Can Intermittent fasting prevent Cancer?
Fasting may help with cancer treatment. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the role of fasting in both cancer treatment and prevention. Some research suggests that fasting helps fight cancer by lowering insulin resistance and levels of inflammation. Fasting may also reverse the effects of chronic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are both risk factors for cancer. Also, researchers believe that fasting may make cancer cells more responsive to chemotherapy while protecting other cells. Fasting may also boost the immune system to help fight cancer that is already present.
Fasting, or not eating food for an extended period of time, is well-known as a religious diet practice. But some are also beginning to use it for specific health benefits. Over the past several years, many studies have been published showing that intermittent fasting or a fasting-mimicking diet can reduce risk factors for and reverse symptoms of serious health conditions including cancer.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is fasting on a schedule, alternated with times of eating. For example, you may eat normally for most of the week, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays only eat for an 8-hour period and fast for the remaining 16 hours. Some also call this a fasting-mimicking diet. Although it seems unusual in modern society where food is abundant, the human body is built to accommodate times when food sources are scarce. In history, fasting has often been necessary in the face of famine or other natural disasters that limit food supply.
How fasting works
Your body is designed to protect you against starvation. To do this, it stores a reserve of the nutrients needed to survive when you eat. When you’re not eating normally, this puts the cells under mild stress, and your body begins to release those stores to fuel itself. Doctors suggest that as long as your body has time to heal itself after this period of stress, you won’t experience negative effects. One of the most immediate results of this type of diet is weight loss, since your body is using more calories than it’s taking in.
It’s important to be careful about fasting for an extended period of time that your body cannot handle. Complete or continuous fasting will trigger “starvation mode,” in which your body starts slowing down to prolong your life. This typically begins after three days of continuous fasting. During this fasting period of more than three days, your body will hold on to fuel stores as much as possible, and you won’t notice weight loss.
Reversing the effect of chronic conditions
Some research has shown that conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are risk factors for cancer. Both are linked to a higher risk of multiple types of cancer and lower survival rates. A 2017 case study looked at the effect of short-term fasting on type 2 diabetes. The participant in the study fasted for 24 hours two to three times per week. After 4 months of fasting, the participant had a 17.8 percent reduction in weight and an 11 percent reduction in waist size. Also, they no longer required insulin treatment after 2 months of this fasting pattern.
The science behind fasting and cancer
Weight loss is just one benefit of intermittent fasting for a normal healthy (disease-free) adult. Recent animal studies and a few preliminary human trials have shown a decrease in risk for cancer or a decrease in cancer growth rates. These studies indicate this may be due to the following effects from fasting:
- decreased blood glucose production
- stem cells triggered to regenerate the immune system
- balanced nutritional intake
- increased production of tumor-killing cells
Short and prolonged fasting periods have promising results in cancer treatment and prevention, according to multiple studies. It is currently unclear which fasting schedule produces the best results, however. People who are curious about fasting and whether it would benefit them during their cancer treatment should consider speaking with their doctor.