Sage Advice


Fasting - and old practice gains new traction against cancer

April 18, 2014

Fasting is emerging as a powerful tool against cancer.  Fasting has been around for millenia and many cultures and traditions revere it for purifying and cleansing the body. Cancer, on the other hand,  is a disease of over-abundance and excess and epidemic in wester societies. It makes logical sense that fasting would be useful in cancer fighting and modern science is just starting to catch up with what ancient traditions have known since for eons. 

 

Cancer is a disease of metabolic derangement, going all the way down to the mitochondrial engines that drive each of our cells growth and function. Studies of populations show that societies that burn fewer calories daily and have periods of fasting have significantly lower rates of cancer. Western societies have such an abundance of food, especially foods that are high in carbohydrate and sugar, we are constantly pouring more fuel into our engine than can be used efficiently. (see corn syrup, GMO wheat, etc.). This leads to chronic inflammation, metabolic malfunctioning and genetic alterations. Cancer arises when this pattern leads to mutation that essentially sticks the gas pedal to the floor and drives cells to constantly divide and grow.

 

Cancer cells, contrary to normal cells, depend on steady glucose availability in the blood for their energy and growth demands, and are not able to metabolize significant amounts of fatty acids or ketones due to cellular dysfunction.  In other words, cancer cells thrive on sugars and starve on fats and ketones, which are the energy units used when our body enters into a fasting state.

 

Many specific metabolic pathways have been identified that drive cancer growth. Some critical ones are insulin use and angiogenesis (blood vessel formation), both of which cancer tries to use to fuel its growth. Fasting will direcly impacts and resests the environment cancers tries to create through these mechanism and even triggers signals for cancer cell death.

 

 “Fasting makes it worse for cancer cells by generating an extreme environment with low glucose and growth factors and high ketone bodies, which weakens cancer cells. Each mutation in cancer cells makes them a little better at growing under standard conditions, but a little worse at surviving under extreme environments such as that caused by fasting”.

 

-- Valter Longo PhD, Reseracher at USC Norris Cancer Center

 

Our bodies are genetically programmed to fast (even if it doesn’t feel like it when you begin the process). Before the modern era, fasts were a part of crops failing, game becoming scarce, weather and so fourth which we survived thanks to the body’s ability to enter a fasting state. Fasting hits the reset on a system that is designed for a periodic clean-out. Fasting is safe and healthy, as proven by it's long use in many cultural and religious doctrines across the globe. 

 

Research being done at Duke and USC, among others, is starting to elucidate and quantify the wisdom behind fasting. Research has shown it can be a powerful tool to slow and reverse cancer cell growth and can even be combined with chemo to make it more effective and less toxic. Hundreds of studies coming out in the past few years are all pointing to these same conclusions. In a recent mouse model study, Dr. Longo at USC, compared a standard chemotherapy regiment given every three weeks with a periodic fast on a similar schedule. He found that the tumor reduction seen was comparable between chemo and fasting, while the mice who fasted had less weight loss and far fewer side effects.

 

Of course, fasting may not be appropriate for everyone and should be supervised by a qualified physician. Patients with diabetes or metabolic disorders, or those who have lost more than 10% of their weight, should be carefully assessed before deciding if fasting is appropriate. If you are on chemotherapy or radiation, fasting may be an excellent option to reduce side effects and increase efficacy, but needs to be guided by a naturopathic physician or nutritionist. Please consider making an appointment with Sage Cancer Care if fasting is something you'd like implement for your health and fight against cancer.  




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