I guess this is one of those weeks where Mark Sisson just decided to turn-out a few little gems on his blog. My last post was about one of Mark’s articles, and so is this one.
Cancer has to be one of the scariest “diseases” out there. Ok, so it’s really more of a mutation than an actual disease, but that doesn’t make it any less of a threat. I’ll admit it; it scares the hell out of me. Ever since I had a mole removed, and the results came back as “pre-Melanoma”, I’ve been scared. Maybe it’s something that I can avoid, by eating a healthy lower-carb Paleo type of diet, or maybe it’s too late for me to do anything more than damage control, since the damage from over-eating horrible food for many years is already done. I’ve read a lot of material in the past that shows that calorie restriction, or carbohydrate restriction can help significantly with avoiding cancer, or restricting it’s growth once it’s already an issue.
Mark Sisson published an article on his Mark’s Daily Apple blog, on the 20th of March 2012, called “Why Fast? Part Two – Cancer”. Tell us about fasting and cancer Mark!
“For thousands upon thousands of years (during most of which overweight, let alone obese, people were fairly rare), therapeutic fasting was a common protocol for the healing of many a malady. From famous sages like Plato, Aristotle, and the aforementioned Hippocrates and Plutarch to cancer patients unable to eat during chemotherapy to pet dogs and cats who suddenly lose once-voracious appetites upon falling ill, it seems like the natural response to – and perhaps therapy for – major illness is to stop eating for a while.”
“According to Valter Longo, a cancer researcher from USC, “normal cells” go into survival mode during starvation. They display “extreme resistance to stresses” until the “lean period” ends, much like an animal in hibernation mode. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are always “on.” Their “goal” is to grow and reproduce and consume resources. For cancer cells, there is no novel survival mode to switch on. If this is the case, fasting should both improve our resistance to cancer and our body’s ability to survive it (and the treatments used against it, like chemotherapy).”
Marks goes on to talk about a couple of rat trials, where the “participants” were all injected with cancer cells, and then divided into two groups. One group remained fasted before being administered chemotherapy, while the other group was fed first. The researchers found that….
“Half of the normally-fed mice died from chemotherapy toxicity, while all of the fasted mice survived (PDF). Furthermore, fasting did not improve the survival rate of cancerous cells, meaning it only protected normal, healthy cells.”
“Longo et al found that fasting both retarded the growth of tumors while sensitizing cancer cells to the effects of chemotherapy – across a wide range of tumor types. Most importantly, they concluded that fasting could “potentially replace or augment” certain existing chemotherapy regimens!”
But what about Human trials?
“There has been just one of which I’m aware: a 2009 case study that delivered promising results. Ten cancer patients – four with breast cancer, two with prostate cancer, one each with ovarian, lung, uterine, and esophageal cancers – underwent fasting prior to and after chemotherapy treatment. Fasting times ranged from 48-140 hours prior to and 5-56 hours after; all were affective at reducing side effects of chemotherapy.”
So far though, I really haven’t seen much evidence of the effects of fasting versus cancer itself. Obviously, it seems that fasting significantly helps with the negative effects of chemotherapy, and enables people to handle it better, but where do the anti-cancer effects come in?
“Other Possible Protective Mechanisms of Prevention
Improved insulin sensitivity. As I showed in last week’s post on fasting and weight loss, intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance has been linked to several cancers, including prostate, breast, and pancreatic. Metabolic syndrome, which fasting seems to help prevent and reduce, is linked to cancer in general.
Autophagy. While autophagy – the process by which cells “clean up” cellular “garbage” – has a complex relationship with cancer, it’s generally a positive process that protects cells from excessive oxidative stress. Fasting has been shown to induce “profound” neuronal autophagy, as well as general autophagy.
Fasting versus caloric restriction.
It’s true that caloric restriction appears to offer anti-cancer benefits, but there are a couple ways in which fasting might be superior:
1. Fasting (acute bouts of caloric restriction) is easier than CR (chronic caloric restriction) for most people. As I mentioned in last week’s post, fasting – for some – is just an easier, more natural, more effortless way to reduce your calorie intake. That can pay huge dividends when it comes to weight loss, and it appears likely that it will help with cancer, too. If fasting is easier than constantly counting your calories, fasting is going to work better.
2. Fasting is more effective in a shorter amount of time. Whereas studies on caloric restriction and cancer employ weeks- and months-long CR regimens, studies on fasting and cancer employ hours- and days-long fasting regimens. In most cases, fasting just seems to require far less time to be effective.
Of course, my own feeling is that fasting is both easier and more effective if you have made the transition to a Primal Blueprint way of eating. In other words, when you have up-regulated those fat-burning systems and down-regulated the reliance on glucose, many of the other issues that can make fasting less appealing to “sugar-burners” tend to go away: cortisol levels out, muscle protein is spared, hunger subsides naturally and energy is steady.
What does this mean for you – the person who either has cancer and wants to get rid of it or who doesn’t have cancer and wants to stay that way? Researchers like Valter Longo can’t officially recommend it to cancer patients, but it seems well-tolerated and basically safe. If you or anyone you know has cancer, suggest fasting as a possible strategy. As long as a person keeps their oncologist apprised of the situation and any relevant research on the subject, it might prove helpful. And if you’re currently cancer-free, consider implementing occasional (intermittent) fasts, just to be safe. I know research like the stuff I’ve just outlined has convinced me that it’s definitely worth a shot, and there’s little if any downside.”
Mark touched on it briefly just there, but if the currently accepted interpretation of Otto Warburg’s theory is correct, starving cancer cells of glucose through fasting could be one of the best reasons to do it. If you cut off cancer’s favorite food, it theoretically has no way to grow, or even survive. It seems like stopping cancer in it’s tracks would be of equal or greater benefit compared to alleviating the effects of chemotherapy. Of course, there are a few people like Ray Peat who believe that Warburg’s work was misinterpreted, and glucose restriction actually causes cancer cells to begin consuming the flesh around them.
Given that the ketogenic diet is being studied as a viable way to starve cancer cells and shrink tumors, and fasting is known to switch-on autophagy, maybe a combination of both would be the best, most natural way to combat this deadly disease?
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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