Two important studies show that a reduction in calorie intake activates the immune system and increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Most of the drugs used in chemotherapy are very powerful cell poisons that manage to kill cells by preventing them from reproducing. Several observations made in recent years indicate, however, that this cytotoxic action is often not sufficient to eliminate all tumor cells: to be truly effective in the long term, chemotherapy must also restore immune surveillance against cancer by activating white blood cells. , specializing in the removal of foreign bodies.
For example, studies show that by killing cancer cells, certain chemotherapy drugs (anthracyclines, oxaliplatin) trigger a series of events that will lead to the production of signals capable of activating the immune response. This phenomenon, called “immunogenic cell death,” can be compared in some ways to a vaccine, in which dying cancer cells elicit a strong immune response and allow the complete elimination of residual tumor cells.
Caloric restriction activates immunity
Very encouraging preliminary results indicate that the effectiveness of chemotherapy can be greatly improved by drastically reducing caloric intake. For example, in mice with human tumors, fasting for 48 hours increases survival, with almost half of the animals still alive 180 days after treatment ends, while all normally fed animals had died.
Two recent pivotal studies by teams of French and American scientists suggest that this positive impact of calorie restriction is due to an increase in the anti-cancer activity of the immune system. For example, it has been observed that a diet developed by the laboratory of Dr. Valter Longo, which mimics the positive effects of fasting on the body, improves the response of mice with breast tumors and melanomas to chemotherapy by causing a marked increase in killer lymphocytes. . Along the same lines, injection of substances that mimic the effects of fasting on metabolism caused a decrease in regulatory T cells (a class of white blood cells that dampens the anti-cancer immune response), which enhanced lymphocyte activity. killers and resulted in a marked reduction in tumor burden.
Eating well means eating less
Dr. Longo’s team is working with several hospitals to determine if calorie restriction improves patients’ response to chemotherapy treatments, and we should know very soon if these animal results can be applied to humans. In the meantime, it is interesting to note that studies indicate that fasting for up to 72 hours is well tolerated by patients and appears to be associated with a significant reduction in chemotherapy side effects. These observations are not that surprising considering that our metabolism has evolved to function at its best in conditions of food scarcity. In addition, most of the chronic diseases that currently affect the population, including a large number of cancers, are a direct consequence of excessive food consumption. Eating well could simply mean eating less.
Lee C et al. Fasting cycles slow tumor growth and sensitizes a variety of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2012; 4: 124ra27.
Di Biase S et al. fasting-mimicking diet reduces HO-1 to promote T cell-mediated tumor cytotoxicity. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 136-46.
Pietrocola F et al. Caloric restriction mimetics improve immunosurveillance against cancer. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 147-60.
DorffTB et al. Safety and feasibility of fasting in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy. BMC Cancer 2016;16:360.
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