Fact-check: Fasting cannot cure cancer

Fact-check: Fasting cannot cure cancer

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Fasting cannot cure cancer

Researchers caution against oversimplification as autophagy has been attributed tumour-suppressive as well as tumour-promoting functions. 

A viral video on YouTube (with 10K views at the time of writing this) claims that fasting can cure cancer, among many other ailments. The video, narrated in the Malayalam language, asserts that the practice of fasting, common in many cultures and religions, has several health benefits that are backed by science and Nobel Prize winners, such as Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi. 

First Check did a fact-check on these claims, following a reader request, and here’s what we found: In 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for “discoveries of the mechanisms for autophagy”. This is a process by which cells placed in a state of starvation degrade parts of themselves to serve as nutrient sources and so stave off starvation. Autophagy can be induced by fasting for a sustained period of time. However, the connection between autophagy and alleged health remedies have not yet been established. 

Research shows that degradation, in particular through autophagy, is important in cellular physiology. Autophagy can act as a cytoprotective mechanism to prevent various diseases, and dysfunctional autophagy leads to pathology. In some cases, though, autophagy can be deleterious. For example, some microbes subvert autophagy for replication, and the cytoprotective action can allow cancer cells to resist anti-cancer treatments. In other words, instead of curing cancer, fasting can create a hindrance in cancer treatment. 

Another study notes that autophagy has been attributed tumour-suppressive as well as tumour-promoting functions, raising doubts on the actual therapeutic value of autophagy inhibitors for cancer therapy. Researchers shine light on the complexity of the subject and caution against oversimplification.

Fasting is not a one-size-fits-all solution, contrary to what social media may claim. While intermittent fasting and calorie restriction have shown some health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation, there is no conclusive evidence to support the claim that fasting can cure cancer. 

It is also crucial to consider the potential risks of fasting, especially for individuals with certain medical conditions. Fasting can lead to nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and serious health issues. It’s advisable to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any fasting regimen, especially for those with existing health concerns.

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