Intermittent Fasting & Cancer
This nutrition bite takes a look at how and why intermittent fasting can be beneficial for fighting cancer and how to practice it properly.
For additional practices you can do daily to prevent or fight cancer, grab a copy of the complimentary ebook, 5 Simple Daily Things to Help Prevent Cancer, here.
What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a dietary practice that alternates between periods of eating and not eating. Unlike other diets that focus on what to eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat.
Also known as time-restricted eating (TRE), the most common schedule for intermittent fasting is known as the 16/8 time window, where you fast for 16 hours and eat your meals within an 8 hour eating window. For instance, following a 16/8 schedule, you can start eating at 12pm and have your last meal by 8pm.
There are various schedules for intermittent fasting, but the concept remains the same: to strictly follow periods of eating and not eating. Other common intermittent fasting schedules include the 5:2 method, where you eat for 5 days and fast for 2 days, or the Eat-Stop-Eat schedule, where you don’t eat for a period of 24 hours 1-2 times a week.
3 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
As mentioned above, the appeal behind intermittent fasting is that the emphasis is placed more on when you eat, with fewer restrictions placed on what you’re eating. Of course, when it comes to achieving optimal health, a plant-based, whole foods selection of ingredients is the gold standard as far as we’re concerned!
Here are some of the well-researched health benefits of intermittent fasting:
1. Fasting Activates Autophagy
Autophagy is a vital process our bodies go through to detoxify from old and damaged cells, as well as viruses and bacteria. When it comes to fasting and autophagy, when our body doesn’t have an immediate source of energy from food, healthy cells ‘eat’ weaker, damaged cells, or unhealthy cells like cancer cells. That’s a good thing.
When this does NOT happen, cancer cells have more opportunity to grow and proliferate.
2. Boosts The Immune System
Simply put, intermittent fasting strengthens your immune system.  This is done through a variety of ways. For instance, when you fast, your body is able to absorb nutrients from food more efficiently. Fasting allows your gut to rest and reset. Instead of working on constantly digesting food, an empty gut has time to clear itself from toxins and spend more energy on other functions, such as strengthening immune cells.
3. Fasting Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that plays a central role in breaking down sugar in the body; specifically, it helps get sugar out of our bloodstream and into other parts of our body. Thus, the more sugar we consume, the more insulin we produce to deal with it. Which is great… until it’s not.
Consistently high levels of insulin can actually make our bodies resistant to it, meaning we have a harder time getting sugar out of our bloodstream. If not addressed, this insulin resistance can lead to health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
Intermittent fasting can be a fantastic way to lower our insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance. Simply put, insulin rises in accordance with the sugar in our bloodstream. Intermittent fasting improves our insulin sensitivity by giving our body a break from having to produce it to break down sugar from food. Additionally, fasting can help ‘starve’ cancer cells, as there aren’t excessive amounts of sugar for them to feed and thrive on.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is safe for most healthy individuals. In fact, everyone already fasts daily when they go to sleep. To start intermittent fasting during the day, you simply need to select the schedule most appropriate for you. This means being able to follow a fasting period that you can physically, emotionally and mentally handle.
Before you start fasting, especially if you’re managing a health condition, review your plan with your healthcare provider. Pregnant women, some professional athletes, and those who are malnourished are a few examples of people who should not be fasting. Always consult with a doctor if you’re unsure if fasting is something you should do, especially if you are planning to go more than 16 hours without food.
If, after consulting with a healthcare professional, you decide that intermittent fasting is right for you, that’s wonderful! You have a new, powerful tool in your toolbelt to help you better maintain your health.
A 16/8 schedule is a good starting point, but if you find that too difficult, you can adjust to a 14/10 schedule. Pay close attention to changes in mood, mental clarity, and energy to help determine if and how you need to adjust your feeding window.
A little bodily intuition goes a long way. A good indicator if you’re fasting too long is if you’re feeling dizzy or fatigued before your first meal.
Although you’re not eating, fasting should help you feel lighter, more energized, and mentally alert. If you’re feeling sluggish, shorten your fasting period and ‘build up’ from there until you can comfortably reach your fasting goals.
Easing into an intermittent fasting schedule is important, and will help make the practice more sustainable. Nobody wants to follow a diet that leaves them feeling cranky and tired.
Lastly, though the focus of intermittent fasting is primarily on timing, what you break your fast with is crucial. Just as you want to ease your body into fasting, you also want to be gentle when you come out of a fast.
Your first meal after a fast should be made with clean, plant-based whole foods that cover all your macronutrients. Remember, your body is ‘starved’ and the first thing you put into it will be digested quickly for fuel. When breaking any fast, opt for simple, clean and nutrient-dense ingredients.
This one tip can be an extremely valuable addition to your daily health practice…