Fasting for Cancer Prevention

While extended fasting can have a broad range of benefits, the real reason for my monthly three-day fast is for cancer prevention.

Professor Thomas Seyfried of Boston College, one of my Health Sherpas, has pioneered research that has significantly challenged the somatic mutation theory of cancer, which holds that cancer results from an accumulation of random DNA mutations in the nuclei of cells, which cause them to grow out of control.

Seyfried has championed a metabolic theory of cancer, which essentially says that cancer results from damaged mitochondria, the power plants of the cell.

The video below, in which he addresses a lay audience, provides a compelling presentation of his case.

He first dismantles the somatic mutation theory by showing how it is incompatible with the results of several studies.

He then convincingly describes the metabolic theory of cancer and how it better fits the data, explaining how cancer cells can have so many different mutations in the nuclear DNA, and yet have so many features in common.

The damaged mitochondria generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause the DNA mutations in the cell nucleus. Those mutations are downstream from the real cause of cancers.

This video from last September is more technical, but also includes some updates on applications of his theory in cancer treatment. It’s worth watching if you want a deeper investigation.

Watch the video below first for an introduction, and afterwards scroll down and I’ll describe why I see a monthly three-day fast as a valuable cancer-prevention strategy.

You did watch it, right?

If not, hit the play button and read on when you’re done.

As Professor Seyfried explains, cancer cells use fermentation of sugar to generate energy, and lack the flexibility to use oxygen and ketones because of damaged mitochondrial structures.

As I mentioned previously, one of the benefits of fasting is autophagy, which causes cellular cleanup and recycling of defective organelles like the mitochondria. So one cancer-prevention mechanism is replacing mitochondria that are throwing off ROS and causing mutations with new and improved versions.

The second mechanism is by introducing ketosis at a level that is far beyond a typical ketogenic diet. We all have lots of cancer cells in our bodies at any given time, and our immune system kills off many of them.

But as Professor Seyfried says, cancer cells have lost the metabolic flexibility to use ketones for energy because of their damaged mitochondria. An extended fast drives ketone levels high enough to cause the remaining cancer cells to die, or at least slows their ability to grow and proliferate.

Ketones and blood sugar are inversely related. As blood sugar goes down due to caloric restriction (or a fast), ketone levels go up. And as glucose goes up, tumor size increases.

“It doesn’t mean that sugar causes the cancer, but if you have the tumor, the tumor will grow faster with the higher blood sugar.”

Professor Thomas Seyfried

Later in the video, in the Q&A session, Professor Seyfried describes meeting members of the Calorie Restriction Society of America, people who severely and continuously limit their food intake, and how they have virtually zero incidence of cancer.

He also suggests that long-term caloric restriction is no way to live.

I agree with that.

I see periodic episodes of extended fasting as a way of getting most of the benefits of long-term caloric restriction without the soul-crushing grind of continual deprivation.

As I said in my last post, no one really knows how long is long enough for these extended fasts, or how frequently they should be done.

In my next post I’ll describe why I’ve settled on a three-day fast once a month as my dosage, with a low-carb, high fat (LCHF) lifestyle and time-restricted feeding as the foundation.

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Check out My Health Journey for the full story of our health improvements, and my #BodyBabySteps for an approach to how I would do it if I were starting today, based on what I’ve learned.

Is Cancer Caused by Sugar?

That’s the question posed in this discussion featuring one of my top Health Sherpas, Dr. Jason Fung, in an interview related to his new book, The Cancer Code, with Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician and host of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast.

Dr. Fung is among the five physicians who have been most influential for Lisa and me. From The Obesity Code to The Diabetes Code to The Complete Guide to Fasting to Life in the Fasting Lane, his books share common themes:

  • Insulin is the hormone that causes your body to store fat.
  • While other macronutrients cause some insulin response, sugar, starches and highly processed carbohydrates cause blood sugar (and insulin) spikes, and our continuous snacking means blood insulin levels are perpetually high.
  • This condition, called hyperinsulinemia, causes weight gain, often leading to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Giving patients with Type 2 diabetes increasing doses of insulin to manage blood sugar causes them to gain even more weight, making the problem worse.
  • Obesity increases the risk of many cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. Insulin, with its growth-promoting properties, seems to encourage the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
  • Intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating or even fasts of a day or more create periods of lower insulin levels in the blood, which enables your body to begin burning the fat you’ve stored. Fasting regimens may have some cancer-prevention benefits, too.

I have spent hours listening to Dr. Fung’s books on Audible, many of them more than once, and we also have the print edition of some of them. He has had great insight into dietary and lifestyle contributors to disease, and also is an excellent communicator to a lay audience.

Setting aside one hour to watch this video would be a great investment for you.

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Presenting in Columbus to Cancer Communicators

I’m pleased to be in Columbus, OH this morning to present to the NACCDO/PAN meeting. These folks work for NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. As you will see in the slides, this is my second time presenting to this group, and the first time was a quite memorable day for me.

We had lots of good questions and discussion, and Debra Loggia had some great insights. Check out the Twitter stream of the discussion. And if you have comments or questions, I’m glad to interact.

Where have all the polyps gone?

When I heard that Peter Yarrow of the ’60s trio (with Paul and Mary) had recorded The Colonoscopy Song to increase awareness of the need for colon cancer screening among those of his vintage, all sorts of lyrical possibilities ran through my mind…

Where have all the polyps gone?

Long time passing

Where have all the polyps gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the polyps gone?

Gone to lesions everyone!

When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

I naturally saw the progression moving from polyps to lesions to metastases (although that had too many syllables for the song’s meter) to graveyards. But instead of just recycling one of his oldies, Peter came up with a whole new song, which he performed on the CBS Early Show this week (and also posted to YouTube):

To support this screening awareness initiative, we interviewed a Mayo Clinic physician about for more background on colon cancer and colonoscopy.

I had my first colonoscopy about a year ago, a few years ahead of the time when I would otherwise qualify for a screening colonoscopy, as part of the journey that led to my diagnosis of celiac disease. The prep wasn’t the most fun, but I actually have no memory of the colonoscopy itself.

I don’t know whether my colon, like Peter’s, is “really cool.” But I’m glad to know it doesn’t have precancerous polyps. If you’re over 50 and haven’t had a colonoscopy, make an appointment this week to find out about the coolness of your colon.

Mayo Clinic Social Media Update

As I Tweeted earlier today, I had an opportunity this morning to provide an overview of Mayo Clinic’s social media activities to another division within our department. One of the things I enjoy about doing presentations like this is that as I update previous versions I can see where we’ve made progress in the intervening time.

Coincidentally, a Mayo Clinic colleague — Nancy Jensen — who leads our Public Affairs division in Florida and also is extensively involved in cancer communications nationally, asked me to provide an overview of what Mayo is doing in social media for a discussion board on which she is a member. It’s a group of cancer communications contacts for academic medical centers. She also thought it would be good for them to get a taste of SMUG and some hands-on social media education, so I decided it’s time for another update here.

Since my last Mayo Clinic social media progress report in May (which I would encourage you to check out for background), we have three significant developments:

  1. Our Mayo Clinic YouTube channel has been significantly upgraded. We’ve been able to get the look and feel customized to closely match, our main Web site for patients, and we’ve added playlists to group some of the similar videos and highlight them. Currently we have featured our Mayo Clinic Medical Edge videos and the video testimonials and personal stories we shot at the Transplant Games with the Flip.
  2. We’ve started a Mayo Clinic News Blog. We still have some refinement to do, but it serves at least two good purposes. First, it enables us to provide video and audio resources to journalists on a password-protected, pre-embargo basis, which should help us get more news coverage. Second, when the news embargoes lift, we take off the password protection and make those same resources available to interested members of the general public. And the videos we put there can discuss the research stories in much greater detail than would get into any mainstream media news story, which is a great service to potential patients.
  3. Finally, in just the last two weeks (coinciding with the Transplant Games), we established a Mayo Clinic Flickr account. The first application was to make photos available to the participants who visited our booth, but we’ve also created sets for photos of our campuses, and it seems the next move might be to put photos there that accompany our news releases.

Nancy also mentioned that it would be good for me to discuss some things a smaller communications unit, perhaps with three or fewer members, could do. It’s easy for people to look at the resources Mayo Clinic has, and think that these tools are just for the bigger players.

That would be a mistake; the truth is just the opposite. Here’s why.

Social media tools are a great democratizing force. They enable anyone to create content and distribute it worldwide (and also get feedback from users.) Kids can do this in their basements or dorm rooms; as communications professionals we certainly are capable of learning social media.

On a related note, the cost of participating in social media is extremely low. Through, you can get a blog with customized look and feel, mapped to a domain or subdomain of your choosing, and with the ability to deliver your podcasts, for $45 to $55 a year. A Flickr account with unlimited bandwidth and storage costs $25 a year. A Facebook page is free, and if you work for a non-profit, so is a YouTube channel. You may need to pay someone to do the blog and YouTube customization if you don’t have that in-house capability, but if you have a corporate Web site those design elements would be fairly easy to match. And you can get a Flip video camera, with tripod, for less than $200. A digital still camera also can be had for that price or less, and you already have computers capable of using these tools.

You can learn more about how to use these tools for free. That’s what Social Media University, Global is all about. You can enroll here and then go through step-by-step, hands-on courses in general social media, blogging, podcasting, Facebook and other topics. All it takes is your time.

In the end, that’s the real potential cost for social media: it takes some people and a commitment to be involved. But I would submit that these tools provide leverage for you to accomplish your other work, and that by using them you will get better results in less time. And they also provide an opportunity for you to leverage the involvement of others in your organization, outside of your public affairs or communications group.

Tell your story! How are you using social media?

In the comments below, please share your stories and examples of how you’re using social media in your organization. I’d like to see them, and I know Nancy’s fellow cancer communicators would enjoy them as well.