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Can Fasting Help Your Body Fight Cancer, While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed?

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Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

A high-fat diet stimulates cancer growth. In contrast, a low-calorie diet can apparently prevent malignant tumors.

Too many pounds not only make you grow hip and belly fat, but it also increases your risk of a number of diseases, including cancer. 

Researchers have now possibly deciphered how a permanently increased calorie intake promotes the development of malignant tumors.

Fat feed

For their study, the researchers led by Tricia Moore from the University of Texas examined the effect of four different diets on cancer development in mice: Two were based on a 30 and 15 percent reduction in calorie intake. There was also a fattening diet, in which 60 percent of the calories came from fat, and a control diet. 

Then the mice were given certain active ingredients that cause cancer precursors, so-called papillomas. 

Results: The mice that ate the reduced-calorie food developed significantly less cancer precursors than rodents that received normal or very high-fat food.

In a second experiment, the scientists analyzed more precisely what influence the energy balance had on the development of the papillomas. 

The researchers were able to show that the starvation diet reduced the number of cancer precursors. Diet, however, did not affect the rate of papillomas from which cancer developed.

Decoded signaling pathways

“Calorie intake influences certain receptors, such as the epidermal growth factor EGFR and the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1R),” explained Tricia Moore. These receptors regulate signaling pathways in subordinate metabolic processes. 

They are known to be involved in the development of cancer. A negative energy balance prevents these signaling pathways, an excess of calories strengthens them and thus leads to cancer.

“Although these results come from a mouse skin cancer model, they are easily transferable to many other forms of cancer,” said John DiGiovanni, director of the cancer development department at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Diego.

Another study from the University of California San Francisco claims that Fasting and calorie restriction (CR) can slow and even stop the progression of cancer, kill cancer cells, boost the immune system, and significantly improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Comparing the research between CR and fasting, fasting seems to provide more dramatic results and protection of healthy cells, without the risk of weight loss or immune suppression. But it may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly those who are underweight or very ill, and should never be attempted without the supervision of qualified practitioners.

For general cancer prevention, it may be beneficial to add intermittent or short-term fasts in combination with a plant-based cancer prevention diet, as described in detail in the Dietary Approaches section of this website.

Here are some take-home tips from their literature review:

  1. In general, follow an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of colorful fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, herbs and spices.
  2. Low to moderate carbohydrate intake with low glycemic starches
  3. Healthy fats at every meal, including good sources of Omega-3s
  4. Moderate protein intake of 3-4 ounces per meal from a combination of animal and plant proteins
  5. Lengthen the time between dinner and breakfast to allow for a longer overnight fast, with the goal of 13 or more hours, for example dinner by 6:00 pm and breakfast after 7:00 am.
  6. Short-term water fasts of 1-3 days to possibly help re-generate the immune system and increase cellular protection against oxidative stress. Working with a healthcare provider, you can determine how often it may be appropriate for you to engage in a fast.
  7. If you are a cancer patient, water fasting 2-3 days prior to treatment and up to one day following treatment to optimize the efficacy of treatment and reduce treatment-related side effects may be considered, but only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

2018 study found that fasting can also improve the quality of life in people undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer or ovarian cancer. The study used a 60-hour fasting period starting 36 hours before the start of chemotherapy treatment.

Image Credit: iStock

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