Food for Thought

Feed a fever, starve a cancer?

Here’s something I had pondered before starting chemo in October:  fasting while undergoing treatment.  USC’s Valter Longo and other researchers studying aging in mice stumbled across the protective mechanism of starvation during chemotherapy.  They observed that withholding food for a short period before, during, and after chemotherapy administration can help to protect normal but not cancer cells.  The result was that side effects were reduced and short term survival improved in mice injected with aggressive cancer cells and treated with high dose chemotherapy.

These tantalizing results were demonstrated only in mice studies studies, however, so here is another study in which a limited number of human cancer patients elected to fast for 48-140 hours prior to and 5-56 hours following chemotherapy.  Fasting was observed to reduce side effects but not the therapeutic benefit of the chemo.  In the weeks leading up to starting chemo last fall, I had pondered and discussed this option with my oncologist.  Ultimately, the frequency of my infusions prevented any practical consideration.  Fasting 2 days before and 1 day after a weekly treatment would have meant I’d only be able to eat 4 days out of 7. Fortunately, despite eschewing the starvation regimen, I tolerated my chemotherapy very well and suffered very few/mild side effects.

A recent update to that research shows that fasting doesn’t merely help to relieve side effects during chemotherapy.  Paired with chemo, it can work synergistically to hit cancer harder than chemo alone.  Furthermore, fasting can retard the growth of cancer as effectively as chemo when chemo is not even used.  Food for thought, indeed.

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