Periodic fasting may help you avoid mesothelioma if you’re at risk for the cancer, according to new research from the University of Southern California (USC). The research also suggests that fasting for a few days before starting chemotherapy may make the treatment easier to endure.
These findings — reported in the June 5 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell — were drawn from testing on mice and from a Phase 1 human clinical trial.
Based on the results, the researchers concluded that giving up food for a maximum of 72 hours can cause the body’s immune system to fully repair itself. But, in order to gain the full benefits of immune-system regeneration, fasting must be done more than once in a blue moon.
Healthy Immune System Wards Off Cancer
An immune system in top condition can enable a person exposed to asbestos to ward off mesothelioma. As doctors note, it is the compromised immune system that renders you most vulnerable to the cancer’s onset.
Aging is one way the immune system becomes compromised, which may explain why mesothelioma typically strikes later in life and long after the asbestos exposure has occurred.
Dr. Valter Longo, one of the authors of the USC study, explains that fasting restores the immune system by sparking creation of white blood cells. These are the immune system’s primary weapon for combating infections and triggers of disease.
Participants in the clinical trial fasted according to a timetable given to them by the researchers. The repeated fasts took place over six months. Some participants abstained from eating for two days, while others went three to four days at a stretch without a bite.
Longo and his colleagues saw evidence that fasting altered the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, the ones that grow into white blood cells.
Certain Enzymes Decrease When Fasting
The significance of the research is that it provides the “first evidence of a natural intervention triggering stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system,” said Longo, director of USC’s Longevity Institute.
As he explained it, fasting compels the body to use stored glucose and fat. That’s why you start to lose weight when you don’t eat.
But fasting also reduces the enzyme PKA. This reduction is thought to play a role in triggering the creation of new white blood cells.
And fasting does one thing more, the researchers found. It lowers the amount of IGF-1 present in the body. IGF-1 is a growth-factor hormone that has been linked to cancer formation and progression.
Fasting causes the body to purge itself of worn out, damaged or inefficient immune-system elements that put a person at risk of cancer, said Longo,
Fast Only If Doctor OKs It
The researchers — whose work was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Aging and National Cancer Institute — found that fasting reduced the severity of chemotherapy side effects.
Chemotherapy can be brutal to the immune system. The more compromised your immune system is to begin with, the harder chemotherapy is to tolerate.
The USC researchers caution against anyone starting a fast outside of the watchful eye of a doctor.
They plan next to examine whether fasting has an effect on more than just the immune system. Perhaps fasting can directly impact the cancer itself.