In a new study, researchers have found that a fasting-mimicking diet could be more effective at treating some types of cancer when combined with vitamin C.
They found that the combination delayed tumor progression in multiple animal models of colorectal cancer; in some cases, it caused disease regression.
They believe that the findings show how a completely non-toxic intervention can effectively treat an aggressive cancer.
The research was conducted by scientists from USC and the IFOM Cancer Institute in Milan.
In the study, the team took two treatments that work as interventions to delay aging— a fasting-mimicking diet and vitamin C—and combined them as a powerful treatment for cancer.
The researchers said that while fasting remains a challenging option for cancer patients, a safer, more feasible option is a low-calorie, plant-based diet that causes cells to respond as if the body were fasting.
Their findings suggest that a low-toxicity treatment of fasting-mimicking diet plus vitamin C has the potential to replace more toxic treatments.
Results of prior research on the cancer-fighting potential of vitamin C have been mixed. Recent studies, though, are beginning to show some efficacy, especially in combination with chemotherapy.
In this new study, the research team wanted to find out whether a fasting-mimicking diet could enhance the high-dose vitamin C tumor-fighting action by creating an environment that would be unsustainable for cancer cells but still safe for normal cells.
They found 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.
The study also provided clues about why previous studies of vitamin C as a potential anticancer therapy showed limited efficacy.
By itself, a vitamin C treatment appears to trigger the KRAS-mutated cells to protect cancer cells by increasing levels of ferritin, a protein that binds iron.
But by reducing levels of ferritin, the scientists managed to increase vitamin C’s toxicity for the cancer cells.
Amid this finding, the scientists also discovered that colorectal cancer patients with high levels of the iron-binding protein have a lower chance of survival.
The scientists believe cancer will eventually be treated with low-toxicity drugs in a manner similar to how antibiotics are used to treat infections that kill particular bacteria, but which can be substituted by other drugs if the first is not effective.
One author of the study is Valter Longo, the director of the USC Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
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