DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: How MINI fasts can help you ward off infection... And might ... trends now
A friend contacted me the other day to say she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, that she was going to need chemotherapy — and to ask whether I had advice on what she could do, nutrition-wise, to improve her chances of a successful outcome.
It's a tricky question to answer, because while some of the evidence around nutrition and cancer is fairly well-established (such as the benefits of eating a Mediterranean-style diet, see below), other approaches, such as intermittent fasting, are far more controversial.
But new research suggests that in the right patients this can also be helpful.
There are different types of intermittent fasting, ranging from time-restricted eating — where you limit your food intake to a certain number of hours in the day — to the 5:2 diet, where you cut your calories on two or more days a week.
Early evidence for the potential benefits of the latter in preventing breast cancer emerged from a study by Manchester University in 2013. The researchers took a group of 115 middle-aged women who had a family history of breast cancer, which put them at increased risk of the disease.
There are different types of intermittent fasting, ranging from time-restricted eating — where you limit your food intake to a certain number of hours in the day — to the 5:2 diet, where you cut your calories on two or more days a week (Stock Image)
The women were randomly allocated to eating either a standard low-calorie diet, or for two days a week, half were asked to eat just 650 calories from a low-carb Mediterranean-style diet (i.e intermittent fasting).
After eight weeks of this regimen, the intermittent fasting group lost an average of 6kg — nearly twice as much as the daily dieters.
Significantly, they also saw much greater improvements in their insulin sensitivity, a measure of how much insulin your body has to produce to bring your blood sugar levels down.
This is important because high levels of insulin are thought to help promote cancer growth. The same researchers published a study in 2016 which showed that a month of intermittent fasting not only led to weight loss, but breast biopsies revealed that just over half of the women had changes in gene activity in their breast tissue which suggested it was less likely to become cancerous.
Apart from the impact of intermittent fasting on insulin levels, it may also help fight cancer by boosting the effectiveness of our T cells, a vital part of the immune system. So suggests a new