Can Intermittent Fasting Be Used for Cancer Therapy?

February 29, 2016 | 1,176 views

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By Dr. Mercola

Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective strategies to reverse insulin resistance, shed excess weight, and improve body composition. This type of dietary strategy limits your eating to a specific window of time and allows you to "fast" for a certain period.

Basically, it trains your body to shift from burning sugar into burning fat as its primary fuel, which then offers a number of body-wide benefits that can promote longevity and generally improve your level of health.

Now, intermittent fasting has been found to have another benefit, this time as a potential strategy to help treat cancer.

Intermittent Fasting May Be an Adjunct Therapy for Cancer Patients

One research group is now working on getting FDA approval for intermittent fasting to be used as an adjunct therapy for cancer patients. Earlier research has found that calorie restriction can help extend animals' lifespan, as it can improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit the mTOR pathway.

Fasting was also found to help "starve" cancer cells and protect cells from chemotherapy toxicity. Since intermittent fasting, which is easier to implement, was found to have the same effects, researchers are now looking at its potential to improve long-term survival rates of cancer patients.

A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that mice that were given a low-calorie diet for four days had multi-system regeneration. This helped reduce visceral belly fat and lowered the risk for cancer and other inflammatory diseases. Their immune system health and brain function also improved, which increased their lifespan.

The study also tested the effects of periodic fasting on yeast and humans and found that, for the latter, fasting was able to help decrease risk factors and biomarkers for diabetes, aging, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, without any adverse effects. According to study co-author Valter Longo, one of the ways intermittent calorie restriction helps reduce cancer risk is by decreasing IGF-1, a hormone that's linked to aging and cancer susceptibility.

As to why they opted for intermittent fasting, Longo said, "Strict fasting is hard for people to stick to, and it can also be dangerous, so we developed a complex diet that triggers the same effects in the body."

Intermittent Fasting: No (Major) Drawbacks, Only Benefits

I have been preaching about the benefits of intermittent fasting for several years now, and it's such a relief to know that the research is catching on. Researchers are now agreeing to the fact that fasting — not just decreasing food intake, but eating less frequently — can affect a wide range of biological functions and systems, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Preventing inflammation and reducing oxidative stress and cellular damage
  • Reducing LDL (or "bad" cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels
  • Improving pancreatic and immune function
  • Modulating levels of damaging visceral fat
  • Reducing blood pressure

Which Intermittent Fasting Plan Should You Choose?

You can try different intermittent fasting schedules, but keep in mind that the best choice is the one that you will actually follow.

I personally follow an intermittent fasting plan that restricts your daily eating to a window of six to eight hours. This means skipping breakfast, making lunch the first meal of your day, and eating your dinner at 7:00 in the evening.

Other strategies include the 5:2 plan by Dr. Michael Mosley, where you fast twice a week and eat normally on non-fasting days, and alternate day fasting, which is exactly what it sounds like: alternately fasting by restricting food for a day and then feasting the next day. Dr. Krista Varady discusses this in detail in her book "The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off."

Remember that compliance plays a crucial factor in any of these approaches. It is also important to take note of what you eat. Avoid highly processed foods loaded with sugar, grains, and empty calories, and instead opt for high-quality organic foods like vegetables, raw nuts, grass-fed meat, whey protein, and healthy fats like coconuts, coconut oil, and avocados.

To learn more about intermittent fasting potential benefits for cancer treatment, read my article "Researchers Work on Getting Intermittent Fasting FDA Approved as Adjunct Cancer Treatment to Improve Long-Term Survival Rates."