Fasting For Your Health

(Marcelo Nava/flickr)

This afternoon on Radio Boston, CommonHealth contributor Karen Weintraub talked about her story in today’s Boston Globe, looking at short-term fasting as a medical treatment.

Some research – mainly still in mice – suggests that skipping food for two days before and one day after chemotherapy amps up the power of the chemo; while other work in mice suggests that fasting after a stroke or spinal cord injury, or before elective surgery may help with recovery.

Still other research is looking at whether breaks in eating can help protect the body as it ages, perhaps as effectively as caloric restriction, a long-term, dramatic cut in calories that is known to extend the lifespan of worms, mice and other animals. The new research examines overweight, couch-potato mice who are fed about 25 percent of their normal diet two- to three-days a week, and their regular diet on other days.

It’s not yet clear whether any of this research is applicable to people, but studies are beginning in some of these areas.

Karen’s taken some of the research to heart. She writes:

I’ve tried eating very few calories on 2-3 days a week since I heard one of these researchers talk last month. It’s distracting to eat so little, and I had a headache most of every day, but other than that, it was easier than I thought it would be. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it up now that the motivation of writing this story is over.

Study In Mice: Fasting May Help Chemo Work

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Contributor

A study out today suggests that fasting for a few days at a time may help cancer patients better tolerate chemotherapy, and may even be an effective treatment.

Although the findings are still quite preliminary – the only solid research is in mice – cancer patient Marie Pechet says the study is provocative enough to spur a conversation with her doctor.

“I’d give it shot, I definitely would,” she said earlier today.

The scientist who led the research, Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, advises patients to check with their doctor before attempting to fast. Going without food can be dangerous, particularly for people with diabetes, heart disease and other ailments, he warned.

But he’s bullish enough about the idea of fasting that he does it himself several days a month.

Today’s study, Longo’s second on the subject, looks at mice who were allowed no food or drink except water before and after getting chemotherapy.

Amazingly, up to 40 percent of the mice who fasted during treatment were actually cured of the cancer, as far as researchers could tell – compared to a zero cure rate for chemo alone.

Continue reading