The Budwig diet, sometimes called the Budwig protocol, is an eating plan that was developed to treat cancer. The diet’s staples are flaxseed oil and cottage cheese, as well as fruit juice. The diet is named after its creator, Dr. Johanna Budwig, who theorized that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids would energize healthy cells to keep cancer from spreading. When you are on the Budwig diet, you are also supposed to spend time exposing your skin to the sun to stimulate immune function and promote vitamin D circulation throughout your body. However, there is no research-based proof that the Budwig diet as a whole is effective against cancer.

The medical community at large considers the Budwig diet to be scientifically unproven to treat cancer. However, some specific components of the Budwig diet might show more promise. For instance, Cancer Research UK indicates that there is research being done into the use of flaxseed as an anticancer ingredient. It’s possible that there are properties in flaxseed oil itself that can stop cancer from spreading or keep it from coming back. Though there haven’t been extensive studies into the effectiveness of flaxseed in treating humans with cancer, one study of hens with ovarian cancer indicated that a diet of flaxseed oil improved their cancer outcomes.

There’s also one case study where use of the Budwig diet in addition to chemotherapy and more traditional anticancer treatments helped one person to go into remission. However, it’s unclear in this case whether the cancer would have gone into remission if the Budwig diet had not been included in the treatment. The Budwig diet’s long-term effect on individual health outcomes remains largely unknown.

The Budwig diet focuses on eliminating foods that keep your body from functioning at its optimal level. That’s why you are advised against eating any form of processed food. When you are on the Budwig diet, you must avoid:

  • processed meats
  • processed cheeses
  • white sugar
  • animal fats
  • white flour
  • foods containing artificial preservatives

When you are on the Budwig diet, the focal point of your food intake is the signature “Budwig mixture.” This is a mixture of cottage cheese and flaxseed oil, which must be taken several times every day. Sometimes the mixture is altered to use yogurt instead of cottage cheese, but the flaxseed oil ingredient cannot be altered.

You will also need to eat large amounts of:

  • fresh fruits and fresh fruit juice
  • uncooked vegetables
  • olive oil
  • almonds and walnuts
  • goat’s milk or raw cow’s milk

Strictly following the Budwig diet can result in nutritional deficiency. Specifically, the diet contains very few B vitamins, which are important for brain health, hormone regulation, and energy. While eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting back on processed foods is good, some nutrition is lost with extremely restrictive eating plans.

Eating a lot of flaxseed, flaxseed oil, or other foods containing flaxseed can cause constipation, bloating, and gas. Diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) can be triggered by flaxseed, according to the Mayo Clinic. People that are nursing or pregnant, people with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and women with hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid large amounts of flax products in their diet.

There are risks to other aspects of the diet, too. The level of sun exposure recommended in the Budwig diet can increase your risk of developing skin cancer and sunburn. Coffee enemas, which are also sometimes part of the diet, can result in electrolyte imbalances and infections, inflame your lower digestive tract, and permanently change the way your bowels function.

Most doctors agree that no diet can cure cancer. That said, more doctors than ever are becoming open to supplementing traditional cancer treatments with alternative medicine. In general, most people can benefit from eating less processed or refined foods and decreasing their sugar intake. However, there might be products and supplements or a more nutrient-dense plan that is better for you than adopting the Budwig diet. If you’re interested in the Budwig diet, talk to your doctor and work with a dietitian to ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs.