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How fasting stops cancer in children

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Fasting may be able to cure children of leukaemia, a new study has found. Not eating every alternate day can actually halt the progression of the most common strain in children. And experts believe it could also reverse the effects of the disease.

Excess fat is known to encourage the circulation of leptin, a hormone which previous research has found fuels tumour growth. Researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, United States (U.S.), conducted the study on mice and tried various dietary restriction plans.

According to the study published online by Nature Medicine, all of the rodents had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) – the most common type found in children. Approximately one in every 2,000 children will develop it.

Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Acute leukaemia is that which progresses rapidly and aggressively. Lymphoblastic leukaemia is cancer of the lymphocytes – the white blood cells that fight viral infections. Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia include pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness and repeated infections. Approximately one in every 2,000 children will develop it. About 85 per cent of cases occur in children under the age of 15. Treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant is sometimes required. Meanwhile, according to the study, half of the rodents were fed normally each day while the others followed a regimen of one day of fasting followed by one day of feeding.

They marked the cancer cells so they could trace them and determine if their levels rose or fell in response to the fasting treatment. At the end of seven weeks, the fasted mice had almost no detectable cancer cells, the researchers found.

Fasting is known to reduce the level of ‘leptin’ – a cell signalling molecule created by fat tissue. They discovered decreased levels of leptin in the bloodstream as well as in the bone marrow in fasted mice. These effects became more pronounced with repeated cycles of fasting. They found that mice that ate normally died within 59 days, while 75 per cent of the fasted mice survived more than four months without signs of leukaemia.


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