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Fasting Mimicking Diet- Possible Benefits for Breast Cancer Patients

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

September 8, 2020

Fasting is a trend that is gaining popularity due to its potential benefits in some common chronic conditions. Among the different types of fasting, intermittent fasting is one of the most popular. This fasting alternates intervals of extreme calorie reduction with periods of normal eating. A different kind of fasting is the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD). FMD is followed for five days at a time, and it is low in calories, sugars, and protein, but high in unsaturated fats. FMD has shown to decrease risk factors/biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer without significant adverse effects of complete fasting. 

According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women in America will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Last month, Nature Communications published research from a randomized phase 2 trial that analyzed the impact of FMD in breast cancer patients under chemotherapy. Researchers found that FMD can sensitize breast cancer cells to chemotherapy both at the clinical and pathological levels.

In this study, researchers randomized 131 patients with HER2-negative stage II/III breast cancer, without diabetes and a BMI over 18 kg/m−2, to receive either a Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) or their regular diet for three days before and during neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The results suggest that an FMD significantly reinforces neoadjuvant chemotherapy’s effects on the radiological and pathological tumor response in patients with HER2 negative early breast cancer. The analysis reveals an increase of patients with a radiologically complete or partial response, and a reduction of patients with radiologically stable/progressing disease in the FMD group compared to the control group. The analysis also shows that better adherence to the FMD improved the pathologic response at the site of the primary tumor (documenting >90% tumor cell loss) in the surgical Specimen.

The tumor response to chemotherapy was clearly more favorable in compliant patients, and the positive effects of the FMD persisted after adjustment for the receptor status of the tumor. These facts suggest that it was the FMD rather than the hormone receptor status, which determined the tumor’s better response. No significant difference in toxicity between the two groups was noticed, even though patients in the FMD group did not take dexamethasone. This suggests that the FMD may obviate the need for dexamethasone to prevent the side effects of chemotherapy. Importantly, DNA damage in T-lymphocytes was less in patients who received the FMD in combination with chemotherapy than those receiving chemotherapy while on a regular diet, suggesting that the FMD protected these cells against the induction of DNA damage by chemotherapy.

The researchers concluded that this study shows that the FMD is safe and effective as an adjunct to chemotherapy in women with early breast cancer (HER2-negative stage II/III breast cancer), at least in patients with a normal body mass index at inclusion.

Reason why it seems to work?

According to authors, healthy cells will switch from a proliferative state to a maintenance and repair state with fasting, while malignant cells don’t adapt to a nutrient-scarce environment. “Instead, fasting deprives proliferating cancer cells of nutrients, growth and other factors, which renders them more sensitive to cancer therapy and increases cell death”.

The downside of fasting

Be aware! Fasting is not for everybody. People with malnutrition, eating disorders, heart disease, kidney disease, pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, very old people, among others, can have a negative effect from fasting. Fasting for long periods also can be harmful. If the body doesn’t get enough vitamins, minerals and fiber, you can develop fatigue, anemia, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, osteopenia. In people with diabetes glucose imbalances, it can be life-threatening. The bottom line is that if you are planning to fast, do it under a health professional’s supervision.

The recipe of the week comes via

Quinoa Vegetable Soup


2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (15.5-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 c. quinoa

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

8 c. low-sodium vegetable broth

8 oz. Tuscan kale, ribs removed and leaves thinly sliced

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving


In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. 

Add zucchini, diced tomatoes, beans, quinoa, and cumin. Pour in broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and boil until quinoa is tender, about 13 minutes. 

Stir in kale and cook until wilted, 1 minute more, then stir in lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and serve.


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