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Can Short-Term Fasting make Chemotherapy Safer and More Effective in Curing Cancer?

Updated on December 15, 2013
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There is some exciting research suggesting that short-term fasting during chemotherapy may not only reduce side effects, but may make the treatment more effective in destroying cancer cells. Initial testing on mice as well as informal results with humans have yielded such positive results that clinical trials with humans are underway as I write this. Fasting is one of many things patients should be aware of when faced with chemotherapy, as discussed in Ten Things I Wish My Doctor Told Me About Chemotherapy.

How Does Fasting in Conjunction with Chemotherapy Protect Healthy Cells and Destroy Cancer Cells?

Chemotherapy destroys healthy cells along with cancer cells. Side effects are caused by the destruction of these healthy cells.For example, neuropathy results when healthy nerve cells are destroyed causing the sheath of the protective covering to degenerate. This results in feelings of numbness,tingling,pain, and often affects coordination and balance. This is a significant problem for many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Fasting appears to naturally slow the growth of healthy cells by causing the body to send instructions to cells to slow down and consume less energy. In effect, normal cells in the body go into "maintenance mode", much like an animal in hibernation. Cancerous cells typically ignore instructions from the body (which is why they are cancerous), and therefore are not affected by fasting. Thus, fasting during chemotherapy reduces the absorption of harmful drugs by the healthy cells by slowing down their growth, while the cancer cells continue to grow unabated. This has the obvious effect of reducing the negative side-effects without impacting the effectiveness of the treatment. If the healthy cells are protected higher and more frequent doses of chemotherapy can be given to patients resulting in a more effective treatment for some patients.Thus, advanced or more aggressive cancers may be safely treated without increasing the risk of side-effects of the chemotherapy.

Studies Testing this Theory

1. Study with mice: In 2008 Valter Longo conducted a study on mice to test this theory. The results were published in the science journal Science Translational Medicine. One of the many interesting results was that five of the eight cancers tested responded to fasting alone. Normal cells in the body obey instructions to reduce growth when in a fasting state. However, cancer cells do not recognize the instructions, and continue to attempt to grow and divide even without the required nutrients in the blood - in some cases resulting in self-destruction.

How to Fast During Chemotherapy

If the oncologist agrees, the patient can fast for 3 days before and 1 day after chemo. Depending on what type of chemo is being administered and at what intervals this could change. Patients should avoid re-feeding (resuming their regular diet) until the chemotherapy is below toxic blood levels (usually 24-48 hours after administration). Although we have rarely seen negative side effects caused by fasting (high liver toxicity markers in 1 patient fasting and receiving a chemo cocktail) there are some potential risks so keep that in mind. For example, an early re-feeding immediately after the chemo could cause liver damage, because of the combination of hepatotoxic drugs with the proliferation of the liver caused by fasting. For this reason is important to have a minimum of 24 hours after the chemotherapy is administered. Also, several patients have fainted while taking hot showers after several days of fasting probably because of the major reduction in blood pressure and glucose levels after day 1 of fasting. The patient should not drive or operate machinery or should be accompanied by someone during the fasting period. Most people can drive while they are fasting but for a few this could be a problem so unless you know fasting does not affet your ability to drive, don’t drive. Starting 24 hours after the chemotherapy, the patient should only eat rice, pasta or a similar source of carbohydrates + soups + fruit juices for a period of 24 hours. Then, a normal diet can be resumed, paying particular attention to nourishment (vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats). The patient should also try to return to within 2-3% of their body weight before doing another fasting cycle. Obese patients should consult their doctors on whether some of the weight loss caused by fasting is advisable and whether they should try to remain at the lower body weight. Diabetic patients should not undergo fasting unless this is approved by their diabetologist. Subjects on hypertension medication should also talk to their doctor about the blood pressure drop caused by fasting and the risk of combining fasting with medications. Until clinical trials are completed fasting will remain an experimental procedure and should only be considered with the approval of the oncologist and when other viable options are not available or are known to be ineffective.
Between fasting cycles, a low sugar accompanied by a mostly plant based 0.8 grams/kg of body weight/day protein intake diet (approximately 10% calories from proteins) is recommended but a registered dietician should be consulted to avoid malnourishment and unwanted weight loss.

However, the combination of fasting and chemotherapy was either more or much more effective than the chemotherapy or fasting alone. In all cases there was a slowed tumor growth and/or a reduction of the spread of cancer to other organs. For example, multiple cycles of fasting combined with chemotherapy were used to treat a very aggressive form of cancer that is common in children. The combination of fasting and chemotherapy cured 20% of the mice although the cancer had spread. 40% of the mice were cured in cases where the cancer had not spread. The interesting thing about these results were that none of the mice survived that were treated with chemotherapy alone. (Longo, V. 2012. Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy. Science Translational Medicine.)

2.Small Study with Humans:

In 2010 a case report published in the Journal Aging involved ten individuals going through treatment for breast, ovarian, lung, and several other types of cancer, The patients fasted for periods ranging from 48-140 hours before, and 5-56 hours following chemotherapy. None of the patients had advserse effects from the fasting (other than the expected hunger and lightheadedness). Six of the patients went through therapy both with and without fasting for different cycles. Uniformly, the patients reported fewer to no negative side effects of the chemo while fasting. For example, one breast cancer patient felt so bad after second and third treatments (without fasting), that she had to stop working. When she resumed fasting for her fourth cycle, she reported feeling much better, even though each cycle of treatment typically causes the effects to get worse due to cumulative toxicity. This response was typical for all the patients undergoing the study. (Longo,V. 2010. Fasting and Cancer Treatment in Humans: A Case Series Report. Aging)

3. Self-Reported Results

Many people on forums expressed positive results with the fasting. For example. a man in his 80's said he had been so tired during his first sessions that he could barely get out of bed. When he tried fasting, he felt so much better that he was able to play an entire game of golf and went from being a very cranky person to feeling much happier. One woman going through breast cancer fasted for the first two treatments but not for the third. After the third one she had headaches. much more fatigue, and felt nauseous. She immediately resumed fasting, and felt much better for the remainder of her treament.

If you are interested in participating in one of the clinical trials regarding the results of fasting combined with chemotherapy or want further information on this topic contact:

1. Mayo Clinic

Call 507-538-7623
Email Clinicaltrials@mayo.edu

2. Usc Norris Comprehensive Cancer Clinic

Call 323-865-0451

Current Clinical Trials

Several clinical trial are currently being performed at multiple cancer centers and research hospitals. Particularly notable is the Mayo Clinic trial running from 2010-2015. Another important study is now being done at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. The treatments being studied are for breast, urinary tract, and ovarian cancer. An initial phase has been completed, although it was merely to verify that patients can tolerate a 3-day short-term fast of 2 days before and 1 day after treatment.

Dangers of Fasting During Chemotherapy

In certain cases there may be risks associated with fasting during chemotherapy, so always check with your doctor before making your own decision. For example, fasting can be dangerous to patients with diabetes, who have experienced significant weight loss due to illness, are on medication that must be taken with food, or are at risk of low blood pressure.

My Personal Experience

While I was going through chemotherapy, the only resources I could find were the study with mice, the informal subjective 10-patient human study, and self-reported results on forums. Furthermore, I didn't find any of this information until after my first round of chemotherapy. When I asked my oncologist for information about the study she brushed me off and told me to contact the nutrition counseling center - although she did acknowledge that she didn't see any dangers of fasting (other than predicting even more discomfort than chemo normally causes) . The center responded as if I was crazy, and simply told me to drink a lot of milkshakes and other high-calorie foods to maintain my weight - in spite of the fact that I maintained a healthy weight through my entire treatment. Based upon the available information, and since I did not fall into any of the high-risk categories for fasting, I made the decision to try it.

During my treatment, my oncologist did not ask about my diet at any point. Furthermore, I did not have any significant weight loss due to the anti-nausea drugs and steroids (rather, they made me eat like a football player), and I had frequent blood tests. I fasted 2-3 days before,the day of chemotherapy, and at least 24 hours after. I'm not a person that had ever fasted before, and cannot bear it during my normal life - but I was so desperate to minimize any permanent damage (such as neuropathy) that I was able to force myself through it. There are many people that took the same drugs who are now using a cane or a wheelchair for life due to permanent neuropathy. In fact, since it was so common, my oncologist routinely asked how "my neuropathy" was - despite the fact that I kept telling her I didn't have it at all!

Since I discovered this study only after the first round of chemotherapy, I initially experienced mouth sores, exhaustion, and extreme weakness such that I could barely walk the next morning because my legs were shaking and so unsteady. After I began fasting during later sessions, I didn't experience mouth sores, generally had less fatigue, and never got a trace of neuropathy. I did experience hair loss and some fatigue - but no other side effects. In hindsight I think my emotional state may have strongly contributed to my fatigue because I was never so tired that I needed a nap.

The current studies need to address whether fasting does in fact reduce side effects in humans, how long an individual needs to fast, and what types of cancer fasting is effective for. It is also vital to prove that fasting does not negatively affect the effectiveness of the treatment, so that people will feel more free to try it even in the absence of proven positive results. Also, some research is being done to develop drugs that will put cells into a "fasting-like maintenance mode", so people who otherwise could not tolerate fasting could still benefit from the protective response of the cells. It will be very exciting to follow these studies and I will update this article when results become available.

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    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 2 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi ShelleyHeath,

      It is not easy to fast but so worth it if it minimizes side effects and makes the treatment more effective. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words.

    • ShelleyHeath profile image

      Shelley Heath 2 years ago from Birmingham

      Fascinating hub... I really think that additional considerations such as this can work wonders towards the success and effectiveness of cancer treatment. Awesome that you share your experiences for the benefit of others; Thanks for sharing this with us :)

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 2 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Ecem,

      Thank you so much for your kind words and support!! I hope this information is helpful.

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 2 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Roxanna,

      The fasting can be a challenge but very worth it. There are new scientific studies out to support this theory. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • profile image

      Ecem 2 years ago

      Од 30 November, 2012 - 6:48 pmklonopin I direvocsed your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!�

    • profile image

      Roxanna 2 years ago

      Woot, I will ceanlitry put this to good use!

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Ali,

      The blue sidebar labeled "How to fast during chemotherapy" provides an explanation. If you scroll down and look on the right you will find it. If you have trouble or have any other questions please let me know.

    • profile image

      Ali 3 years ago

      How is the fasting done? What is allowed and how many calories?

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Annette!

      You are in the home stretch with only two left and I'm cheering you on! I drank only water and watched a lot of TV and read books and stayed away from the kitchen as much as possible to stay focused. Did you fast during your previous rounds? Did you already have neuropathy before you fasted with your last round? Happy you found this also and feel free to ask me any questions:)

    • profile image

      annette 4 years ago

      Hi Healthylife2,

      I am undergoing chemo treatments. I have 2 left. I fasted the 2 days before and 24 hours later after my last round and it seemed to help side effects. However I did still have Neuropathy ;( I would like to know what you can drink? Just water? I'm so happy I found your site. : )

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Sunshine625! I will keep Michelle in my thoughts and I hope the fasting works well for her. I'm going to be tracking down the results so far from the clinical trials and updating. It means a lot to me when I hear my information might be useful to someone. Have an awesome day!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      A friend of mine beat colon cancer last year. She's now battling lung cancer. She also intends to try the fasting route this time around. Michelle is a trooper. I'm sending her this hub. Thank you!!!

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi tirelesstraveler! This does seem like a logical and fascinating theory and I will update this article when the clinical trials are completed. My doctor didn't support me because the results of the study weren't out yet but I made the decision to do it anyway based upon the research I was able to find and I think it really helped me have fewer side effects. I wish this information was made available to people so they could make an informed decision but I understand that medical professionals can't until formal studies are completed.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      I wish I had know this before I finished. It makes perfect sense.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @Mirela...I know it's a crazy time but I would love it if you kept me updated!

    • profile image

      Mirela 4 years ago

      Thank you :)! Will let you know what happens, I emailed him just now.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Mirela! The first thing I suggest you do is contact Valter Longo at USC. His e-mail is Vlongo@usc.edu or call his office at 213-740-6212. People said he did respond and he is the expert on this study. You can also find out if there are clinical trials on chemotherapy and fasting in your area.

      Weekly for six months does make it more of a challenge but maybe you can do a shorter fasting period. Also check out this article on chemotherapy. https://healdove.com/disease-illness/Ten-Things-I-...

      Get advice from your oncologist but don't forget that at the end of the day it is your body and the ultimate decision is yours to make. I hope this helps. Sending healing energy and positive thoughts your way!

    • profile image

      Mirela 4 years ago

      Just read this very informative article as I am about to embark on intensive chemotherapy. I will discuss it with my oncologist first, but I am wondering if you fast for 4 days total (2 days before, day of chemo, 1 day after). That would be hard I think since I have to have chemo once a week for 6 months! Any suggestions are welcome, thank you for posting this!

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @CyberShelley...I hope this information does help others and will update when clinical trials are completed. Thank you so much for your supportive comment and vote!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention, it could be so helpful to so many others. Well done again! Up, useful and interesting.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @Dwachira...So sorry your niece had to go through chemotherapy. This is a promising study and I think the results will be interesting. If there is a way to minimize the physical toll chemotherapy takes it is worth finding out. I also think much more research needs to be done to create an atmosphere that makes the experience less stressful from an emotional perspective. Thanks for the comment and I really appreciate your vote and the share!

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      One of my niece had to go through this Chemotherapy, it is terrifying and stressful. I hope something will be done to make it more bearable to patients. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @midget38...I hope your Dad finds this information helpful. Glad this gave you something to consider and I hope you are doing well! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It's much appreciated!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      An interesting article that I'm sharing with my dad. I'm a brain tumor patient myself and have always wondered if fasting before a session of MRI makes a difference...it may not be related, but your hub has given me something to think about!! A wonderful write, healthy life!

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      shruti sheshadri...Thank you so much for your kindness. I joined hub pages with the hope of helping others. I found out that writing is so much fun and there is a great community of supportive people like you. Thank you so much for the visit and comment!

    • shruti sheshadri profile image

      shruti sheshadri 5 years ago from Bangalore, India

      You are an inspiration healthylife2, Cancer is a lot to go thrpugh, but at the same time u have the kind heart to post about it and help others willingly! I salute that spirit :) A great hub, by the way!

      Glad to know u, take care :)

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      eHealer...Thanks so much for the kind words and support! It is amazing that fasting has so many health benefits and is free. I hope my experience can help others. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Nice to meet you too!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Healthy Life, you are a survivor! I am so glad you wrote about this, I always some amount of fasting has healing properties, and diverting energy from the digestive system can help medications and therapies work better. Thank you for a great hub, and especially thanks for sharing your experiences. Nice to meet you! Very well done and voted up!

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      chef-de-jour...Many people fast solely for the purpose of detoxification and claim they feel amazing and more energetic. I guess this theory that I wrote about and implemented takes fasting to a whole new level. It is definitely a concept worth investigating further. A juice fast is a great way to detox and many claim to feel better than ever after it.. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Fascinating and interesting and full of ideas for further research. Fasting is a complex and ancient 'art' I'd say, not to be taken lightly yet worthy of much more analysis.

      I have tried fasting, for short periods only, during which I drank fruit and vegetable juices. This was nothing to do with religion or ill health - more a detox experiment that gave me good insights into how my body would react under the stress of no solid intake.

      This hub however is a total different ball game. Many thanks for sharing.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @taazakhabar...Thank you so much for your support and comment!

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Daniella Lopez...Many people haven't heard of the study. It only came out in 2008 and that was with mice. It will be so interesting to see the results of the clinical trials. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      rajan jolly...It's so interesting that other cultures fast on a routine basis often for religious reasons but also for the health benefits. So many people say it helps their body heal even when they have something minor like a cold. Thanks for pointing out that water is vital. Appreciate the visit and the share!

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Sunshine625! I hope your oncologist is aware of the study and can give you guys helpful information on this topic. Thanks for the visit and the comment!

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi tammyswallow! I believe Rajan so kindly shared my hub! Thanks for the visit and I hope this helps your friend.

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      @Kelleyward....Thanks so much for the kind words! You made my day! So sorry your mother had to go through breast cancer..I hope she finds this information useful. I appreciate that you took the time to read this and comment. Thank you for the support and the share!

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow Rajan! I didn't realize you have been through this. This is very helpful and I will be sharing it with a friend in need. It makes a lot of sense. Excellent!

    • taazakhabar profile image

      taazakhabar 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      An informative, useful and well written article, I'm so glad you took pains to share it with everyone.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      This is such a fascinating article. I have never heard of fasting during chemo, but it sounds like a valid thing to do. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      This is a very important and useful article healthylife. Fasting in India is done routinely by the Hindus basically being done with a religious angle.

      Ayurveda also suggests fasting when not well. Even animals fast when not well. The basic idea is that during a fast new toxins are not being created so the old ones are flushed out. Also the body has more energy as it has no work of digesting regularly ingested foods.

      however it is very necessary to drink goods amounts of water to ensure detoxification.

      An excellent hub. Sharing it and voting it up, interesting and useful.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Thank you for sharing this info healthylife! Very interesting, I'm going to mention it to our oncologist for his opinion. Well done!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Wow healthylife! This is a superbly written, informative article. I'm so glad I found your hubs! Voted up, useful, and interesting. Shared with HP followers and pinned! I'll also email this to my mother who had breast cancer two years ago. Take care, Kelley

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Earthy Mother! I hope the results come out soon and prove to be really beneficial for others. I read about many individuals that also stumbled across the same information and it was helping them so decided it was worth a try since there were no negatives for me. It's interesting that fasting in general can be beneficial but takes a huge amount of willpower! Thanks for stopping by! xoxo

    • Earthy Mother profile image

      Earthy Mother 5 years ago from South East England

      This is interesting and certainly makes sense...if it can help make the side effects less potent definitely worth doing! I've never fasted myself but am going to read up a little more on it now! Thanks for the info xx

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hyphenbird..I found this research so fascinating that I implemented it myself. Strangely, fasting takes practice it seems. Water is always necessary and I wish I could go an entire week of fasting easily. I'm learning fasting has numerous benefits and am going to try a short fast when the kids go back to school with water of course. When the results from the clinical trials are published I hope doctors will pay more attention to this information. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This is ca very interesting and eye opening article. It also is another testament to just how important food is to the body and how it can affect us. I truly believe when we consume fewer calories, we set in motion many healing options. Fasting is beneficial in many regards in my opinion. I can easily go a week without food and almost always feel better for it. Water is necessary though. I pray physicians open their eyes to the research you have found and offer these options.

    • healthylife2 profile image
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      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Talk N Share...Thank you so much for your kind words and support!! I'm fairly new also on HP and learning all the rules can be overwhelming. I think they will send you an e-mail if there is a violation of a rule. Try publishing your article again because fasting is such an interesting alternative approach to so many medical conditions. I will definitely check out your health blog!

    • Talk N Share profile image

      Talk N Share 5 years ago

      Glad I stumbled over you, healthylife2, I'm praying for you and trust you will get all the information and treatment you need to be a whole and healthy person. I'm new here so apparently broke a couple rules, and they wouldn't publish my article on fasting, which I've been doing since the early 70's. I recently started a health blog to share things I have learned, know, and practice with great success, but I hesitate to put it's address in one of my hubs now, since they may not allow me to give everyone that information. If you would like to check it out, it's www.talknshare.wordpress.com. May God Bless and Keep you.

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Talk N" Share...You are right that fasting also contributes to healing the body. There are so many medical conditions that can be improved by fasting. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • healthylife2 profile image
      Author

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      innerspin...The information did really help. The oncologist was unable to recommend it because results from clinical trials have yet to be published but I think it is fascinating and it will be interesting to see the results of the clinical trials. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

    • Talk N Share profile image

      Talk N Share 5 years ago

      I'm glad to see the truth is coming out bit by bit! Fasting allows your body to heal itself and so it makes sense that it would be helpful. To get rid of the cancer cells, you need a lot of zeolite. My studies have shown Waiora to be the best and you can check it out at www.mywaiora.com/909481. You can keep cancer away with sun-ripened fruits and veggies, but since we usually have access to only things that were picked green, supplements are needed. There are a number of companies selling these, so you just need to shop around. We happen to like Purity because they sometimes give free samples and their perfect multi super greens have kept us free of colds, flu, cancer and all other disease for many years. Some companies sell products that are mis-represented and don't work. If you take a 'good' supplement and still get colds and flu, change your brand. Whatever works for you- may God bless and keep you.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 5 years ago from uk

      This is a fascinating article, I'm so glad you found the information of personal benefit. Hopefully the oncologist will pick up on the research before too long. Thank you for the hub.