The Budwig Diet is one of the most popular home remedies for cancer. Its most famous ingredient is a mixture of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese. It is thus sometimes also called the Oil Protein Diet. The inventor of the Budwig diet for cancer, Dr. Johanna Budwig, recommended that each day patients consume 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil thoroughly mixed with 6 tablespoons of low fat (2%) cottage cheese, as well as 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds.
She also prohibited all animal fats, salad oils, meats, shellfish, processed foods, soy, butter and most dairy products, margarine, and sugar. As part of the protocol, she recommended daily sunbaths to help “energize” the fatty acids in the flaxseed oil. Supposedly, following this regimen one could cure even advanced cases of cancer.
Who Was Dr. Budwig?
Proponents call her the “Grand Dame of Science.” They claim that she was a “a top European cancer research scientist, biochemist, blood specialist, pharmacologist, and physicist.” They also state that she was nominated for the Nobel Prize six or seven times.
On the other hand, some people call Budwig’s protocol a worthless “diet scam.” At the Cancer Research UK website, they state:
“Researchers are still investigating this [Budwig diet for cancer]. There is not enough evidence to say that this diet can prevent or treat cancer in humans.”
So what’s the truth about Dr. Budwig and her famous diet?
Dr. Budwig–Myth vs. Reality
Johanna Budwig was born in Essen, Germany in 1909. She specialized in pharmacy and received a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Muenster in 1938. After WWII, she worked at the Federal Institute for Fats Research. In 1950, she published findings in a German publication, New Research in Fat Research. This book contained her first discussion of the synergy between flaxseed oil and sulphur-containing dairy products, like cottage cheese. Her article also contained one of the first full-scale criticisms of hydrogenated fats as “respiratory poisons.”
Dr. Budwig may eventually be recognized as a major figure in 20th century nutritional research. But it is misleading to say that she was ever a prominent scientist, in the conventional sense of that word.
Scientists communicate at professional conferences as well as through scholarly papers and books. Their medium of communication is not through popular lectures or articles. But, according to PubMed, Johanna Budwig published a total of four research papers in her entire career. And none of these papers focused on cancer. So how can one be a “top European cancer researcher,” as she is often called, and yet never publish a scientific article on cancer?
Nobel Prize Nomination
And what about her six Nobel Prize nominations? Doesn’t this prove what a great scientist she was?
The Nobel Prize committee explains their process in this way:
“Each year, thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates and members of parliamentary assemblies and others, are asked to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.”
In September of each year “Over 3,000 personal confidential invitations sent out to qualified nominators.”
Out of those thousands, one or more persons repeatedly nominated Dr. Budwig for the Nobel Prize. It’s nice to know that she had an admirer among the top professors. But this meant very little in the grand scheme of things. So let’s be clear: Dr. Budwig, whatever her true merit, never won a Nobel Prize. She simply had her name proposed by one of those 3,000 nominators. Nor was she a “top researcher” in any conventional sense. It is not necessary to exaggerate her qualifications in order to seriously consider the merits of her program.
The Good News about the Budwig Diet for Cancer
But Dr. Budwig did have some very promising ideas. And one of these was proposing the use of flaxseed oil for cancer. She was far ahead of her time. As half a dozen Italian scientists explained in 2017:
“In the last two decades, flaxseed has been a focal point of interest in the field of nutrition and disease research due to the potential health benefits associated with its biologically active components.
Modern science suggests this might be especially important for cancer of the breast. This is because flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, lignans, and fiber. One of the main components of flaxseed is the lignans.
In the human body, these particular lignans turn into two other active substances (enterolactone and enterodiol). These molecules are similar in shape to the female hormone estrogen. Thus, they bind to same receptors on the surface of cancer cells as estrogen does. In the laboratory, they decrease the growth rate of cancer. Since about 80 percent of breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen (abbreviated ER+), blocking estrogen has become a time-honored technique for slowing breast cancer growth.
Importance of Flaxseed
In 2017, the Italian scientists explained:
“It has been shown that flaxseed and/or its oil inhibit the formation of colon, breast, skin, and lung tumors, reduce blood vessel cell formation in female rats, thus suggesting a protective effect against breast, colon and ovarian cancer.”
But, sadly, most scientists today have little interest in finding natural solutions to serious medical problems. They focus on drugs. For instance, tamoxifen works in the same way as flaxseed. To quote one breast cancer website,
This makes tamoxifen almost identical to flaxseed, but with one big difference.
Side Effects of Tamoxifen
Tamoxifen is often effective, but it can have serious side effects. The common ones include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Irregular periods or spotting (uterine bleeding)
- Loss of sex drive
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal dryness or itching
However, more rarely, tamoxifen causes:
- Blood clots in the large veins
- Blood clots in the lungs
- Bone loss (in premenopausal women)
- Cancer of the uterus
But flaxseed and its oil do not cause any of these serious side effects. In fact, as a rule, flaxseed and flaxseed oil are quite safe, even at relatively high doses. Patients in clinical trials have taken as much as two ounces of flaxseed per day with no serious adverse events.
Possible Side Effects of Flax
Possible side effects of flax include gastric distress. Occasionally, people have an allergic reaction (as can happen with many foods). And people with colon conditions should avoid eating these and other seeds.
But on the whole flaxseed is safe. In fact, the German Commission E sanctions the use of flaxseed for chronic constipation, colon damage from laxative abuse, irritable colon, and diverticulitis.
In fact, studies at the University of Minnesota suggest that 10 grams per day of flaxseed has a protective effect against breast cancer in premenopausal women. But nobody has followed up on those studies with larger trials.
Too Darn Cheap?
How can that be? Is flaxseed too darn cheap? Flaxseeds cost about 30 cents per ounce. So we are talking about a treatment that costs pennies. Even flaxseed oil and cottage cheese cost about a dollar or two per day. How is anyone going to get rich from treatment like that?
Price matters. When cancer drugs like Kymriah™ are priced at $475,000 per infusion, what company is interested in a dollar-per-day treatment?
Should You Take Flax?
Should you take flax? Why not? People have been using flaxseed as food for thousands of years. They usually tolerate it well. I myself eat it every day, since I include it in homemade seed crackers that I substitute for wheaten bread. And thousands of people are trying the Budwig oil-and-protein diet for cancer.
But here’s the maddening part. Basic science suggests that flaxseed could have a very positive effect on cancer. Yet clinical research of flax in human cancer patients is almost entirely lacking.
PubMed (an index of 28 million journal articles) reveals no such studies. There is a single derogatory reference to flaxseed in the 2019 edition of the DeVita cancer textbook. UpToDate and ASCO.org, also have nothing to offer. Clinicaltrials.gov reveal a few old studies. But there are no ongoing trials of flaxseed in breast cancer.
One small NCI-sponosred study at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center looked at some of the effects of combining drugs with flaxseed. But there were a total of seven patients in the flaxseed arm of the study! Full-scale trials of drugs normally involve hundreds of patients. The study did not involve any of the features of the Budwig Protocol.
Who will study flax?
How is it possible that something as promising as flax goes unstudied in cancer patients? Why does the DeVita textbook dismiss flaxseed out of hand in a list of so-called worthless alternatives?
Don’t they realize that thousands of people today follow the Budwig Diet for cancer, especially the mixture of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese, in the hope that this will combat their cancer. It has become more popular over the years, at times even surpassing the popular Gerson Diet.
Yet the “cancer establishment” as a whole is divorced from such popular practices. Long ago, as a member of the first advisory board of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I fought to get the U.S. government to research the alternatives that were of interest to cancer patients. But, then and now, the NIH has not shown much interest in seriously examining popular alternatives.
As a result, they can truthfully say that such treatment has not been studied! They often state this as a criticism of proponents, rather than as a confession of their own failure to pursue promising leads.
And, by the way, in 2019 the N.I.H. will receive $39.1 billion in taxpayer funding. “This is the fourth year in a row that NIH has received a substantial increase.” But you will seek in vain for any research into flax seed or similar non-conventional treatments. The so-called “Cancer Moonshot” (promoted by Joe Biden) was funded to the tune of $1.8 billion. But it contains not a single reference to nutrition or herbal medicine.
Meanwhile, the price tag of new cancer drugs is going sky-high and is bankrupting many people. Yet the NIH has no intention of investigating a self-help treatment that might successfully combat cancer for just a dollar or two a day.