Cancer, the Big C, the word we all dread hearing after our medical check-ups. The high prevalence of certain types of cancer—breast cancer for women, prostate cancer for men, and colon and skin cancer for both sexes—can be a cause for worry. Thankfully, Mother Nature has provided foods to help decrease cancer risk.
There are certain healthy foods that can help to fight cancer: antioxidant-rich green tea, blueberries, oranges, cruciferous veggies and the list goes on. By cutting chemical-laden, artificial foods from our diet, we can decrease our cancer risk even further.
But what if “how” you eat is as important as “what” you eat? What if there was a diet that could help to strengthen your body’s defenses against cancer so it could fight off carcinogens and tumors all on its own? According to a 2016 study, fasting may be another way to prevent cancer!
The University of Southern California published an article that detailed the results of two different studies into the effects of fasting on cancer. Both studies were conducted within the University, and the results were absolutely fascinating!
Previous research had indicated that “a short-term fast starves cancer cells and facilitates the chemo drug therapies to better target the cancer.” In another prior study, researchers had found that fasting-like diets could help to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, as it led to the death of unhealthy cells and the production of new, healthy cells.
In the USC studies, mice were placed on a low-calorie, fasting-like diet, which was given along with chemotherapy to treat the cancer. The mice were being treated for breast and skin cancer, and it was discovered that the fasting-like diet worked with the chemotherapy to “activate the immune system and expose the cancer cells to the immune system”. Basically, the low-calorie fasting diet helped the body to be more effective at dealing with the cancer on its own.
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However, it wasn’t just the body’s internal defenses that were boosted. According to the lead researcher, the diet and chemo combo “made a wide range of cancer cells more vulnerable to an attack by the immune cells while also making the cancer more sensitive to the chemotherapy.”
Basically, the T-regulatory cells in the body were expelled thanks to the fasting diet. These cells actually protect cancer cells, thanks to the increased production of the enzyme hemo oxygenase (HO-1) that resulted from the presence of tumors. This enzyme tricks your immune system into thinking that the cancer cells shouldn’t be killed, so our bodies are unable to eliminate the good cells. But, as a result of the fasting diet, these T-regulatory cells were eliminated, so the mice’s bodies were able to get rid of the bad cancer cells on their own. When the chemotherapy was added, the cancer cells were vulnerable and thus more easily eliminated.
This discovery builds on the facts gathered from previous studies, which found that fasting diets helped to make chemo more effective at dealing with cancer cells. A second study published by USC found that a 3-day fasting-like diet was “safe and feasible” for the 18 mice patients being treated for chemotherapy.
When the mice were put on four days of the fasting-like diet with chemotherapy treatments added, the tumor growth was slowed without damaging the normal, healthy cells in the body. This worked on both breast and skin cancers! Another study found that three cycles of the fasting-diet-and-chemo combo led to a 33% increase of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting cancer cells. There were also TWICE the number of progenitor cells in the blood marrow, and the cancer-killing cells in the immune system were more effective at decreasing tumor size.
Why does cutting back on food intake help to increase immune response? According to the head researcher, “It may be that by always being exposed to so much food, we are no longer taking advantage of natural protective systems which allow the body to kill cancer cells. But by undergoing a fasting-mimicking diet, you are able to let the body use sophisticated mechanisms able to identify and destroy the bad but not good cells in a natural way.”
Thanks to this research, fasting diets may soon become more common recommendations for those trying to fight cancer. Water-only fasting and chemo has proven safe for humans, and 72-hour fasting diets can lead to reduced side effects from cancer treatments. With physician monitoring, fasting and chemo may soon be a highly effective treatment to speed up cancer healing!
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