Long term calorie restriction lowers the risk of cancer in addition to extending life in laboratory animals. Here researchers show that short term calorie restriction appears to augment the effectiveness of treatments for an existing cancer:
While previous studies suggest a connection between caloric intake and the development of cancer, scientific evidence about the effect of caloric intake on the efficacy of cancer treatment has been rather limited to date. When humans and animals consume calories, the body metabolizes food to produce energy and assist in the building of proteins. When fewer calories are consumed, the amount of nutrients available to the body's cells is reduced, slowing the metabolic process and limiting the function of some proteins. These characteristics of calorie restriction have led researchers to hypothesize that reducing caloric intake could potentially help inhibit the overexpression of the protein Mcl-1, an alteration associated with several cancers.
Researchers conducted a series of experiments in mice developing lymphoma resembling Burkitt's lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, two human cancers of the white blood cells. The team began by separating the mice into two categories: those who would receive a regular diet and those who would receive a reduced-calorie diet (75 percent of normal intake) for the duration of the experiment. After the mice consumed either a regular or a reduced-calorie diet for one week, researchers then further divided the mice into four groups according to the treatment they would receive for the following 10 days. Of the two groups of mice that received a normal diet, one (the control group) did not receive treatment and the other received treatment with an experimental targeted therapy, ABT-737, designed to induce cancer cell death. Of the two groups of mice who received a reduced-calorie diet, one did not receive treatment and the other received ABT-737. On day 17 of the experiment, both treatment and calorie restriction ended, and mice had access to as much food as they desired.
Investigators observed that neither treatment with ABT-737 nor calorie restriction alone increased the survival of mice over that of the other mice; however, the combination of ABT-737 and calorie restriction did. Median survival was 30 days in the control group that received a regular diet and no treatment, 33 days in mice that received a regular diet and treatment with ABT-737, 30 days in mice that received a reduced-calorie diet without treatment, and 41 days in mice that received a reduced-calorie diet and treatment with ABT-737. Shortly after this experimental period, investigators also observed that the combination of calorie restriction and ABT-737 reduced the number of circulating lymphoma cells in the mice, suggesting that the combination sensitized the lymphoma cells to treatment.