Budwig Diet

Budwig Diet

Common Names

  • Budwig Protocol
  • Flaxseed Oil Diet; Linseed Oil Diet; Flax oil and Cottage Cheese (FOCC) Diet; Oil-protein Diet
  • Cellect-Budwig Protocol
  • Bill Henderson Protocol

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

The Budwig Diet has not been proven to treat or prevent cancer.

The Budwig Diet is an unproven anticancer treatment developed by the German biochemist Dr. Johanna Budwig in the 1950s. The diet consists of multiple daily servings of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese, as well as vegetables, fruits and juices. Processed foods, meats, most dairy products and sugar are prohibited. Budwig believed that the combination of cottage cheese and flaxseed oil, a food high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, would improve cellular functioning. No large-scale clinical studies have been conducted using the Budwig diet.

While a diet consisting of large amounts of vegetables and fruits can be beneficial, diets restricted in meat and dairy products may reduce the intake of essential nutrients leading to nutritional deficiencies. Some variations of the diet encourage daily sunbathing to energize the fatty acids, and a coffee or oil enema. However, coffee enemas can result in electrolyte imbalance, infections, inflammation of the rectum and colon, and burns. High levels of sun exposure can result in an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer treatment and prevention
    There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Do Not Take If
  • You have bleeding disorders: May increase the risk of bleeding.
  • You are pregnant: May increase the risk of breast cancer in offspring.
Side Effects
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Sunbathing: Increases the risk of sunburn and skin cancer
  • Flaxseed supplementation: Gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, bloating, constipation, stomach ache and frequent bowel movements
Special Point

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruit can be beneficial for health. A restricted diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies. There is no scientific evidence that supports the Budwig Diet in disease prevention. More importantly, delaying or avoiding standard medical treatment can have serious consequences.

Back to top

For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Developed by Dr. Johanna Budwig in the 1950s, the Budwig diet is an unproven cancer treatment featuring multiple daily servings of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese. It is often combined with procedures such as coffee enemas in alternative cancer treatment regimens. Budwig believed that cancer was caused by the lack of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and that a combination of flax oil and cottage cheese would improve cellular function.

The diet consists of a mixture of flax oil and cottage cheese as well as vegetables, fruits, and juices. It prohibits consumption of sugar, animal fats, shellfish, processed foods, soy and most dairy products, and encourages daily sunbathing (1).

Although Budwig wrote books and papers to provide anecdotal evidence and biochemical mechanisms of the diet, no clinical trials have been published in any peer-reviewed medical journal. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega-3 found in flaxseeds, have been shown to exert anticancer activities (2), but there is no evidence that such a diet has any benefit in preventing or treating cancer in humans. Whereas a balanced diet consisting of vegetables and fruits can be beneficial for general health, restricted diets may increase risk of nutritional deficiencies (3). High levels of sun exposure can result in increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer (4).

The Budwig diet is not recommended by most mainstream cancer treatment centers.

Food Sources

Organic flaxseed combined with low-fat cottage cheese.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment
Mechanism of Action

Dr. Budwig developed her diet based on the hypothesis that cancer is caused by reduced uptake of oxygen by cell membranes in the absence of omega-3 fatty acids (O3FAs) such as linolenic acid (7). While metabolic changes such as increased aerobic glycolysis and fatty acid synthesis occur in cancerous cells, (8) the role of O3FAs in the pathogenesis and treatment of cancer is still under investigation (2). The polyunsaturated O3FAs in flaxseed oil have been shown to decrease levels of proinflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha and Interleukin-1 beta (9). O3FAs also demonstrated antineoplastic properties by increasing intracellular reactive oxygen species and decreasing protumorigenic prostaglandins (2). Flax oil supplements increased total phospholipid fatty acid content in erythrocytes  (10), but the implication of this finding in cancer treatment is unknown. Flaxseed supplements also inhibit proliferation of human prostate cancer (11) and inhibit breast cancer growth in vitro by downregulating growth factors and increasing p53 expression (12). Furthermore, whole flaxseed contains lignans, phytoestrogens which may also have antineoplastic properties and exert hormonal effects (13).

Budwig believed that combining cottage cheese and flaxseed oil allowed for better availability of essential fatty acids through the plasma membrane, allowing for improved aerobic cellular respiration (1). The effect of cottage cheese consumption on the bioavailability of O3FAs has not been studied. Processed fats, saturated fats, animal fats, processed foods, and sugar are prohibited in the Budwig diet because they are thought to interfere with oxygen uptake and cellular respiration. Epidemiological studies show that people who consume lacto-vegetarian diets have lower incidence of gastrointestinal cancer compared with non-vegetarians (14) (15), although these studies indicate association rather than causation.

An animal study showed that greater tumor regression occurred in mice treated with trastuzumab therapy plus flax oil compared with those treated with trastuzumab alone (16).

  • Delaying or avoiding medical treatment can have serious consequences.
  • Restricted diets may result in nutritional deficiencies.
  • Flaxseed has weak estrogenic effects; therefore, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use with caution.
  • Bleeding disorders: Animal studies indicate that flaxseed oil increases bleeding time and platelet activating inhibitor-1, and decreases platelet aggregation (19).
  • Pregnancy: An animal study found that a diet high in flaxseed during pregnancy can increase the risk of breast cancer in the offspring (23).
Adverse Reactions
  • Lactovegetarians may be at greater risk for vitamin B12 deficiency (3).
  • Excessive sun exposure and tanning beds can increase risk of melanoma and skin cancers (4).
  • Adverse events associated with flaxseed consumption include gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, bloating, constipation, stomach ache, and frequent bowel movements (18).
Herb-Drug Interactions

Drug interactions for the Budwig Diet have not been investigated.

Drug interactions for flaxseed supplementation include:
Anticoagulant/Antiplatelet drugs: Flaxseed may increase bleeding time and reduce platelet aggregation (19).
Antidiabetic drugs: Lignans in flaxseed may lower fasting glucose levels (20).
Ketoprofen: Flaxseed may decrease the absorption of ketoprofen (21).
Metoprolol: Flaxseed may decrease the effects of metoprolol (21).

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Dr Johanna Budwig Anti-Cancer Food plan. http://www.budwigcenter.com/the-budwig-diet/. Accessed 1/9/2017.

  2. Cockbain AJ, Toogood GJ, Hull MA. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for the treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer. Gut. Jan 2012;61(1):135-149.

  3. Antony AC. Vegetarianism and vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) deficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. Jul 2003;78(1):3-6.

  4. Ayala F, Palla M, Di Trolio R, et al. The role of optical radiations in skin cancer. ISRN Dermatol. 2013;2013:842359.

  5. Cellect-Budwig Diet http://www.cellectbudwig.com/index.php. Accessed 9/3/2015.

  6. Budwig J. Cytostatic or cytodynamic control of cancer. Hippokrates. Oct 15 1956;27(19):605-612.

  7. Zhao Y, Butler EB, Tan M. Targeting cellular metabolism to improve cancer therapeutics. Cell Death Dis. 2013;4:e532.

  8. Holm T, Berge RK, Andreassen AK, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids enhance tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels in heart transplant recipients. Transplantation. Aug 27 2001;72(4):706-711.

  9. Demark-Wahnefried W, Polascik TJ, George SL, et al. Flaxseed supplementation (not dietary fat restriction) reduces prostate cancer proliferation rates in men presurgery. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Dec 2008;17(12):3577-3587.

  10. Lee J, Cho K. Flaxseed sprouts induce apoptosis and inhibit growth in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. Apr 2012;48(4):244-250.

  11. Sturgeon SR, Heersink JL, Volpe SL, et al. Effect of dietary flaxseed on serum levels of estrogens and androgens in postmenopausal women. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(5):612-618.

  12. Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, et al. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Feb 2013;22(2):286-294.

  13. Craig WJ, Mangels AR, American Dietetic A. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. Jul 2009;109(7):1266-1282.

  14. Mason JK, Chen J, Thompson LU. Flaxseed oil-trastuzumab interaction in breast cancer. Food Chem Toxicol. Aug-Sep 2010;48(8-9):2223-2226.

  15. Dr. Johanna Budwig: The Practical Implementation of My Oil-Protein Diet. 2004-2013; http://www.healingcancernaturally.com/budwig_protocol.html. Accessed 9/3/2015.

  16. Austria JA, Richard MN, Chahine MN, et al. Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid in subjects after ingestion of three different forms of flaxseed. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008;27(2):214-221. 

  17. Prasad K. Flaxseed and cardiovascular health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. Nov 2009;54(5):369-377.

  18. Laitinen LA, Tammela PS, Galkin A, et al. Effects of extracts of commonly consumed food supplements and food fractions on the permeability of drugs across Caco-2 cell monolayers. Pharmaceutical Res. Oct 2004;21(10):1904-1916.

  19. Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug 2009;90(2):288-297.

Back to top
Back to top
Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

Last Updated