The Budwig diet consists of a special lacto-vegetarian regimen that focuses on a particular blend of oil and protein, i.e. flaxseed oil and cottage cheese or quark.
The general guidelines of the diet emphasise foods in their natural state, plenty of fat in the form of cold-pressed flaxseed oil and a spreadable fat based on flaxseed oil, and protein in the form of quark or cottage cheese. Freshly pressed juices and herbal teas are also an integral part.
Dr Johanna Budwig (1908-2003), a licensed pharmacist, stated that consuming processed fats was the primary cause of the majority of diseases, most notably cancer. According to her theory, combining polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from flaxseed with sulfhydryl-containing proteins from cottage cheese or quark has an effect on the growth and progression of malignant tumours. Budwig recommended this diet for all kinds of diseases, and her approach is also said to have a preventive health effect in healthy people, especially eating flaxseed oil and quark on a regular basis. However, this theory is not borne out by current scientific evidence in the fields of nutrition research and cancer prevention.
• No clinical trials of the Budwig diet are available in the peer-reviewed scientific literature to support these claims.
The safety of the Budwig diet has not been assessed. From the perspective of nutritional scientists, the main point of contention about the Budwig diet is that the protein and fat content are both well above the amounts recommended by medical Associations.
Luc Geeraert, CAM Cancer Consortium. Budwig diet [online document], June 01, 2021.
Assessed as up to date and revised in May 2021 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in August 2020 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in January 2019 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in February 2017 by Barbara Wider.
Fully revised and updated in January 2016 by Markus Horneber.
Assessed as up to date in January 2015 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in August 2013 by Barbara Wider.
Summary first published in May 2012 by Luc Geeraert.
The Budwig diet principally consists of a lacto-vegetarian regimen involving fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts as well as the special Budwig core mixture of freshly ground flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) and low-fat cottage cheese or quark. According to the Budwig diet, foods should be fresh, preferably organic, and eaten raw whenever possible or only lightly cooked. Refined sugars, meat, fish, hydrogenated and animal fats, distilled alcohol, caffeine, refined flours and grains, preservatives, processed foods, and smoking are prohibited. The Budwig diet is described in several books written by Johanna Budwig (Budwig 1996, Budwig 2000, Budwig 2008, Budwig 1994, Budwig 1994), three of which (Budwig 2008, Budwig 1994, Budwig 1994) have been translated into English.
Background and prevalence
In the 1950s, German chemist Johanna Budwig (1908-2003) developed a diet featuring a special mixture of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from flaxseed combined with the sulfhydryl-containing proteins found in cottage cheese or quark (Budwig 1994, Budwig 1956).
Budwig's theory postulates that cancers are caused, among other things, by "inadequate cell maturation and incomplete cell growth" as well as "impaired cellular respiration." Budwig also hypothesized that industrially processed fats and oils play a critical part in carcinogenesis. The key element of her diet regimen is a special blend of the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in flaxseed and the sulfhydryl-containing proteins found in cottage cheese or quark. This mixture is said to re-establish normal cell growth and restore the normal function of damaged cells by "re-oxygenating" damaged tissues (Budwig 2008, Budwig 1956). Budwig’s theory has its roots in basic research about fatty acids which has since become obsolete (Basch 2007).
No exact data is available about the prevalence of use, although the Budwig diet is especially popular in Europe and the United States.
Budwig claimed that her approach yielded a high success rate in treating cancer, although she did not provide any scientific proof to validate her claims. Today there are numerous websites and blogs promoting this diet. They state that the Budwig diet should be able to successfully reverse most types of cancers. However, the testimonials nearly always include untraceable sources, are inconsistent in quality and contain pitfalls such as short follow-up periods, subjective endpoints, concurrent conventional treatment, etc. and are hence unreliable.
Mechanisms of action
The Budwig diet is a lactovegetarian regimen which includes many nutrients in the form of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and secondary plant substances.
In part, this diet corresponds to the international guidelines which recommend a long-term regimen of balanced and varied (ovo)-lacto-vegetarian foods. The high content of nutrients, fibre (and thus low amounts of starch) in this sort of diet are very satiating and lower the risk of many diet-related diseases (WCRF 2007).
When compared to these diet guidelines, Budwig’s approach involves a much higher energy density due to the high flaxseed-oil content. Flaxseed oil is an important source of essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, the most important of which are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To meet their daily needs, adults are advised to ensure that approximately 0.5 % of their daily total protein intake consists of omega-3 fatty acids (NIH ODS 2021).
The results of epidemiological studies suggest that a diet with higher amounts of EPA and DHA in comparison to other polyunsaturated fatty acids can lower the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and prostate. This is particularly true of omega-3 fatty acids derived from cold-water fish. One potential mechanism of action under discussion is the reduction of pro-inflammatory lipid metabolites (prostaglandin E2) and NF-κB induced cytokines as well as a reduced activity of growth receptors due to altered membrane lipids. The anabolic and insulin-enhancing effects of EPA and DHA are regarded as mechanisms of action in terms of weight loss and reducing muscle mass (Fabian 2013, Fabian 2015).
One hypothesis for the mechanism of action of flaxseed’s postulated effects is based on the animal model which describes the effects flaxseed has on the expression of epithelial adhesion proteins (such as e-cadherin) (Hales 2014)
Costs and expenditures
The costs of pursuing the Budwig diet at home are average or below average, since staples such as meat, fish, sugar, refined flours, processed foods, margarine, butter and alcohol are not permitted. These foods are substituted by organic vegetables, whole-grain products, flaxseed and cottage cheese or quark. The cost of following a Budwig cure at a specialized clinic, however, can run up to several thousand euros.
Video instructions are available online for preparing meals which comply with the Budwig diet (Budwig-videos.com 2021).
No clinical trials or case reports about the effects of the Budwig diet on cancer prevention or treatment have been published in the scientific literature.
Plant-based foods contain only minimal amounts of Vitamin B12. An ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet includes eggs and cheese, two important sources of Vitamin B12, although these foods cannot meet a greater need. Since a vegetarian diet is rich in folates, the effects of Vitamin B12 deficiency can often be masked until neurological symptoms manifest (Craig 2010). For this reason, those who pursue a vegetarian diet or another kind of diet such as Budwig should make sure they take Vitamin B12 supplements to ensure an adequate supply (Vegan Society 2021).
The hull of flaxseed contains a mucilage that binds water in the intestines, expands and has a laxative effect. As a result, adequate hydration is necessary.
Flaxseed contains cyanogenic glycosides which can release hydrocyanic acid after hydrolysis in the intestine. When flaxseed is consumed in normal quantities, the resorbed quantity of hydrocyanic acid is not considered to pose a threat (Barthet 2010, Yang 2015).
Allergies to components found in flaxseed have been reported but are very rare (Fremont 2010).
Flaxseed is contraindicated in patients with ileus or stenoses in the gastrointestinal tract.
Flaxseed can absorb orally administered medication and thus have an impact on its efficacy. Consequently, flaxseed (not flaxseed oil) should only be taken a few hours before or after taking medication by mouth to prevent decreased absorption (Basch 2007).
Current knowledge indicates there is a positive correlation between the energy density of a diet and body weight. Medical societies recommend that weight-control measures take into account the protein content of the diet.
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Budwig J. Das Fettsyndrom. Auflage 4A. Freiburg i. B.: Hyperion Verlag; 1996.
Budwig J. Flax oil as a true aid against arthritis, heart, infarction, cancer and other diseases. 3rd Edition. Vancouver: Apple Publishing; 1994.
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Hales KH, Speckman SC, Kurrey NK, Hales DB: Uncovering molecular events associated with the chemosuppressive effects of flaxseed: a microarray analysis of the laying hen model of ovarian cancer. BMC Genomics 2014; 15:709.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: What the Science Says [online document].
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World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.
Yang QY, Song L, Zhang JF, Shen ZF, Liu Q, Liu SN, Zheng WS, Yao CS. Cyanogenetic glycosides and simple glycosides from the linseed meal.Fitoterapia. 2015 Oct;106:78-83.