Fasting as a Supportive Cancer Treatment
Patients are often instructed to fast hours, and sometimes days before blood testing, lab work, and even surgery. Few patients look forward to skipping meals and going all day with their stomach rumbling. They may even feel weak and dizzy long before the fasting period is over. It may seem counter-productive but for many patients undergoing chemotherapy, fasting may prove to be the perfect secondary treatment to help with fighting cancer and the side-effects that come along with it.
Fasting and Chemotherapy
New evidence has come to light in a clinical study which showed how periods of fasting could prevent immune system damage done with chemotherapy, and well as boost the regeneration of the immune system. It appears that fasting reduces white blood cells. White blood cells help to fight infection, but chemotherapy damages or even kills them. So, by reducing the number of white blood cells, it allows the body room to generate new, healthy cells that are better prepared to fight off the debilitating effects of cancer treatments.
Fasting vs. the Warburg Effect
Fasting has also shown evidence of reducing the growth of cancer cells. According to recent studies, fasting can reverse the “Warburg effect,” which is the process through which cancer cells create the energy they need to grow at such a rapid growth. One study on colon cancer cells showed that after 48 hour periods of fasting, there was a noticeable change in how the cells processed oxygen and glucose, therefore, creating what researchers called an “anti-Warburg effect.” This effect appeared to cause damage and even death in the colon cancer cells.
Another study focused on the Warburg effect in the growth of tumors. It showed that fasting, or in this particular case, starving cells to slow down the rate of oxidative metabolism, which is the first stage of the molecular breakdown that produces energy in the body. The study concluded that fasting or other restrictive diets may play a role in slowing the growth of cancerous tumors. Yet another study showed similar results by increasing levels of an enzyme called pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), which is produced by the PDK4 gene. When a person fasts, their new-forming cells create more PDK4, which in turn creates more PDH. Researched noted that the PDH enzyme and the PDK4 gene worked together to lessen a tumors resistance to cell death.
Fasting vs. Chemotherapy Side-effects
There are dozens of chemotherapy drugs on the market, but one of the strongest cancer fighters is also one of the most toxic. A recent study using an animal model examined the effect that fasting before treatment had on the toxicity of irinotecan and its effectiveness in combatting tumors. One group of animals with intestinal tumors fasted for three days while the other group was allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Both groups then underwent a course of irinotecan treatment. Side-effects were observed for eleven days. The animals that were allowed to feed experienced a long list of side effects common with the drug, while the fasting group experienced no visible side effects. The researchers concluded that fasting alleviated the drug’s side-effects while not hindering its effectiveness. They also recommended that patients fast before chemotherapy treatments.
Whilst many conventional oncologists do not agree with patients fasting before chemotherapy, there is more and more evidence to show that it can help beat the cancer and reduce side effects. It is time for oncologists to become patient centred in their approach. They are far too slow to adapt their treatment protocols to take into account the patient's wishes.