Scarborough interview: achieving complete remission of his brain cancer with a zero-carb ketogenic diet.

Andrew Scarborough's story is one of the most amazing I've ever heard, and so I simply HAD to share it here with you. He also kindly answered a few questions I had for him. 

Before we get to the Q&A, I will share the shortened version (in my own words) of his story, just to give you some background. For more detail on his story, you can read and watch the links at the end for more. 

Meet Andrew Scarborough. In 2013, he was 27 and living and working in London as a personal trainer. He was the picture of health: he was active, fit and eating what he considered a very healthy diet high in carbs, lean protein and low in fat. However, he began to suffer with terrible fatigue and debilitating migraines. Doctors told him it was probably just stress. 

Not just stress!
Things soon got worse, though, to the point where Andrew had a bad seizure whilst on a train and fell unconscious. When he awoke he went to hospital and was told he had suffered a hemorrhage from a highly vascular, malignant brain tumour. They operated and it was only weeks after the op that Andrew received the correct diagnosis - that he had an Anaplastic Astrocytoma. In other words, he had terminal stage three brain cancer that was treatable but not curable - at best they could only hope to slow the progression of the cancer down.

Conventional Treatment
Reluctantly Andrew went ahead with treatment: radiation and chemotherapy but he was doing his own research as his condition allowed (he was very weak and sick) on ketogenic diets. He had studied Nutrition and remembered the use of this high fat low carb diet for epilespy. So whilst researching as much as he could, he lowered his carb intake and increased his fats. He was still having seizures and was on pain and anti-convulsant medication which were making him feel horrible. He discussed a ketogenic diet with his oncologist who said to him that removing carbs from his diet was not a good idea as his brain needed the glucose whilst he was undergoing raditation and chemotherapy. 

Andrew stops his medical treatment
However, his treatment was making him very sick and wasn't helping to eliminate the cancer and so Andrew made the decision to stop. After much research and making contact with experts on ketogenic diets (such as Dr. D'Agostino) Andrew adopted a very high fat, very low carbohydrate diet. At this stage his diet included vegetables, fruits low in sugar, heavy cream, coconut milk and oil, nuts and cheese - all typical keto-diet foods. Yet still, Andrew felt terrible and in fact his migraines and seizures got so bad that he was bed bound for months. Naturally, he grew depressed at this point. Seeking help, he went to his GP who told him that his arteries were very inflamed. 

(A little puzzling, I would imagine, as he was on a ketogenic diet, which, for most people, works to reduce inflammation!)

Andrew pushes on with his ketogenic diet
Andrew did not give up and reduced his carbs further, which reduced the inflammation, but his was still experiencing seizures and migraines. Then he learnt that he could possibly be sensitive to salicylates, (note: salicylic acid and related compounds are produced by plants as part of their defence systems against pathogen attack and environmental stress) which are present in all plant foods like coconut, avo, nuts etc. He eliminated those, and added in more animal fats like tallow, ghee and lard, and immediately his headaches and seizures reduced. Now he was able to slowly reduce his use of anti-convulsant and pain medication.

Andrew finally received the encouragement he needed: his brain scans were showing improvement, much to his surprise! 

Yet still, Andrew didn't stop there. He continued to research all he could and even studied neurology, and he learned that he could get all the nutrients he needed by eating from the animal kingdom only, if he included bone broth and organ meats. He then added insects to his diet for variety. Of course, to most Westerners this sounds gross, but here in South Africa we are, at least, familiar with the traditional African delicacy of the Mopani worm. And we know that worldwide, many cultures traditionally eat insects.

In Andrew's own words: "Personally I add insects to my diet to cover all bases nutritionally due to the fact that I don’t eat fruits or vegetables. I also eat organ meats for the same reason. In any situation if you eat the whole animal, you are provided with the nutrients that will allow you to allow your whole body to thrive."

In this way, Andrew designed his own, unique, zero-carb ketogenic diet and in this way was able to come completely off all his medication. At this point he also used intermittent fasting. He started to feel so much better. 

Best of all, Andrew's brain scans showed the incredible: total remission of his cancer! (Sadly, Andrew says that those who were receiving conventional medical treatment with him at the time he stopped, are no longer alive today.)

andrew images
Initial scan on the left, dated 15 May 2013 and most recent scan on the right, dated 2 November 2015, showing complete remission and just a bit of remnant scar tissue.

However, his story doesn't end there. As Andrew says, complete remission does not mean cure. At any time, his cancer could come back, and so he continues to be strict with his diet, his activity and uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy too. 

 Interview with Andrew - Jan 2016
He graciously took the time to answer a few questions for me which I present to you here: 

Louise: How has having brain cancer, and beating it, changed your view of life, if at all?
Andrew: I think the hardest thing about it is that I have always appreciated my health, my family, and everything I have. You have the typical question of 'why me?' There was no history of any disease, let alone cancer, going back in my family. I was raised to believe that it was a genetic disease or related to a poor lifestyle, it doesn't just happen. Now I know that couldn't be further from the truth. 

This probably isn't the answer you were expecting but I feel more realistic about life now and to expect the unexpected. I appreciate time a lot more and the clichès of not wasting special moments are so true. When my mother was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer while I was going through the treatment (that I now regret, thankfully I stopped early) for my treatment I became very depressed. My mother came very close to losing her life and I wasn't in a good place myself at the time so we were both relieved when our health turned around so quickly by changing our diets. 

I feel so much happier now that I'm off all my medication which contributed to my depression and I'm free of seizures so I make sure I go for a lot of walks and take in every sense in a way that I couldn't when I was having horrible seizures indoors and thinking I had no future. This approach has given me a future again and a renewed purpose to help others who I have seen lose loved ones in horrible circumstances. I get invited to too many funerals and that hurts so I will continue to push this approach for not only myself but for people like them.

L: You mentioned that you eat bugs (in your Ivor Cummins youtube video). Did eating them gross you out at first? And please tell me what crickets taste like?
A: I don't watch much TV but when I do I watch a lot of the Discovery Channel as well as reading and watching National Geographic. I understand from studying anthropology that it is understood that we likely evolved largely through eating insects before moving towards the coast to eat more fish. Many cultures around the world consume insects as their main source of protein so I understood there was some value in entomophagy. 

This was a time for me where I was excluding a lot of traditional ketogenic foods from my diet for 2 reasons: 

- firstly, I was more sensitive to certain foods that were staples of traditional ketogenic diets. I very quickly cut out dairy, nuts, and all fruits and vegetables (due to salicylate sensitivity). Salicylates are the 'fight or flight' response that plants have (particularly plants with seeds like avocado) to stop you from eating them. When you have any kind of acquired brain injury in this area of the brain you can get increased sensitivity to certain foods. 

- secondly I wanted to optimise the diet because I knew humans notoriously fail on the ketogenic diet for cancer management and I think I know some of the reasons why- poor compliance, inclusion of dairy (I strongly believe cancer patients should avoid dairy on ketogenic diets), poor omega 3,6 ratio, they include sweeteners (I am strongly against all sweeteners, 'natural' or otherwise)-  it sends the wrong messages to the brain and if you follow an appropriate therapeutic ketogenic diet you should not crave sweetness at all. 
Edible insects around the world

So I wanted to add some variety to my diet in terms of taste and nutrition and my inquisitive nature made me think more about the health benefits of Palaeolithic ketogenic diets. I started with cricket flour as I had not tried insects before and moved on to whole, fatty insects that I bought live from the pet shop. I became fascinated by it all after reading Daniella Martin's excellent book Girl Meets Bug and watching a few documentaries. I like to try new things and I heard at the time that they just taste 'nutty' and I like nuts so I thought why not! Thankfully I enjoyed them and experimented with making different 'zero carb' dishes. I like to be creative with my food even if my choices are limited. 

L: What is your diet like at the moment?
A: I have simplified my diet at the moment in preparation for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It is around 90% fat, 10% protein. I monitor food, water intake, and sleep quality very strictly. 

All I eat at this moment is eggs, ghee, oily fish, and I have veal sweetbreads and lamb heart at the weekend. I consume ago most 1,600 cals a day which includes just under 60g of protein. Sometimes it's more about what you don't eat when attempting to manage cancer and epilepsy than what you do eat. 

I carefully manage my magnesium, sodium, and potassium intake to ensure I don't have breakthrough seizures. My activity is also controlled.

L: What is life like currently for you, now that you have reversed your brain cancer?
A:  My life is very regimented now and I should probably have a holiday! I study Human and Medical Science to get the message out there about metabolic therapy and I am constantly working with health professionals around the world and at various hospitals. I also try to help other patients whenever I can but it's a real challenge for many reasons.

I don't get down days anymore, but I am still driven by fear. This is an elusive cancer and I believe it can be reversed to the point where you can't see it on scans but it's never really 'cured'. I believe however that it can be managed indefinitely with the right metabolic approach but I would be lying if I said what I do is easy. It's far from it and it has felt very risky at times as I have had to do my own research without the support of medical professionals. I sacrifice everything and I push the boundaries because I strongly believe this approach should be more specific for cancer management.

 I still get partial seizures while on no medication if I slip up even slightly and do the wrong things but I have complete control if I stick to my methods I have adapted over time and continue to optimise. I failed miserably on a standard ketogenic diet until I adapted it and made it specific for cancer management, not paediatric epilepsy. I am excited about starting hyperbaric oxygen therapy this month to help this area of my brain heal even more so that I have more control of this without having to be as incredibly strict. I am thankful that the analytical skills I acquired through my studies before diagnosis helped me to treat myself through natural means and not drugs.

L: Any tips for anyone interested in doing a zero-carb ketogenic diet? 
A: Tips for general health- have fun with it and do your research. Understand that cultures who have eaten in similar ways tended to eat a lot of fatty cuts and organ meats to get the nutrients required for optimal health. I also believe it is important to not consume too much protein and not to overcook meat and fish. 

Tips for people managing disease- it's tough and you have to make it specific for your condition. Don't compare to others and think outside the box. Sometimes the sensible approach is actually the most unorthodox. Also it isn't just about diet- circadian rhythm regulation, vitamin D status, and your whole environment is of vital importance to your overall health. 
Here is are links to videos of Andrew's: 

Andrew also sent me this link for anyone wanting to read further about the importance of sleep:
Blind people are at lower risk for the development of many, if not all, cancers.
 I first watched an interview with Andrew by Ivor Cummins and Dr. Jeffry Gerber (who has a great post on Andrew here) on youtube - I encourage you to sit down with a cuppa and listen to the whole thing! I then did a google search and found his story, called "Healing Brain Cancer with a Zero Carb Ketogenic Diet by Andrew Scarborough" posted on this highly informative blog site called Eat Meat. DrinkWater.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter.  


  1. Interesting article, and very interesting replies to your question!


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