Alternative Cancer Therapies | Natural Health Blog

Fasting Protects Against Chemotherapy Side Effects


Proving once again that natural solutions long dismissed by medical science often end up displaying substantial benefit when scientifically tested, researchers from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles recently discovered that by fasting for two days, cancer victims may gain protection against the devastating effects of chemotherapy. Plus, fasting seems to increase the effectiveness of the chemo treatment.

The researchers worked with live mice that had formed tumors after being injected with brain cancer cells. Some of the mice were then starved for 48 to 60 hours before receiving chemotherapy, while others maintained a normal diet before treatment. Of the 37 mice that ate normally, 20 died from chemotherapy toxicity within 10 days. But out of the 28 mice starved for two days, only one died — and that was after receiving mega-doses of chemo equivalent to three times a high human dose. The fasting mice seemed to resist side effects after treatment, while the non-starved mice who survived showed impaired movement, ruffled fur, and other signs of severe toxicity. The fasting mice gained back all the weight they had lost within four days, whereas the eating mice actually lost 20 percent of their body weight after treatment.

The results became yet more impressive as the length of the fast increased. An even higher dose of chemotherapy was administered to mice starved for 60 hours. All of those mice survived the treatment; in contrast, mice in a control group that received the same dose after eating normally all died. Now that certainly counters the belief that you need to eat to keep up your strength.

How does fasting work to protect against chemotherapy? According to research director Walter Longo, when starved, normal cells slow down and go into a kind of hibernation where they stop performing their normal function and instead redirect energy to repair and protect themselves. (Sounds like he’s been reading Lessons from the Miracle Doctors.) This protective mechanism forms a kind of barrier that keeps stressors out. Since cancer cells have no such mechanism, they just keep multiplying, remaining vulnerable to chemotherapy agents. Dr. Longo estimates that starving healthy cells makes them up to 10 times more resistant than cancer cells to chemotherapy. Because of this effect, chemotherapy becomes more targeted and effective. When the researchers injected cancerous cells into yeast in test tubes, for instance, they found that a chemotherapeutic agent killed 1,000 cancer cells for every single “starved” normal cell, in contrast to the normal one-to-one ratio.

Some in the medical community responded to the study with caution, warning that not all patients can withstand days of fasting and that the technique might not work with all forms of cancer. But as Dr. Longo notes, “The side effects of chemotherapy are one of the major obstacles in fighting the cancer, and this provides a calculated method to protect the great majority of non-cancerous cells.”

His colleague, Dr. Dwayne Stupack, from the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, added, “I think what they’ve done is very interesting and exciting, in the sense that the tumor they looked at is very aggressive, very lethal, and they were able to use what I would call relatively high chemotherapy without causing toxicity.”

I’ve written before that in most cases chemotherapy does more harm than good. Chemotherapy drugs are known carcinogens. Under usual conditions, at the same time that chemo drugs kill rapidly dividing cancer cells, they also attack and kill healthy cells that the body needs to maintain functioning — particularly certain immune system cells, blood-producing bone marrow cells, and cells in the digestive tract. The process typically leaves the body so debilitated that it’s vulnerable to all manner of infectious diseases and to the development of new cancers.

If further study proves that the side effects of chemo really can be contained by fasting — contained enough to render the pluses of treatment far greater than the minuses — then it would certainly seem to be a mandatory accompaniment to any chemotherapy treatment. In any event, if you’re going to opt for chemo, it seems far more reasonable to fast for a few days before treatment than to take yet more drugs after treatment (all of which have side effects) to counteract the side effects of the chemo drugs — the typical route offered by your doctor.

But most reasonable of all would be to periodically fast before you get cancer. Studies have shown that fasting helps improve glucose metabolism, cardiovascular functioning, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and many other conditions, plus it increases lifespan. More to the point, fasting seems to provide protection against tumor growth. A 2005 study found that subjects who reduced caloric intake by only five percent dramatically reduced cell proliferation in cancerous tumors — and they achieved that caloric reduction by fasting every other day, but then eating as they pleased the other days.

It almost seems too simple a solution given the billions of dollars we spend annually desperately seeking pharmaceutical cures for cancer, as well as money and effort spent looking for interventions to counteract the devastating impact of those cures.