Fasting before a chemotherapy session might prevent some of the side effects of chemotherapy, and might even kill more cancer cells.
Researchers studying fasting have found that when they poison mice, if the mice have been fasting, fewer of them die of the poison. It got the researchers to thinking that perhaps (since chemotherapy drugs are toxins) fasting before chemotherapy might help. So they tried it on mice with cancer.
Comparing mice with cancer that didn't fast before chemotherapy with mice that fasted for 48 hours before chemotherapy, the ones that fasted beforehand shrank their tumors significantly more. After two cycles of fasting and a high dose of chemotherapy, 42% of the mice lived longer than 180 days. For comparison, by that time ALL the well-fed chemo-treated mice were already dead.
While a mouse (or a human) is fasting, its normal cells change how they use energy, shifting away from growth and reproduction and focusing more on maintenance and repair. But cancer cells do not make that switch. In fact, fasting makes cancer cells hungrier. Cancer cells are notoriously voracious, and fasting just makes them even more ravenous, which makes cancer cells more susceptible to the toxin and healthy cells less susceptible to the toxin — exactly what you want.
Valter Longo, the lead researcher in this study, says fasting puts your healthy cells in a "protective mode," but cancer cells have the opposite reaction to fasting. (The mice in the study fasted for two or three days, which Longo says in a human is the equivalent of four or five days.)
You can find a good article about the study in Scientific American here: Fasting Might Boost Chemo's Cancer-Busting Properties.
A video called The Science of Fasting covered some of this research, and pointed out that fasting before chemotherapy is the exact opposite of what is normally recommended. Usually doctors suggest a patient eat extra calories before a chemotherapy session, since the treatment tends to kill a person's appetite for many days.
Human trials have begun. A woman interviewed in the video, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, said she realized that by the time the first human trial was over, she would already be dead of cancer, so she decided to try it on herself. She was scheduled for five chemotherapy sessions. She fasted before the first one and felt fine afterwards. Her doctors then talked her out of doing it, so she did two more chemotherapy sessions without fasting. She said she felt terrible both times. So for the last two she fasted beforehand, and felt much better. She experienced fewer side effects.
Many of the side effects you get from chemotherapy are from your healthy cells dying. The whole principle behind chemotherapy is to give you a toxic enough dose to kill cancer cells without killing the patient, but that also means destroying a lot of healthy cells. This fasting protocol might prevent many of those healthy cells from being harmed, which would mean fewer side effects.
Several people have tried this on their own, just like the woman above, and in a survey of these pioneers, they reported it made the chemotherapy more bearable. They had less nausea, less fatigue, fewer headaches, and less weakness — all typical side effects of chemotherapy.
The Emperor of All Maladies
Ken Burns makes historical documentaries. He's made some famous ones about the Civil War, the Vietnam War, Prohibition, etc. But he also made one about the history of fighting cancer. It's called, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.
The story starts with a hospital that took care of children with childhood leukemia. At the time, it was pretty much a death sentence. There was a man who worked in the morgue of the hospital, and it broke his heart to see all these children dying while he stood by helplessly, so even though he wasn't a doctor, he decided to try to do something about it. He came up with the idea of killing the cancer with poison.
They tried one toxin and it killed some cancer cells, but the cancer adapted to it. So then they tried two different toxins at the same time, and that killed even more of them. When the cancer cells tried to adapt to one of the toxins, the other toxin got them. But it still didn't kill them all. So then they tried three toxins and that worked even better. And then they finally tried four toxins and that worked even better. And that's the normal protocol now. And childhood leukemia went from being almost a zero percent survival rate to now 85 to 90 percent of children diagnosed with it survive. Advances in chemotherapy have been truly amazing.
But this method of fasting before a chemotherapy session might make it even better. If you know somebody who is going through chemotherapy or about to go through chemotherapy, please tell them about this. Although many people can't imagine going for four or five days without food, I have done it several times, and it's really not that bad. It's not nearly as bad as you'd think. I chronicled my last fast — which was 14 days long — on my podcast, and I talked a lot about what fasting does and what it is like. Check it out here: What's So Great About Fasting?
Besides, if you think about the normal side effects of chemotherapy, suffering through some hunger pangs doesn't doesn't seem so bad in comparison.
I made this into a podcast. Listen to it here.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.