Diet is important to anyone’s health, but it’s particularly vital for people who are ill. If you have cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy, you may be wondering whether popular diets such as intermittent fasting can be good for you.
In many cases, not enough research has been done to determine whether current fad diets can be safe and effective for chemo patients. But we’re learning more about health and wellness for cancer patients every day! One new study showcases a particular diet that may be the way to go for some patients—fast-mimicking diets.
Juice detoxes, water fasting, and soup diets are sometimes used to stimulate healthy weight loss and cleanse toxins from the body. Since chemotherapy patients are often looking for ways to help their bodies recover from the toxins in chemotherapy drugs, these diets may seem like good options. So researchers set out to find out how safe fast-mimicking diets are for people undergoing chemo—and whether they actually help.
Fast-mimicking diets are plant-based diets generally consisting of soups, broths, tea, and other liquids. Cancer thrives on carbohydrates and red meat, so removing those items from the diet restricts the cancer cells’ ability to grow and multiply.
In a preclinical trial, Dr. Judith Kroep and her colleagues kept tabs on 129 “relatively fit” patients with HER2-negative stage II/III breast cancer as they followed either their regular diet or a fast-mimicking diet for three days prior to undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy in the hopes of shrinking cancerous tumors before surgery. The macronutrient ratios and amounts of the fast-mimicking diet were the same for each participant, and a micronutrient supplement was added.
No difference in toxicity was observed between the two groups, but the researchers did observe better tumor control following chemotherapy in the fast-mimicking group. The diet appeared to do a better job of protecting healthy cells and making cancer cells more susceptible to treatment.
Roughly 80 to 85 percent of breast cancer patients have the HER2-negative variety, but Dr. Kroep says that animal studies suggest this type of diet may be useful to patients with other types of cancers too. However, it is quite possible that cancer patients who are less physically fit or who suffer from cachexia (unhealthy weight loss due to severe illness, such as metastatic cancer) may not fare as well.
Overall, though, it appears that short-term fasting and fast-mimicking diets are likely safe and effective for chemotherapy patients and may be useful as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan. They appear to help protect healthy cells against chemotherapy while also making cancer cells more vulnerable to treatment.
“This study is a stepping stone in cancer dietary management. More studies are needed to confirm our finding and extend them to other cancer types,” says Kroep. “We plan to do some of that work.”
Please always consult your doctor before starting a new diet, especially one as extreme as fat-mimicking or fasting. But we’re excited that cancer patients may now have one more tool in their arsenal. Stay healthy, friends!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?