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Intermittent Fasting Can Help Decrease The Side Effects Of Chemotherapy In Cancer Patients

by Coffee Table Science

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, U.S., have developed a nanoparticle that can diagnose heart damage due to chemotherapy treatment procedures. They discovered that the probe showed reduced side effects when intermittent fasting was done prior to the procedure. Chemotherapy is one of the popular treatment options for cancer patients. It involves using chemical-based drugs which can stop fast-growing cancer cells in the body. However, some of these drugs can damage the heart. Therefore, this new nano-sized probe can be used to identify the extent of damage to provide treatment to patients after successful human trials.

Image credits: Wikimedia

How does chemotherapy affect the heart?

Some traditional chemotherapy drugs, such as anthracycline, can weaken the cardiac muscles by building up calcium and undergoing chemical reactions that release harmful free radicals (unstable molecules). These molecules can cause cardiomyopathy (heart enlargement), congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and heart rhythm problems. However, the risk of developing heart problems increases in patients already having cardiac diseases. 

How does intermittent fasting improve cardiac health?

According to a study published in the journal Cancer Discovery, intermittent fasting has been associated with improved effectiveness of cancer treatments, such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. It can slow the growth of cancerous cells and reduce the risk factors and symptoms of the disease. However, the exact mechanism of how fasting triggers cancer treatment effectiveness is yet to be discovered. 

How can this study help?

The nanoparticle focused on evaluating autophagy in the human body. Autophagy is a biological process through which harmful and toxic substances are released from cells. During this process, the body expels damaged cells to form new and healthy cells. Increased autophagy can stimulate cardiovascular health. However, it decreases in case of cardiac disease and ailment. 

Image credits: Wikimedia

This nanoparticle enabled researchers to non-invasively measure the autophagy levels in the body through MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or fluorescence techniques. These biophysical methodologies help analyse molecular interactions within the cells. 

The researchers injected the nanoparticle into the mice with cancer to measure autophagy changes in cardiac cells under various conditions like intermittent fasting and chemotherapy. They discovered that the nanoparticles detected reduced autophagy in heart tissues exposed to doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug that can damage heart cells. However, intermittent fasting before the drug intake reported normal autophagy activity in the mice’s heart cells. 

“We show with our nanoparticle that intermittent fasting—drinking water but no food for 24 hours before the chemotherapy is given—restores autophagy, eliminates the damage to the heart muscle, and even improves overall survival,” said Dr David Sosnovik, the senior author of the study. 

He suggested that further research is required to determine the fasting effects on autophagy in cancer patients. “We are not suggesting that patients today fast before their chemotherapy. This is something that will need to be studied further in controlled and vigorous clinical trials,” he added. “However, our paper provides important insights that may affect clinical care in the near future.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering

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