Fasting helps fight cancer

Two important studies show that a reduction in calorie intake activates the immune system and increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

The majority of drugs used in chemotherapy are very powerful cell poisons that manage to kill cells by preventing them from reproducing. Several observations made in recent years indicate, however, that this cytotoxic action is often not sufficient to eliminate all the tumor cells: to be really effective in the long term, chemotherapy must also restore anti-cancer immune surveillance by activating blood cells. white killers, specialized in the elimination of foreign bodies.

For example, studies show that by killing cancer cells, certain chemotherapy drugs (anthracyclines, oxaliplatin) cause a series of events that will lead to the production of signals capable of activating the immune response. This phenomenon, called “immunogenic cell death”, can in a way be compared to a vaccine, in which dying cancer cells provoke a strong immune response and allow the complete elimination of residual tumor cells.

Caloric restriction increases the anti-cancer activity of the immune system

Very encouraging preliminary results indicate that the effectiveness of chemotherapy can be greatly improved by drastically reducing caloric intake. For example, in mice with human tumors, fasting for 48 hours increases survival, with nearly half of the animals still alive 180 days after treatment ends while all normally fed animals had died.

Two recent fundamental studies carried out by teams of French and American scientists suggest that this positive impact of caloric restriction is due to an increase in the anti-cancer activity of the immune system. For example, a diet that mimics the positive effects of fasting on the body has been observed to improve the response of mice with mammary tumors and melanomas to chemotherapy by causing a marked increase in killer lymphocytes. In the same line of thought, the injection of substances that mimic the effects of fasting on metabolism caused a decrease in regulatory T lymphocytes (a class of white blood cells that decrease the anti-cancer immune response), which improved the activity of lymphocytes. killers and resulted in a marked reduction in tumor burden.

Fasting for 72 hours reduces the side effects of chemotherapy

Interestingly, studies indicate that fasting for up to 72 hours is well tolerated by patients, and appears to be associated with a significant decrease in chemotherapy side effects. These observations are not so surprising considering that our metabolism has evolved to function maximally under conditions of food scarcity. Most of the chronic diseases currently affecting the population, including a large number of cancers, are the direct consequence of overconsumption of food. Eating well often means eating less.

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Lee C et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2012; 4: 124ra27.

Di Biase S et al. Fasting micking diet reduces HO-1 to promote T Cell-mediated tumor cytotoxicity. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 136-46. 3. Pietrocola F et al. Caloric restriction mimetics enhance anticancer immunosurveillance. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 147-60.

Dorff TB et al. Safety and feasibility of fasting in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy. BMC Cancer 2016;16:360.


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