Budwig Diet

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Budwig Diet

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More
Budwig Diet

Common Names

  • Budwig protocol
  • Flaxseed oil diet
  • Linseed oil diet
  • Flax oil and cottage cheese diet
  • Oil-protein diet
  • Cellect-Budwig protocol
  • Bill Henderson protocol

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

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. Clinical studies have not been conducted to determine the effects of 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.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • Cancer treatment and prevention

    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
What are the 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
What else do I need to know?

Do Not Take if:

  • You have bleeding disorders: Animal studies have shown that flaxseed oil can increase the risk of bleeding.
  • You are pregnant: Animal studies indicate that flaxseed may increase the risk of breast cancer in offspring.

Special Point:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruit can be beneficial for health. Restricted diets such as the Budwig Diet can cause severe nutritional deficiencies.
  • Delaying or avoiding standard medical treatments can have serious consequences.

For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Developed by Dr. Johanna Budwig in the 1950s, the Budwig diet is an unproven cancer treatment involving consumption of multiple daily servings of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese as well as vegetables, fruits, and juices. It prohibits intake of sugar, animal fats, shellfish, processed foods, soy, and most dairy products. It also encourages daily sunbathing (1) and is often combined with coffee enemas.

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. Although she wrote books and papers to provide anecdotal evidence and biochemical mechanisms of the diet, clinical trials have not been published in any peer-reviewed medical journal. Polyunsaturated fatty acids such as 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).

Food Sources

Organic flaxseed combined with low-fat cottage cheese

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment
Mechanism of Action

Dr. Budwig developed the 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 or cancer treatment is still under investigation (2). Polyunsaturated O3FAs in flaxseed oil have been shown to decrease levels of proinflammatory cytokines, TNF-alpha, and IL-1 beta (9). O3FAs also demonstrated antineoplastic properties by increasing intracellular ROS 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 inhibited in vitro proliferation of human prostate (11) and breast cancer growth by downregulating growth factors and increasing p53 expression (12). Whole flaxseed contains lignans, phytoestrogens that may also have antineoplastic properties and exert hormonal effects (13).

Budwig believed that combining cottage cheese and flaxseed oil improved availability of essential fatty acids through the plasma membrane, thereby improving 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 lactovegetarian diets have lower incidence of gastrointestinal cancer compared with non-vegetarians (14) (15), although these studies indicate association rather than causation.

Greater tumor regression was reported in mice treated with trastuzumab therapy plus flax oil compared with those treated with trastuzumab alone (16).

  • Delaying or avoiding standard treatments can have serious consequences.
  • Restricted diets may result in nutritional deficiencies.
  • Bleeding disorders: Animal studies suggest 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 GI discomfort such as gas, bloating, constipation, stomach ache, and frequent bowel movements (18).
Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Dr Johanna Budwig Anti-Cancer Food plan. http://www.budwigcenter.com/the-budwig-diet/. Accessed March 29, 2022.
  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. Mannion C, Page S, Bell LH, et al. Components of an anticancer diet: dietary recommendations, restrictions and supplements of the Bill Henderson Protocol. Nutrients. Jan 2011;3(1):1-26.
  6. Cellect-Budwig Diet http://www.cellectbudwig.com/index.php. Accessed March 29, 2022.
  7. Budwig J. Cytostatic or cytodynamic control of cancer. Hippokrates. Oct 15 1956;27(19):605-612.
  8. Zhao Y, Butler EB, Tan M. Targeting cellular metabolism to improve cancer therapeutics. Cell Death Dis. 2013;4:e532.
  9. 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.
  10. Barcelo-Coblijn G, Murphy EJ, Othman R, et al. Flaxseed oil and fish-oil capsule consumption alters human red blood cell n-3 fatty acid composition: a multiple-dosing trial comparing 2 sources of n-3 fatty acid. Am J Clin Nutr Sep 2008;88(3):801-809.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Mason JK, Chen J, Thompson LU. Flaxseed oil-trastuzumab interaction in breast cancer. Food Chem Toxicol. Aug-Sep 2010;48(8-9):2223-2226.
  17. Dr. Johanna Budwig: The Practical Implementation of My Oil-Protein Diet. 2004-2013; http://www.healingcancernaturally.com/budwig_protocol.html. Accessed March 29, 2022.
  18. 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.
  19. Prasad K. Flaxseed and cardiovascular health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. Nov 2009;54(5):369-377.
  20. Zhang W, Wang X, Liu Y, et al. Dietary flaxseed lignan extract lowers plasma cholesterol and glucose concentrations in hypercholesterolaemic subjects. Br J Nutr. Jun 2008;99(6):1301-1309.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Khan G, Penttinen P, Cabanes A, et al. Maternal flaxseed diet during pregnancy or lactation increases female rat offspring’s susceptibility to carcinogen-induced mammary tumorigenesis. Reprod Toxicol. Apr-May 2007;23(3):397-406.
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