Fasting during chemo may have surprising benefits for cancer patients

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may benefit from a fasting-like diet, according to a new study. The researchers evaluated the effects of a very low-calorie diet on patients receiving chemotherapy, finding that not only did the special diet improve the effects of chemotherapy, but may have also helped protect the patient's body from cellular damage caused by the treatment.

Past research has evaluated the effects of fasting and fast-mimicking diets (FMDs) on mice that had cancer and that were receiving chemotherapy. The results from those studies were promising, paving the way for this new study called DIRECT.

Researchers with Leiden University split the 131 participating patients into two groups, one given their normal diet and the other tasked with eating the fast-mimicking diet for three days before their chemotherapy treatment and on the day of it. In evaluating the outcomes of these two groups, the researchers found that patients on the FMD had better outcomes.

The cancerous tumor was more likely to shrink in the FMD group, and while both groups experienced the same levels of toxicity from chemotherapy, the FMD group was found to have experienced less cellular damage as a consequence. Researchers found 'significantly' less DNA damage in white blood cells in the fasting diet group.

This is the first time scientists have looked into the effects of a fast-like diet as an add-on treatment alongside chemotherapy in cancer patients. It's important to note that fasting cannot cure cancer and that the patients still underwent chemotherapy; as well, the researchers note that more research is still necessary to determine the overall outcome in cancer patients. Anyone suffering from cancer should consult with their doctor before attempting a similar dietary practice.