Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fasting, Cancer and Immunity

Is this what it is like living with a toddler during cold and flu season? If so... I beg you, help me, please! J  My first and only child is almost 2 – the age at which I can no longer easily control what he touches. In other words this is the age at which germs take over my house! Last month I was sick for 4 weeks straight and I am not someone who gets sick easily. But my son kept picking up germs from friends, the dogs (HOW do they time it so they stick their tongue in his mouth right when he is yawning?!! I mean really) the grocery cart, and who knows what else! By about week 3, I was pretty tired of being sick and tired so I started doing some research on the immune system. Not sure why, perhaps it was just in case I came across some breakthrough procedure to rid me of the colds that didn’t involve pouring water up my nose (see: Neti Pot). Secretly though I was hoping I would see an article that said CHOCOLATE cures all ills… but alas.J
Anyways, if you don’t know anything about the immune system, let me just tell you that it is an AMAZING system. The things it is capable of doing on a daily basis is just mind blowing. But, this blog post is not about the ins and outs of the immune system. It is about what I found during my research.  But first, a little background. As a dietitian and a PhD in nutrition – I am not one for fad diets. At all. So when I hear things about juicing, removing toxins from our system, a grapefruit diet or about any kind of fad diet I generally just ignore it. Knowing that, you can imagine my interest when I came across an article about fasting, cancer and immunity. I was skeptical to say the least. But, let me tell you, this is not only a very interesting article, but a very interesting concept/idea/theory.
The research comes out of the University of Southern California and focuses on the idea that aging and disease comes about through abnormalities in the immune system (Cheng, 2014). The researchers have conducted two phases of the study so far. The first phase involved mice and the second involved humans. In these studies the researchers found that intermittent fasting (2 days at a time), improved immune status (specifically it lowered white blood cell counts) in mice with cancer and in humans with cancer, receiving chemotherapy (Wu, 2014). What was even more interesting was that when a patient fasted while undergoing chemotherapy, they perceived fewer negative side effects than those that did not fast (Wu, 2014).  This research coincided with earlier studies done by the same author who showed that in animals, chemotherapy worked better when combined with fasting. Specifically the study showed, “fasting plus chemotherapy slowed the growth and spread of tumors” (Marziali, 2012).
Here, one of the authors discusses his theory for why fasting is effective in these situations (Wu, 2014):
“During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells … It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” explained Longo, noting the potential of clinical applications that mimic the effects of prolonged fasting to rejuvenate the immune system. “And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
As a dietitian, I worked with cancer patients and traditional knowledge was that we had to get them to eat. We would do anything for them to eat. Sing a song, dance a jig, tell a corny joke – I have done it all in the name of eating! J I did it because weight loss; specifically cachexia is a very real and serious concern in these patients. So the idea that perhaps intermittent periods of fasting are beneficial is extremely thought provoking. Of course there needs to be lengthy clinical trials done to determine the efficacy and effectiveness of fasting long term. But, this is definitely something to keep your eye on! And please, whatever you do, don’t start fasting! The research above is a very new idea, for a very specific patient population!  Also, Thanksgiving is next week and fasting during Thanksgiving would just be wrong! J
Emily Boldrin
Cheng, W. et al. (2014). Prolonged fasting reduces IGF/PKA to promote hematopoietic-stem-cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression [Abstract]. Cell Stem Cell, 14(6), 810-823.
Marziali, C. (February 8, 2012). Fasting weakens cancer in mice. Retrieved from https://news.usc.edu/29428/fasting-weakens-cancer-in-mice/
Wu, S.(June 5, 2014). Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system. Retrieved from https://news.usc.edu/63669/fasting-triggers-stem-cell-regeneration-of-damaged-old-immune-system/.


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