When it comes to healing from various ailments, the last thing you’ll hear from any doctor is a recommendation for fasting and caloric restriction. This is because the science behind fasting and caloric restriction is just starting to gain traction; only within the past few years have researchers discovered the healing properties associated with these practices.
One research group is now working towards getting FDA approval for intermittent fasting to be used as a therapy for cancer patients in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs. The group is called “Fight Aging,” an organization that encourages the development of medical technologies, lifestyles, and other means that will help people live comfortably, healthily, and capably for as long as they desire, far beyond the current limits of mortality.
The Science Of Why Researchers Desire Fasting & Caloric Restriction As Modes Of Treatment
“Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.”
Some eye-opening and unexpected studies (to say the least) have been emerging over the past few years which explore the potential health benefits of fasting. Seeking FDA approval for treatment methods is always difficult, and all the more so for one on which pharmaceutical companies cannot profit, but the science is showing some very promising, consistent, and repeated results that definitely warrant more attention than the subject is currently receiving.
If we take a look at a recent study from 2014, published in the journal Trends In Molecular Medicine, it outlines and confirms what several studies before it have already done:
- Caloric restriction (diet high in nutrients but low in calories) and its mimetics (CR) improve lifespan and reduce cancer incidence
- CR and CR mimetics sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapy
- CR and CR mimetics combined with chemotherapy enhance anticancer immune responses
The study states:
Caloric restriction (CR) is currently the most robust environmental intervention known to increase healthy life and prolong lifespan in several models, from yeast to mice. Although the protective effect of CR on the incidence of cancer is well established, its impact on tumor cell responses to chemotherapeutic treatment is currently being investigated. Interestingly, the molecular mechanisms required to extend lifespan upon reduced food intake are being evaluated, and these mechanisms may offer new opportunities for therapeutic intervention. In addition, new findings suggest a beneficial effect of CR in enhancing the efficiency of tumor cell killing by chemotherapeutic drugs and inducing an anticancer immune response.
As I mentioned, the benefits of caloric restriction on cancer treatment are firmly established in scientific literature already. And it’s not just cancer which can be treated through these methods; CR without malnutrition (a diet high in nutrients but low in calories) has increased life span, reversed age related diseases, and delayed the onset of age-associated disorders in a variety of human and non-human primates.
Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging and one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, makes this quite plain in his TEDx talk on the subject:
Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.
Last year, a press release from the University of Southern California emphasized how fasting, in combination with chemotherapy, has already been shown to kill cancer cells. They also presented two new studies in mice suggesting that a less-toxic class of drugs combined with fasting could kill breast, colorectal, and lung cancer cells:
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Published on March 30 by the journal Oncotarget, the studies suggest that a low-toxicity drug combined with fasting, or a diet that mimics the effects of fasting, could be an alternative to chemotherapy. The studies are part of a multinational collaboration with the laboratories of Alessio Nencioni at University of Genova and of Lizzia Raffaghello at the G. Gaslini Institute in Italy.
One of the studies also found that mice given a low-calorie diet for four days experienced multi-system regeneration, which reduced the risk of cancer and a variety of other inflammatory diseases. As noted in previous studies, their lifespan was also extended, because caloric restriction improved their immune system health and brain function. That same study pointed out that in a pilot human trial, three cycles of a similar diet given to 19 subjects once a month for five days significantly decreased biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
By fasting, one is basically cutting off the energy source supplied to cancer cells, thus creating cancer cell death. When normal cells are starved, the body uses stores of glucose and energy to keep them functioning. The cells, in response to this, shift into survival mode which causes them to illicit a repair mechanism and protective process response to resist harm.
Repeated and consistent results have shown how eating less food overall, eating healthier, and eating less frequently can have a number of significant beneficial effects on a large array of biological functions and systems. Almost 10 years ago now, a scientific review of multiple scientific studies on fasting was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It examined a multitude of both human and animal studies and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant potential in treating diabetes. (source)
A study in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell a couple of years ago shows that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage (a major side effect of chemotherapy) and induces immune system regeneration. The study conducted tests on both mice and humans:
In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial involving patients receiving chemotherapy, long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then “flipped a regenerative switch,” changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed. (source)
The study also found that prolonged fasting lowered levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone that’s been linked to aging, tumor progression, and cancer risk.
How One Should Fast
Fasting can be a dangerous and even lethal practice if one does not research it properly or consult an expert for advice on how to do it safely. Even with the studies above, many questions remain to be answered, including how best to fast in general, how many calories one should consume, and how often one should fast when treating cancer. Fasting protocols done by the experts who have published these studies, are still done under strict medical supervision and still seem to be in the experimental faze.
However, if you are looking to fast for a few times a week, many physicians who are aware of this research recommend intermittent fasting.
One well-known option is the “5:2 Diet.” On the 5:2 plan, you cut your food down to one-fourth of your normal daily calories on fasting days (about 600 calories for men and about 500 for women), along with plenty of water and tea. On the other five days of the week, you can eat normally. Another way to do it is to restrict your food intake between the hours of 11 am and 7 pm daily, while not eating during the hours outside of that time.
Dr. Joseph Mercola has written extensively on the benefits of intermittent fasting. Here is a great article by him that explains how he believes intermittent fasting can help you live a healthier life.
This is just a small sample of the information available on fasting and human health; hopefully it’s a good starting point for you to further your research if this is something you are considering incorporating into your everyday lifestyle.
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