Scientists from USC and the IFOM Cancer Institute in Milan have found that the combination of fasting-mimicking diet and vitamin C has the potential to replace more toxic treatment, and help fight against hard-to-treat cancers.
In studies on mice, the combination presented its effectiveness in delaying tumor progression and promoting disease regression.
A new discovery
It is the first time for researchers to find a completely non-toxic intervention that can treat an aggressive cancer effectively. Although previous studies have shown that fasting-mimicking diets and vitamin C can respectively help cancer treatment to some extent, the effect of the combination was never revealed.
It’s no secret that fasting is a challenging yet effective choice for cancer patients. A temporary “cutoff” of food supply can restrain the growth of cancer cells, but it’s difficult for cancer patients to fast frequently. That is why researchers encourage a safer, more feasible option – a low-calorie, plant-based diet that causes cells to respond as if the body were fasting.
A highly efficient combination
In the study, researchers wanted to create an environment that would be unsustainable for cancer cells but safe for normal cells. They chose to combine a fasting-mimicking diet with high-dose vitamin C, because a proper fasting diet could enhance the effects of vitamin C in tumor-fighting action.
"When used alone, fasting-mimicking diet or vitamin C alone reduced cancer cell growth and caused a minor increase in cancer cell death. But when used together, they had a dramatic effect, killing almost all cancerous cells," said Valter Longo, senior author of the study.
The KRAS gene
In cancer research, there is a mutation appearing in the KRAS gene, which is considered as one of the most challenging targets. The mutation means that the body is resisting most cancer-fighting treatments, and it reduces a patient’s survival rate.
KRAS mutations occur in about a quarter of all human cancers and up to half of all colorectal cancers, making the cancers difficult to treat. Although previous studies have shown the efficiency of vitamin C or fasting-mimicking diets alone, the limited effects were not enough to fight against KRAS-mutated cancers.
The most exciting part of the study was the scientists found “how fasting-mimicking diet cycles were able to increase the effect of pharmacological doses of vitamin C against KRAS-mutated cancers,” said Maira Di Tano, a study co-author.
The research team's prior studies showed that fasting and a fasting-mimicking diet slow cancer's progression and make chemotherapy more effective in tumor cells, while protecting normal cells from chemotherapy-associated side effects.
The combination of a fasting-mimicking diet and vitamin C may help enhance the effectiveness of traditional therapies like chemotherapy by protecting normal cells and helping fight against cancer cells.