Fasting to treat cancer

By John DiTraglia

I just got my email that Dr. Peter Attia periodically sends to his acolytes, titled fasting and cancer, about a recent study that shows how fasting can dramatically improve the outcomes in pancreatic cancer and it’s treatment – in mice anyway. (1)

Weight loss is generally an early harbinger of cancer. Maybe the bodies of cancer victims are trying to tell us something. Fasting is also part of the natural condition of humans throughout most of our history on earth. Fasting is also a discipline of many religions – Ramadan, Lent… Maybe never being hungry is bad.

This study (2) took mice and didn’t provide food for 24 hours and compared the results with normally fed mice of a massive dose of radiation. They also used a model of pancreatic cancer in mice for another arm of this comparison.

Pancreatic cancer is a killer without good treatment options. But a big dose of radiation is often part of the treatment of pancreatic cancer and the limiting factor of this treatment is the tolerance of your intestines to the damage of the radiation. The inner lining of the intestinal tract is made of rapidly reproducing cells.

In this study the mice who were not fasted prior to the killer radiation dose all died within a week from radiation-induced toxicity, akin to humans who have been exposed to staggering doses of radiation (e.g., Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl). However, all of the mice that fasted for 24 hours prior to the radiation insult were alive after one month. And while all of the mice, in both groups, showed signs of radiation toxicity, the fasted mice were back to their baseline activity levels 8 days later. The fasting also appeared to protect intestinal stem cells – the intestinal cells in the fasted mice were regenerating by day 10 post-radiation.

So fasting improved survival and intestinal cell regeneration. These investigators likewise found that fasting improved the survival of mice with pancreatic tumors also subjected to lethal doses of abdominal radiation. Furthermore the protection conferred by fasting applied only to the normal tissues, whereas the pancreatic tumors were not protected, and actually may have been more vulnerable as a result of the 24-hour fast.

But Dr. Attia points out that a 24 hour fast for a mouse is way harder than the same fast in a human. The mice lost 20% of their weight after that fast. It would take a human 3-4 weeks of eating nothing to lose 20% of their weight. And a 7 day fast is universally fatal to a mouse.

Still, maybe not such a drastic weight loss and not such a drastic dose of radiation would be easy and ethical to try and would make a difference in humans with pancreatic cancer.

1. August 4, 2019.

2. Bonilla MC et al. Fasting reduces intestinal radiotoxicity enabling dose-escalated radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2019 Jul 1. pii: S0360-3016(19)33421-2. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2019.06.2533. [Epub ahead of print]

By John DiTraglia

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- or phone (740) 354-6605.

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- or phone (740) 354-6605.