Cancer treatment comes with a cost: chemotherapy has unpleasant side-effects. A solution to this could be long-term fasting. Fasting has been proved to help the regeneration of stem cells of the immune system while also doing away with old and damaged cells, thus boosting immunity which is otherwise negatively affected by chemotherapy.
Food is one of our most basic of needs – what we can’t go without. We die out of a lack of it; we need food, as simple as that. However, a certain balance has to be maintained; we should not consume more than we need, nor should we take in food in inadequate amounts. Additionally, encouraging a balanced in-between is also beneficial for the body – by fasting for a certain amount of time.
What is fasting?
Fasting can be defined as the complete or partial refraining from taking in food and drink. Studies have, in the past, attempted to evaluate the benefits brought about by fasting. A new study has taken it further, evaluating the benefits of long-term fasting in another perspective. The results generated from the study showed that prolonged fasting conferred protection against the detrimental effects of chemotherapy, by stimulating stem cell production of the immune system while getting rid of old, damaged cells.
So, all it takes for cells to regenerate via stem cells naturally is by depriving the body from food?
The study is actually very promising: it could help raise the condition of people with compromised immune system as a result of chemotherapy, or, as a consequence of ageing.
Affect of Fasting on Stem Cells
Stem cells are the raw materials of specialized cells. They have the potential to differentiate into specialized cells. Fasting affects the condition of stem cells of the immune system such that the latter make the transition from a dormant state to an active one whereby they differentiate into their respective specialized cells. The experiments that were devised in the study focused on hematopoietic stem cells – those stem cells which mother the blood and immune systems. Prolonged fasting was found to promote the regeneration of the hematopoietic system via stem cells.
The subjects used were mainly mice. An additional human clinical trial test was also made.
During fasting, it was observed that the white blood cell count decreased. When the fast was broken, the blood cells would emerge. When the body does not receive in food, it uses up the stored reserves of glucose and fat, and it recycles damaged cells of the immune system. The lab-rats were shown to develop new immune cells while at the same time having their old and damaged immune cells killed when made to fast for 2-4 days. The changes recorded were observed over a period of six months.
As the white blood cells decreased in number, the regeneration of new immune cells was triggered. That is how fasting would provoke the renewal of cells.
That was not all. Fasting also brought about other changes in the body systems of the cobayes. Long-term fasting decreased the level of the enzyme PKA which is associated with lifespan extension. PKA has also been linked with the self-renewal of stem cells. Another substance had its level influenced by fasting which it the IGF-1, which is a growth factor hormone which is involved in the process of ageing as well as in cancer and tumour development. When the PKA is no more manufactured in the body, stem cells are stimulated to the process of regeneration – the locking up of PKA constitutes the green light for the stem cells to come into action.
Results of Clinical Trials on Human
The subjects, who were cancer patients, were made to fast for three days before undergoing chemotherapy. By doing so, it was demonstrated that they were protected from the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is detrimental to the immune system of the patients. Thus, fasting consolidates immunity by stimulating the regeneration of the stem cells making up the system.
Does this work with other systems apart from the immune system? How will this study improve the lives of cancer patients and others? More studies have to be done in order to answer these crucial questions.
The study, led by scientists from the Uniersity of Southern California, was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.