Fasting Before Starting Chemotherapy May Improve the Outcome for Breast Cancer Patients

According to a new study, fasting before starting chemotherapy can improve the outcome of breast cancer patients. However, experts warn that these results should be taken with caution.

Intermittent Fasting


Fasting for better cancer treatment outcome

While some doctors claim that detoxifying’ the body through fasting can help combat the disease, others, on the contrary, consider this argument to be scientifically groundless and too risky for the already weakened patient. A new study published in Nature magazine supports the idea of fasting, as researchers believe that fasting before starting chemotherapy could improve the condition of breast cancer patients. However, skeptical experts warn that these results should be taken with caution.

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Numerous animal experiments show that a diet mimicking fasting could protect healthy cells from chemotherapy and at the same time make cancer cells more susceptible to treatment. Researchers at the Medical Centre of Leiden University in the Netherlands followed 129 breast cancer patients. They had a body mass index high enough to tolerate fasting for a few days without the risk of malnutrition. They were divided into two groups. The first group had to follow a low amino-acid diet with soups, broths, and tea for three days before and after chemotherapy. During this time, the other group continued to eat normally.

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The researchers found that patients who followed the liquid fasting diet – which was developed to trigger metabolic reactions similar to fasting on just water and to provide the necessary proteins – responded better to chemotherapy than those who did not fast. In fact, fasting did not increase the toxicity of the treatment, it actually enabled better survival without disease progression when we look at the tumoral growth, they explain in their work.

The first study of its kind

Here too, the fasting diet, as in mice, would make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy while protecting healthy cells. It would also significantly reduce the damage caused by treatment to some T cells.

“This is the first randomized controlled trial to investigate the effects of fasting on the toxicity and efficacy of chemotherapy in cancer patients,” the authors said. These results, they say, encourage further research into the benefits of fasting as part of cancer therapy.

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However, some experts remain skeptical because results in mice (animals in general) cannot be transferred to humans. This provides encouraging hypotheses and working approaches but does not allow us to draw conclusions or advise patients.

A methodology that raises questions

This study is today the only one in favor of fasting in cancer patients. Although this study is different from others on this subject, its methodology is questionable.

There is no explanation for the mechanisms that explain this effect on survival without progression. There is also a lack of data to evaluate the real effects of fasting, such as the previous nutritional status of the patients, the intake of proteins, and the degree of physical activity. These three criteria are eminently important factors in the evaluation of the predictive effect of dietary support.

All the more so as patients have not stopped eating completely and have been consuming products of a brand in which one of the signatories has a financial stake. In addition, the statistical method to evaluate the results of survival without progression and the criteria according to which patients are included or excluded lacks rigor and has many inconsistencies and inaccuracies.  Finally, of the 65 patients who had to fast, only 13 fasted during all the four treatment cycles.

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In summary, we must remain very cautious about the use of fasting. We must keep in mind that the fasting avenue still needs to be investigated, as there is still not enough evidence to recommend the use of fasting, to cancer patients. Especially because these results, even if confirmed later, would only be valid for this chemotherapy and this type of cancer.

What about intermittent fasting?

Besides cancer, researchers are also investigating the effects of fasting in the treatment of chronic diseases. Recently, researchers published a study showing that intermittent fasting can protect the liver and help prevent diabetes.

“We didn’t know that fasting can reprogram protein in the liver that performs several essential metabolic functions,” says Dr. Mark Larance, whose team discovered that intermittent fasting affects the HNF4-(alpha) protein, which regulates many liver genes. Fasting blocks the action of this protein, which improves lipid metabolism, improves blood sugar levels, and reduces inflammation. According to Mark Larance, these findings could help improve glucose tolerance and regulate diabetes.

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In fact, many healthy people practice intermittent fasting from time to time to cleanse their bodies completely. If you’re interested in this, talk to your doctor first. If you decide to extend the experience beyond seven days, only do so under professional supervision.


Fasting mimicking diet as an adjunct to neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer in the multicentre randomized phase 2 DIRECT trial



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