Only forty-eight hours of fasting along with sufficient water intake proved to be beneficial in increasing the validity of chemotherapy and preventing recurrence. This was the result of a study being published in Science Translational Medicine and conducted by researchers led by Valter Longo, director of the Institute of Longevity at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, with colleagues in the Laboratory of Oncology, Gaslini Institute Gianna Genova, directed by Vito Pistoia.
The study revealed that the same benefits – or the slow progression of cancer – can be achieved through molecular strategies that simulate fasting. The question is, what is the mechanism of action that promotes the effect of drugs on malignant cells but protects normal cells?
Ten years ago, Longo used the calorie restriction technique (fasting) in animal models, as a tool to enhance the effects of chemotherapy on tumor cells and effectively protect normal cells from the adverse effect of chemotherapy as well as the fasting. Now the answer to why did the fasting resulted hazardous to the tumor cells only and did not effect the normal cells is that tumor cells are multiplied in an uncontrolled way and does not respond to any signal that tries to stop them from growing. In contrast, the normal cell stops proliferation and enters into a self-protection state.
In a paper published in 2008 by Longo with Raffaghello it has been shown that a caloric restriction (48 hour fast prior to administration of chemotherapy) protects normal cells but not tumor cells in an animal model of neuroblastoma, which is a pediatric cancer with often poor prognosis. ”In other words – Pistoia explains - the mechanism allows to distinguish friendly cells from enemy ones. Cancer is like an army of traitors difficult to combat, as they have the same uniform of our soldiers (normal cells). The strategy developed, works by equipping our soldiers to a ‘magic shield’ that protects them from enemies and differentiates ‘traitors.”
It was yet to be established whether fasting ( ie caloric restriction) could make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. The answer came right from the trial that just ended, conducted in several preclinical models of pediatric and adult tumors. It showed that 48 hours of pre-treatment fasting is not only effective in making cancer cells more vulnerable to the effects of chemo but also delays the progression of the tumor itself. A clinical trial on “therapeutic and protective” fasting in cancer patients is already underway in some overseas and Europeans centers .
Currently, the preliminary results of a study of 10 patients who underwent fasting before administration of anti-cancer drugs, revealed a clear reduction of side effects due to chemo. Similar results emerge from a phase 1 clinical study conducted at the Norris Cancer Center of Los Angeles. Pistoia adds that ”The new study, besides confirming this fact shows that fasting in itself carries antineoplastic action and not only this but the Fasting may also prove effective in reducing the incidence of secondary tumors, independent of the original one and also reduce the toxicity associated with chemotherapy. “