Help with Damages

Chemotherapy: fasting reduces side effects and enhances effectiveness

Studies show short-term starvation can minimise toxic effects

by Healing Cancer Naturally © 2016 Copyright Notice

While being a time-honoured way of promoting healing from a wide range of illnesses as well as optimising health and longevity[1], fasting also seems to be able to counter some of the effects of one of the most toxic and damaging treatments ever devised by man in the name of "healing": chemotherapy[2] used in cancer treatment with its numerous side effects[3].

The discovery

Spearheaded by Dr. Valter Longo, Professor of gerontology and biological science, studies into the mechanisms of aging in yeast, mice and humans and the effects of fasting on these organisms led to the discovery of a (at first blush) very surprising effect.

Dr. Longo subjected two groups of mice with cancer to very high doses of chemotherapy (the cytotoxic anticancer drug Etoposide which was administered at a dose triple of that given to humans). One group of mice was fasted, while the other was normally fed. The results were astonishing:

The fasting mice were lively, showed no effect on their mental health, and virtually all of them survived. Only 35 % of those in the normally fed control group did - they could be seen lying listless in the corners of their cages.

Even more remarkably, fasting seemed to selectively protect the mice's healthy cells against the toxic effects of the chemotherapeutic drug, while leaving the cancerous cells fully exposed to its destructive action.

While conventional oncologists will urge their patients undergoing chemo and radiation treatment to actually step up their intake of protein and calories to keep up their strength, Longo and others have noted that after a fast of 48h, many genes in the model organisms they worked on, i.e. yeasts, mammalian cell cultures, and mice, will modify their expression in a way associated with the protection of healthy cells.

Some genes will "fall asleep", while others will spring into action. Cell division slows down dramatically, cancer cells multiply much more slowly, and the production of IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor 1) is more than halved (IGF-1 is a powerful stimulator of tissue growth). As the researchers express it, short-term starvation causes a rapid switch of cells to a "protected mode".


The following lists some of the studies into the above-described effects, many more can be found by searching the biomedical PubMed database.

  • Starvation-dependent differential stress resistance protects normal but not cancer cells against high-dose chemotherapy

    This paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2008, describes a cancer treatment approach involving conventional chemotherapy which aims to maximally protect the healthy cells while leaving tumor cells fully vulnerable to the chemotherapeutic drugs.

    Among the significant findings using a range of model organisms was that short-term starvation fully protected the normal cells of mice against the toxicity of a high dose of the chemotherapeutic drug etoposide while leaving injected neuroblastoma cells vulnerable, thus showing that starvation can maximize the efficacy of chemotherapy.

    This study can be read in its entirety at .
  • Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients.

    This paper, published in Oncogene in 2011, reviewed studies on fasting, cellular protection and resistance to chemotherapy, comparing them to studies into the effects of dietary restriction (20 to 40% lower calorie intake) on cancer progression which in contrast to the former promotes chronic weight loss. According to first reports, fasting for up to five days may protect against the toxicity of chemotherapy without leading to chronic weight loss.

    This study can be read in its entirety at .
  • Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy.

    This paper, published in Science Translational Medicine in 2012, showed that short-term fasting protects healthy cells in mice and possibly humans from the toxicity of a number of chemotherapeutic drugs. Even more, repeated starvation cycles enhanced the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic drugs against breast cancer, melanoma and glioma cells.

    In fact multiple fasting was as effective as chemotherapy in slowing tumor progression, and in mice with artificially induced neuroblastoma, starvation cycles plus chemotherapy produced cancer-free survival long-term (used as a standalone treatment, neither gave these results). The study authors concluded that in the treatment of a variety of cancers, repeated fasting cycles could possibly increase the efficacy of certain chemotherapy drugs, or actually replace them.
  • Starvation, detoxification, and multidrug resistance in cancer therapy.

    This review printed in Drug Resistance Updates in 2012 looks into the potential of fasting-induced changes in glucose levels, IGF-I and other proteins and molecules to not only make chemotherapy more effective against tumors but to also possibly reduce the multidrug resistance in malignant cells.
  • Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report.

    This paper published in Aging (Albany NY) in 2009 reported on ten patients diagnosed with various malignancies who volunteered to fast before (48-140 hours) and/or after (5-56 hours) their (on average four) chemotherapy sessions.

    The patients reported improvements in a wide range of side effects associated with the chemotherapy - lessened fatigue, weakness, and gastrointestinal issues - while fasting. The authors stress that these results must not be construed as suggesting practice guidelines for patients undergoing chemotherapy and that controlled-randomized clinical trials are required.
  • Fasting and differential chemotherapy protection in patients.

    This paper, published in Cell Cycle in 2010, discusses "the basic, pre-clinical, and clinical studies on fasting and cancer therapy".

Numerous other ways to somewhat protect the body from toxic chemotherapy

While Healing Cancer Naturally does not endorse the use of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment, it does provide numerous suggestions and important pointers (based on anecdotal success reports) for cancer patients wishing to go that route to help minimize or erase some of the multiple potential side effects of these toxic treatments.

See Tips on how to deal with nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy and More tips on how to counter noxious side effects of chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatment naturally.

Also see

On the anti-cancer effects of a low-calorie and/or ketogenic diet. Also see The Fasting Cure (by Upton Sinclair) Introductory note and caveat re fasting in cancer patients by Healing Cancer Naturally.

... and for the best, easiest, and least expensive ways I know to heal cancer

after studying the subject for some twenty years, click here.


1 See all of Healing Cancer Naturally's information on the health and healing-promoting benefits of calorie reduction and fasting.

2 See the evidence presented in this site's Conventional section.

3 See Potential Serious Side Effects of Conventional Cancer Treatment.

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