Intermittent Fasting & Cancer: What Does the Research Say?
Fasting has been in practice for a long time, most of it as a religious practice. But recently, some have begun using it for specific health benefits. Studies conducted over the year have shown that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk factors for cancer and other health conditions, and also reverse their symptoms.
Overview of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting means a “scheduled fasting” alternated with meal times. For instance, one may eat normally for most of the week, but fasts for over 16 hours on Wednesdays and Fridays (thus eating for only 8 hours on those days). During periods of eating, no restrictions are placed on the amount of food that a person can eat or a reduction in the intake of calories.
Some intermittent fasting regimens involve total abstinence from food. However, there is no restriction on water intake. Other intermittent fasting regimens may allow the intake of non-water beverages or food but in small amounts.
The human body is designed to accommodate periods of food scarcity.
You see, while this may seem uncommon in the present-day society where there’s plenty of food, the human body is designed to accommodate periods of food scarcity. Historically, fasting has been used as a survival technique during famine, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that affect food supply.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are three subtypes of intermittent fasting. These include:
· Extended night-time fasting: This form of intermittent fasting is mostly applied in cancer cases. In extended night-time fasting, there is an extension of the period between dinner and breakfast. There are indications that this may have been the “normal” diet that our ancestors ate in the past when food was a luxury compared to now. The 16/8 method is a good example of extended night-time fasting in which eating takes place between 12 noon and 8 pm (8 hours of unrestricted eating and 16 hours of fasting).
· Time-restricted feeding: It is similar to extended night-time fasting. It defines the eating times and the fasting period.
· Short-term fasting: Short-term fasting is of different varieties. There is alternate-day fasting and the whole day fasting. In the alternate day fasting, there are days where calories are eaten without restriction and days when calorie intake is limited to 25%. For the whole day of fasting, calorie intake occurs without restriction for five days each week, while taking in no calories or roughly 25% of calories daily for two days per week.
How Does Fasting Work?
The human body is fashioned in such a way that it offers protection against starvation. It is designed to store some amount of nutrients required for survival.
When you are not eating as you should, the cells in your body will undergo some mild stress. During this time, your body releases the nutrient reserve to fuel up. Clinicians suggest that you may not experience any negative effects as long as the body has enough time to recover after such a stressful ordeal.
Weight loss is one of the results of fasting. People lose weight during fasting because the body is expending more calories than it is gaining. Prolonged fasting should be done cautiously. Continuous fasting will set your body in a “starvation mode” where your body processes slow down in a bid to prolong your life. This usually begins after you’ve fasted for three days at a stretch. During the fast, your body will conserve as much fuel as possible without your noticing the weight loss.
What Does the Research Say about Fasting and Cancer?
One benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss. Of course, this is good news for a healthy adult. Recent studies involving animals and some preliminary human trials have shown that intermittent fasting decreases the risk of cancer or reduces the rates of cancer growth. According to these studies, the anti-cancer effects of intermittent fasting may be due to:
· Decreased production of blood glucose
· Regeneration of the immune system by stem cells
· Production of tumor-killing cells
· A balanced intake of nutrients
In a particular study of time-restricted feeding (9–12-hour phases), fasting impeded type 2 diabetes and obesity in mice. Obesity is a primary cancer risk factor, which may lend credence to the hypothesis that fasting treats cancer.
In a second rodent study, it was found that intermittent fasting is done bimonthly reduced the incidence of cancer. A pilot trial involving 19 humans showed similar results. The risk factors and biomarkers for cancer were drastically reduced.
A research carried out in 2016 showed that combining chemotherapy and fasting slowed skin cancer and breast cancer progression. Combining both methods of treatment increased the production of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and common lymphoid progenitor cells. Common lymphoid progenitor cells are lymphocyte precursors, and lymphocytes are white cells that kill tumors.
Results from the same study found that short-term starvation increased the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy. Normal cells were, however, protected, while stem cell production was promoted.
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