Cancer Nutrition
September 21, 2014 posted by

Fasting Before Chemo

Fasting Before Chemo

My life has turned into a “what’s best to eliminate cancer” show. Two conflicting practices, not eating and eating as much as you possibly can, lead the way. Both are challenging, and both seem quite effective, so far. I mentioned a bit about diet in last week’s post, and will delve deeper in the future, but today I’ll go with fasting.

Studies are preliminary, but fasting before chemo seems to help on two fronts: killing cancer cells and protecting healthy cells. Most of the research has been on mice. Human trials are more anecdotal at this point but it all makes sense. Here’s an excerpt from Scientific American.

But a new study shows that we might be able to catch cancer cells off guard by using an ancient and body-wide tactic: fasting.

Fasting has long been practiced as part of various cultural traditions and has, more recently, gained favor in alternative and complementary medicine practices. But researchers are still figuring out whether nutritional deprivation can prevent or cure some diseases—and if so, how.

The new study found that in mice with cancer, fasting prior to chemotherapy often led to more tumor shrinkage than chemo alone. And in some cases, the combination apparently eliminated certain kinds of cancer. This fasting–chemo combo, the researchers suggest, “could extend the survival of advanced stage cancer patients by both retarding tumor progression and reducing side effects,” they noted in their study, published online Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. It might be able to help early-stage patients, too, they say.

The second study theorizes that fasting “may protect normal cells from the side effects of chemotherapy”. Interesting, and almost counter-intuitive to the first one, it doesn’t really matter to me. Fasting shows promise. Therefore, I’m in.

Many nutritionists eschew fasting, calling it dangerous, etc, which I’ve always thought was ridiculous. In the same realm where doctors historically (thankfully changing now) hesitant to recommend intense exercise, fearing people might get hurt, dietitians seem adverse to recommend not eating. I can’t even recall how many nutritionists have told me fasting was dangerous or irresponsible, but it’s been at the point that I’ve tuned them out for decades. Certainly there are some cases where this is true but humans have been fasting for, I dunno but probably as long as there have been humans, and I’ve never heard of an instance where it hurt someone beyond a hunger strike, when it’s exactly the point.

On the flip side it’s often helpful. It certainly has been for me. Sometimes it’s miraculous. A friend of mine’s mom, suffering from a debilitating disease where calcification of her spine rendered her close to immobile that medicine wasn’t able to fix, cured herself with a 21-day water-only fast. While brutally hard, her body was able to re-set itself, curing her of the illness. Soon after, she hiked the entire John Muir Trail, some 250 miles of strenuous high elevation movement, at nearly 60 years old.

The reason why isn’t fully understood but in a fasted state the body, in order to survive, needs to become very efficient. Many illnesses come from over abundance of nutrients, none more obvious than obesity, which builds excess tissue in the body. Deprived of nutrients, the body will start feeding on that tissue, along with shutting down optional functions as survival mode gets serious. Excess stuff that’s happened, which seems to includes things like calcification, become unnecessary interference. We don’t know the full potential of it but lore tells us that fasting can be a powerful tool for both mind and body health.

Anyway, it didn’t take much to sell me. The only decision was which strategy to take. In the first study, the mice fasted for two days, which is three or four in human time. But that was for single dose chemo. My cycles are four to seven days of continuous injection. Given chemo is rugged on the body, requiring you to eat constantly to offset its catabolic effects, the time frame felt extravagant—and alarmed my entire staff of doctors. They pleaded with me not to exceed 12 hours of fasting. I choose 24.

The reason is both hormonal and nutritional. As any good IFer (intermittent fasting, a now trendy activity amongst certain athletes) “knows” (in quotes since it may not be entirely true), 16 hours is the sweet spot of ergogenic hormonal releases. If I was going to not eat, I’d may as well go at least that long. In the second study, we see shorter fasting times, and this makes nutritional sense given that it doesn’t take too long for the blood glucose levels to drop, which seems to be, if you read the entire study, the primary mechanism for success in the former protocol. Cancer cells out compete your healthy cells by being more active. Hungrier, if you will. In a fasted state they are likely the ones that will be first in line for nutrients. When those “nutrients” are poison, voila!

So I go into each round of chemo having fasted for about 24 hours, then wait at least three hours into my first cycle before eating, which should be enough time for “first contact” with all the “hungry” cells. As I told my friend Phil before heading in last time, it may not be conclusive science but it’s promising. I’ll probably only get one shot at this in my lifetime. I might as well play it for all it’s worth.

1 Comment

  • Steve,
    Ever since I herd about the cancer, I have been praying for you. I am blessed by your blog and and live chats with Denis. My faith is firmly in Jesus and as u go through this I will continue to lift u up to him in prayer. Your an amazing person and I believe he will be near you and your family in this time. Truly God speed !

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