Brain Cancer; Healing with a Ketogenic Diet and Apricot Kernels (Kelli O’Brien)

Cancer is not a collection of unrelated diseases that each need to be treated individually, cancer is one disease—a mitochondrial disease—and diseased mitochondria prefer glucose and glutamine for fuel.  Healthy cells with healthy mitochondria are flexible and can adapt to just about any fuel source, but not cancer cells.  In fact, the majority of cells in our body function best when they burn fat for energy.  Cancer cells are bad at burning fat, because fat burning requires respiration, which requires healthy mitochondria.”  Thomas Seyfried, on using the ketogenic diet for cancer.

Kelli O’Brien heals from brain cancer with a ketogenic diet and apricot kernels

An image of Kelli's tumor

An image of Kelli’s tumor

It was in 2006 when Kelli O’Brien was diagnosed with a grapefruit-sized Oligodendroglioma.  She says that prior to the diagnosis she had been suffering from chronic headaches and had also experienced a loss of consciousness which led her to seek medical attention. When she explained the symptoms she had been experiencing to her doctor she was immediately sent to a hospital in Melbourne for scans that revealed the massive tumor that was growing behind her left eye.

The large tumor was putting enormous pressure on her brain so doctors performed a “debulking” surgery to relieve the building pressure, although the surgery did not remove all of the tumor and she was told that she had about 3-6 months left to live.

Kelli turned down the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were recommended by her doctor, because she was aware of a person within her township who had also been diagnosed with cancer but had healed using only natural therapies.  After consulting with this person, Kelli came up with a healing diet that would ultimately save her life.

Kelli’s healing regimen:

  • She removed all sugars from her diet because cancer uses glucose for its growth and spread.
  • She then removed the carbohydrates from her diet because the body converts them into glucose, once again feeding the cancer. This list included breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, breakfast cereals, granola bars, crackers, muffins baked goods, and most processed foods; as well as all sugars in the form of soft drinks, candies, jams, syrups and desserts; most fruits except for lemons, limes and certain berries;  all starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, winter squash, and corn; and all dairy products because lactose = sugar.
  • She started eating a high-protein/high-fat diet which included quality, unprocessed meats and healthy fats. More info on this diet below
  • She ate lots of non-starchy vegetables; such as: Amarath, Artichokes, Asparagus, Bamboo Shoots, Bean Sprouts, Beans (Green), Beet Greens, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Daikon, Eggplant, Fennel, Greens (such as Collards, Kale, Mustard, Turnip, Chicory, Endive, Escarole, Romaine, Spinach, Arugula, Radicchio, and Watercress), Hearts of palm, Jicama, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Mushrooms, Okra, Onions, Pea pods, Peppers, Radishes, Rutabaga, Sprouts, Sugar Snap Peas, Swiss Chard, Tomato, Turnips, Water Chestnuts, Zucchini.
  • She ate many vegetables in their raw form because the nutrition is intact and they contain their natural enzymes
  • She began an exercise routine that included weight lifting and weight bearing exercises.
  • She began eating Bitter Apricot Kernels which contain laetrile that is a compound that is said to attack cancerous cells.  You can read more about Apricot Kernels and laetrile with this link.
  • She stopped drinking alcoholic beverages and stopped smoking

Suggested supplements for those taking apricot kernels and B17 include:

  • DMG-B15 Capsules which benefits the immune system and has anti-cancer properties, and is a companion supplement for those taking apricot kernels.  Recommended dosage is 500 mg per day
  • Zinc is another companion supplement for those taking laetrile as it helps to transport the laetrile into the cells.
  • Pancreatic Enzymes which have the ability to dissolve the fibrin protein that surrounds tumors and allows them to be recognized by the immune system.

It has been over 7 years since her diagnosis and Kelli says that she feels better than at any other point in her life.  This interview took place in May of 2011 when she still had remnants of the tumor. Regular monitoring has revealed that the tumor is now gone.


Interview with Kelli part 1


Part 2

The basics of the Ketogenic Diet

Cancer cells love glucose and need it so badly that if you stop giving it to them they will literally starve to death.  All cells are fueled by glucose, but when you deprive normal cells of glucose they will automatically switch over to using ketone bodies and an alternate fuel source. A defect in cancer cells prevents them from making this conversion so they die.  Dr Dominic D’Agostino explains it like this, “Your normal cells have the metabolic flexibility to adapt from using glucose to using ketone bodies, but cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility. So we use the ketogenic diet  to exploit that defect.”  He adds.  “It just absolutely amazes me that medical science is just now finding this out.”

Healing cancer with this diet is a surprise to Dr. D’Agostino.  When he and his team of scientists at the University of South Florida removed carbohydrates from the diets of lab mice, they survived highly aggressive metastatic cancer even better than if treated with chemotherapy.  “We have dramatically increased survival with metabolic therapy. So we think it’s important to get this information out.”  This diet is not just successful with mice in the lab, Dr. D’Agostino has also seen similar results with people.  “I’ve been in correspondence with a number of people, at least a dozen over the last year-and-a-half to two years, and all of them are still alive, despite the odds. So this is very encouraging.”


An example of a ketogenic meal

The basics of the diet:  A ketogenic diet strictly limits carbohydrates, has a moderate amount of proteins, and a high amount of fat.  It not only helps you feel more satiated with less calories, but it also burns fat- both from your diet and from your own fat stores, therefore it can also help to facilitate weight loss.  The key to a ketogenic diet is to keep your carbs low~ usually as low as 45 grams per day, although some plans like the Cantin Ketogenic Diet  will hold you to only 20 grams a day.  This is significantly lower than the average intake of 406 grams for a man eating a 2,500 calorie diet.

The ketogenic diet is made up of 75-80% healthy fats, 15-20% healthy proteins, 5-10% non-starchy vegetables.

Eliminate the carbohydrates:  this includes all grains, bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, granola bars, crackers, muffins, baked goods and processed foods; as well as starchy vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash, and corn; all sugars, soft drinks, candies, jams, syrups and desserts; as well as most fruits; and milk products (as lactose= dairy sugar).

Fats- will help you maintain your state of ketosis, where your body is burning fat as its main source of energy.  In addition, your ketogenic meal plan should include about 1 to 2 tbsp of extra fat, such unrefined coconut oil, olive, or avocado oil with your meals. Coconut oil is a good choice because it contains medium-chain triglycerides that promote a ketogenic state.

  • Using fats in the menu– you can cook the vegetables for your morning omelet in coconut oil and drizzle olive or avocado oil over your vegetable side dishes when they are done cooking, and make some homemade salad dressings them as well.
  • Other acceptable fat foods include: avocados, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazel nuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds, freshly ground flax seeds, and nut butters (except peanuts).
  • Fats to stay away from include:  “trans” fats, such as shortening or margarine, as well as oils that are hydrogenated and polyunsaturated oils such as corn, soy, canola, grape seed, sunflower and safflower because these oils will oxidize easily making them inflammatory to the body.
Proteins- A ketogenic diet should provide a moderate amount of protein at each of your meals. The best sources of protein are found in unprocessed, whole cuts in their natural form. This includes breast of chicken, fish fillet, fresh seafood, and eggs. On the other hand, “processed” meats, like cold cuts and hot dogs are off-limits because often carbohydrates have been added to them as well as harmful additives and preservatives.  Those on a vegetarian diet can turn to organic tofu, nuts (such as almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazel nuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, and nut butters); hemp seeds, and Plant Based Protein Shake Mix. The diet recommends Including 4 to 6 oz. of protein at each of your meals.
  • Protein intake: you could have a 2 or 3 egg and vegetable omelet with an avocado for breakfast, 4 oz of chicken breast with non-starchy vegetables that are drizzled with olive oil for lunch, and 4 oz. salmon fillet with a side of non-starchy vegetables that are drizzled with olive oil, and a salad with olive oil dressing at dinner.

Eat non-starchy Vegetables– You can obtain your limited amount of carbohydrates, between 20 and 45 grams a day, by eating a variety of non-starchy vegetables. These are among the most nutrient-dense foods which can provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber you need, while containing very little in carbohydrate content so they will help you stay in ketosis.  To do this you should eat 1 to 2 cups of non-starchy vegetables at each of your meals.

  • Using non-starchy vegetables in your daily menu: You can eat a vegetable omelet for breakfast, have a big salad of leafy greens topped with grilled chicken for your lunch, and accompany your dinner with a large salad and a side of vegetables.
More on the ketogenic-  Some people are hesitant to try the ketogenic diet because they think that high-fat diets are bad for your health. But increasingly doctors are saying that as long as you are eating “natural” fats, this diet is actually good for you. Natural fats include extra virgin olive oil , avocado oil, and unrefined coconut oil. “Is cholesterol the major cause of heart disease?  Absolutely not.”” says cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra in his book ‘The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will Dr. Sinatra says that the real cause of heart disease is inflammation from eating too many carbohydrates and sugar. “We need to coach and empower our patients about the dangers of sugar,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re not hearing that. They’re hearing the opposite which is about the dangers of fat. Fat is healthy for you, as long as you avoid trans fats.”  He says that by cutting back on carbohydrates and eating natural fats and proteins, you can improve your heart health and potentially wipe out cancer.

Pie-ChartWhat does the diet look like:

    • Having a 3 day water fast before starting this diet will help you enter ketosis much faster.
    • Count your carbs religiously, and keep them within the ketogenic range of 20-45 grams per day.
    • Eat enough protein containing foods such as fish, chicken or eggs to satisfy yourself.  A general measure would be 23% of calories.
    • Monitor blood glucose, trying to maintain at 70 mg/dl (3.9 mmol/L)
    • Monitor blood ketones and try to get them up to 3.6
    • Eat an abundance of non-starchy vegetables such as:  Amarath, Artichokes, Asparagus, Bamboo Shoots, Bean Sprouts, Beans (Green), Beet Greens, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Daikon, Eggplant, Fennel, Greens (some include Collard, Kale, Mustard, Turnip, Chicory, Endive, Escarole, Romaine, Spinach, Arugula, Radicchio, and Watercress), Hearts of palm, Jicama, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Mushrooms, Okra, Onions, Pea pods, Peppers, Radishes, Rutabaga, Sprouts, Sugar Snap Peas, Swiss Chard, Tomato, Turnips, Water Chestnuts, and Zucchini.
    • Lemons, limes, or a very small amount of berries, or other low carb fruit might fit into your meal plan. Keep in mind that 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries has 3.4 grams of net carbs, 1/2 cup of strawberries has 4.1 grams of net carbs, 1/2 cup of cranberries has 3.8 grams of net carbs, 1/2 cup of watermelon has 5.5 grams of net carbs, and 1/2 cup of cherries has 5.5 grams of net carbs.  Therefore using these fruits as a garnish for the meal only tends to keep the portions at the appropriate level.  However, if they throw you out of ketosis then you cannot consume them.
    • Include some sea vegetables (for iodine) and fresh herbs.
    • Fill in the rest of your calories with healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, organic butter, ghee, and avocado oil. Fats can also be obtained by eating avocados and nuts such as macadamia, almonds, Brazil nuts, and pecans.
    • Additional fats can be obtained by supplementing with Cold-Pressed Black Seed Oil and MCT Oil

A typical meal plan might look like this: 

  • Breakfast:  green tea with 1 tbsp of MTC oil or coconut oil, 3 eggs, 1/2 avocado, and a sliced tomato that is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper.
  • Lunch:  a salad of greens and non-starchy vegetables topped with broiled fish or chicken, and a dressing made from 1 tbsp of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
  • Snacks:  macadamia nuts and almonds and 1 tbsp of MTC oil.
  • Dinner:  whole cut of chicken or fish, with a side of  two non-starchy vegetables (such as sauteed spinach and broccoli) that are drizzled with olive oil, with a green salad topped with an olive oil and fresh lemon dressing. 
  • Nighttime beverage– Herbal tea with added MTC or coconut oil.

Recommended supplements for the Keto diet

  • The ketogenic diet may deplete selenium levels so eat a small handful of Brazil nuts twice per day to keep your levels up, or think of supplementing with Selenium.
  • Adequate magnesium levels are also important when on keto. Magnesium absorbs well through the skin, so one way to achieve this is by applying a topical magnesium oil, or through supplementation.
  • Supplementing with Potassium is also recommended.
  • Taking a quality, bio-available multivitamin and mineral supplement can help to fill nutritional shortfalls.
Using a test strip to reach ketosis

Using a test strip to measure ketosis

Testing for ketones 

You must keep track your carbohydrate intake carefully to ensure that you are staying within your target range.  It usually takes 48 hours after eliminating carbs for the body to reach a state of ketosis. Ketone Test Strips are available online or at pharmacies  (they are usually found  along with diabetic supplies), and they are used to test the ketone levels in your urine.  The strips have a small absorptive pad on the end which contains a chemical that will change from light pink to a deep purple color in response to the levels of ketones found in the urine.  The strip is then compared to the corresponding scale on the container. 

Try to keep yourself testing in the higher levels for at least 7-10 days, at that point tumors should begin to break down.  That 7-10 days begins after your ketones reach the high levels, not at the start of the low-carb diet, and then you must keep yourself in ketosis and continue on with the diet until all of the cancer is gone.   You should continue to follow a low carbohydrate maintenance diet to prevent it from coming back. You cannot go back to your old eating habits after having cancer.

Acid/Alkaline balance

Acidic foods add hydrogen molecules to the body therefore making your body more acidic, alkaline foods remove hydrogen molecules thus making your body more alkaline.  Processed foods, meat, sugar, grains, dairy, soda, coffee, and alcoholic beverages are all acidic.  Diets which are based on these foods will cause your body to lose precious minerals from your skeletal system in an attempt to re-balance the pH.  The standard American diet is highly acidic and this is why osteoporosis rates are so common in the US.  Acidic cells create an acidic body, and an acidic body is a precursor for disease. Some signs of excess acidity will include fatigue with general aches and pains. Acidosis is especially problematic because it interferes with normal cell function. An example of this is in the production of white blood cells which are essential for a strong immune system. Poor quality white blood cells are produced in acidic environments, making it easy for infections and diseases to take hold.

You can test your saliva pH levels using  pH Testing Strips that are made for saliva and urine. These can be purchased from health food stores or online, and can be used to give you a measurement of what is going on inside of your body. The proper strip to purchase is a narrow or short range strip, which will measure from 5.0 to 9.5 or so.  Your goal is for your saliva pH to reach 7.2-7.4 in which cancer cells cannot thrive.  Elaine does not test urine because the ketogenic diet causes the body to release excess acids into the urine.  Read more Acid/ Alkaline Balance and how to test saliva pH.

Some things that you can help to increase alkalinity. 
  • add 1 T apple cider vinegar added to drinking water
  • add the juice of one lemon or lime to your drinking water,
  • add barley grass or wheat grass powder to drinking water
  • use Himalayan sea salt daily
  • take a trace mineral supplement.

Using a ketogenic diet for brain cancer

The ketogenic diet is said to be a very effective diet for those with brain cancer.  This is because the brain lacks the ability to store its fuel, therefore it requires a continuous supply of glucose for its nourishment. The brain will utilize this glucose almost exclusively, and it will do so for 24 hours of every day.  It is virtually impossible to stop that supply of glucose to the brain.  The only exceptions will be during periods of prolonged starvation, or when there is a shortage of glucose for some other reason (think ketogenic diet here).  It is during those times that the brain must depend on ketone bodies as an alternative fuel source.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective sheath that separates the brain from the rest of the body’s blood supply in order to protect the brain from exposure to various toxins. This barrier works so well that essential nutrients like essential fatty acids are not allowed to cross the blood-brain barrier either.   But there is one type of healthy fat that is able to cross this barrier to provide nourishment and fuel to the brain, and it is medium chain triglycerides (or MCTs).   MTC’s can be used to provide an alternative fuel source (ketones) for the brain, and as discussed earlier, cancer cells (with their damaged mitochondria) cannot use ketones, therefore they will starve.

Eating more MCTs can increase the levels of ketones to the brain, but more importantly, these ketones also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can help to boost blood flow within the brain, as well as neutralize free radicals, slow down inflammation, and may also be helpful in reversing cancerous situations.   Coconut Oil is one of the top sources of MCTs, with a concentration of approximately 66%. Adding 2-4 tablespoons of coconut oil per day can offer some protection against neurological degeneration and may also help decrease inflammation of the brain.

“Cancer is not a genetic disease it is a disease of the mitochondria.” Thomas Seyfried’s lecture on using metabolic therapies such as the ketogenic diet for the treatment of brain cancer.


Dr Mercola interviews Dr D’Agostino on the ketogenic diet

Additional Resources:

Sugar and Cancer–  “A recent study involved mice that had been inoculated with breast cancer cells in order to demonstrate the effects that sugar would have on tumor growth as it compared varying glycemic indices.  After two and one half months, 16 of the 24 mice whose blood sugar peaked frequently were dead, compared to only 1 of the 20 that had been fed a low glycemic diet.”   Read more about the connection between sugar and cancer

Apricot kernels -Amygdalin or Vitamin B 17 is a compound that can be found in the pits of apricots, peaches, cherries, and bitter almonds (which are illegal in the US),  as well as in the seeds of apples, strawberries, and red or black raspberries.  Other foods that contain smaller amounts are chick peas, lentils, Lima beans, cashews, brown rice, buckwheat, millet and by juicing wheatgrass.  Most modern day diets are lacking in the foods which contain the B17 compound that is found in apricot kernels, and supporters believe that the body requires some of this “nutrient” in order to prevent and heal from cancer.

How B17  works:  Vitamin B-17 is a molecule that is made up of four parts: 2 parts Glucose, 1 part Benzaldahyde, 1 part Hydrogen Cyanide (which is also found in vitamin b12).

It is important to note that the body has the proper compounds to either neutralize the B17 molecules or to unlock to them at the site of cancer. This is because the enzyme rhodanese is found in normal healthy cells and it automatically neutralizes the Benzaldahyde and Hydrogen Cyanide, converting them into harmless compounds which the body will then excrete.  Rhodanese is found everywhere in the body except for in (or around)  cancer cells or tumors.

In contrast, Beta-Glucosidase is found only at the site of cancer and is referred to as the “unlocking enzyme” as it will unlock the cyanide and benzaldahyde at the site of cancerous cells and tumors. When glucose delivers the B-17 molecules to the cancerous cells, they are unable to neutralize the cyanide since they lack the rhodanese enzyme. Instead, the cyanide and benzaldahyde are released at the site of cancer allowing them to target the cancer cells directly.

Keto Resources:


If you have had your gallbladder removed you will need to supplement with pancreatic enzymes to help you break down proteins and fats.


Fred Hatfield (prostate cancer) and Elaine Cantin (breast cancer) heal with the ketogenic diet

Joe Mancaruso heals stage 4 lung cancer with a ketogenic diet

Andrew Scarborough heals brain cancer with a zero carb ketogenic diet

Kelli wrote an E-Book which details her experience of healing brain cancer naturally using a low carb diet, apricot kernels and lifestyle changes, titled:

  “You Have Cancer”. How I Beat a Brain Tumor the Natural Way. No Chemo – No Radio Therapy, by Kellie O’Brien

Bitter Apricot Kernels



Related Articles
Cancer is a wake up call which needs to be addressed on multiple fronts.  It is the result of an overly toxic body with an overwhelmed and collapsed immune system due to eating nutritionally depleted diets, exposure to toxins, and having poor lifestyle habits. Research an anticancer diet, adding supplements, detoxing the body, and making lifestyle changes so you can address a cancerous situation with a multifaceted approach.


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