Fasting Protects Healthy Cells From Chemo

The toxicity of chemotherapy to non-cancer cells greatly limits the potential of the effective cancer-ridding procedure. A new study has found that fasting for two days before chemotherapy (“chemo”) treatment has a profound effect on protecting healthy cells from the toxins associated with chemo.

The study was conducted on mice who were given very high doses of chemo. The cells of those mice who fasted before the chemo treatment remained healthy, while more than half the mice who were on a regular diet, died from the high chemo dose. Those mice on regular diets that survived displayed noticeable energy and weight loss.

Fasting also did not hinder the effects of the chemo on cancer cells. “The chemotherapy worked as intended on cancer, extending the lifespan of mice injected with aggressive human tumors,” the study states.

To confirm the results, tests were done of human cells in test tubes, some being “starved” to simulate fasting. The findings “confirmed the differential resistance of normal and cancer cells to chemotherapy after a short period of starvation,” meaning that normal cells were better protected and the human cancer cells were effectively killed from the chemo.

The explanation to this “differential resistance” was developed by lead researcher Dr. Valter Longo of the University of Southern California, and is based on a mechanism known as the “starvation response.” “The starvation response might differentiate normal and cancer cells by their stress resistance, and that healthy cells might withstand much more chemotherapy than cancer cells,” according to the study. The starvation response referred to here is how “starved cells go into… a maintenance mode characterized by extreme resistance to stresses,” such as high doses of chemotherapy. This “shield” that is created by starving cells only develops around healthy cells, while cancer cells remain highly sensitive to stresses, such as chemo.

Finding a way to better protect non-cancer cells from chemo could have a profound effect on cancer treatments. “Oncologists could control cancers much better, and even cure some, if chemotherapy were not so toxic to the rest of the body.”

Not only would current accepted doses of chemo be less harmful for normal cells, but the potential is there for higher, and therefore better cancer-killing doses, to be used without causing harm to the rest of the body.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Longo, Valter. Marziali, Carl. PNAS press release. March 2008.