Two important studies show that a reduction in calorie intake activates the immune system and increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
The majority of 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 the tumor cells: to be really effective in the long term, chemotherapy must also restore anti-cancer immune surveillance by activating blood cells. white killers, specialized in the elimination of foreign bodies.
For example, studies show that by killing cancer cells, certain chemotherapy drugs (anthracyclines, oxaliplatin) cause 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 in a way be compared to a vaccine, in which dying cancer cells provoke 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 nearly half of the animals still alive 180 days after treatment ends while all normally fed animals had died.
Two recent fundamental studies carried out by teams of French and American scientists suggest that this positive impact of caloric restriction is due to an increase in the anti-cancer activity of the immune system. For example, a diet developed by the laboratory of Dr. Valter Longo, which mimics the positive effects of fasting on the body, has been observed to improve the response of mice with breast tumors and melanomas to chemotherapy by causing a marked increase in killer lymphocytes. In the same line of thought, the injection of substances that mimic the effects of fasting on metabolism caused a decrease in regulatory T lymphocytes (a class of white blood cells that decrease the anti-cancer immune response), which improved the activity of lymphocytes. 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 patient response to chemotherapy treatments, and we should know very soon if these results obtained in animals can be applied to humans. In the meantime, it is interesting to note that studies indicate that a fast of up to 72 hours is well tolerated by patients, and appears to be associated with a significant reduction in the side effects of chemotherapy. These observations are not so surprising considering that our metabolism has evolved to function maximally under conditions of food scarcity. Moreover, most of the chronic diseases currently affecting the population, including a large number of cancers, are a direct consequence of overconsumption of food. Eating well could simply mean eating less.
Lee C et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2012; 4: 124ra27.
Di Biase S et al. Fasting-mi- micking diet reduces HO-1 to pro- mote T Cell-mediated tumor cyto- toxicity. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 136-46.
Pietrocola F et al. Caloric restriction mimetics enhance anticancer immunosurveillance. Cancer Cell 2016; 30: 147-60.
Dorff TB et al. Safety and feasibility of fasting in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy. BMC Cancer 2016;16:360.
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