Intermittent fasting has known to reverse metabolic syndrome as well as help to control diabetes. But a recent study may well add another benefit to intermittent fasting. 

The study conducted by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, has shown that intermittent fasting can induce an anti-cancer response in the human body.

Other than the metabolic complications of diabetes, people living with diabetes and metabolic syndrome are at risk of developing certain types of cancers in comparison to their healthy counterparts.

The study was conducted amongst 14 patients who were diagnosed to have metabolic syndrome. The scientists have asked these candidates to intermittently fast for 14 hours during day time, for four weeks.

The scientists took blood samples before the study, during the study, and after the four weeks. Then they have measured the levels of products by anti-cancer genes (CALU, INTS6, KIT, CROCC, PIGR) and products of cancer-causing genes in these blood samples. 

The scientists have found a significant level of reduction in cancer-causing genes and a significant increase in anti-cancer genes in the patients who had intermittent fasting for four weeks.

The study found increased activity in anti-cancer genes in people undergoing intermittent day time fasting
The study found increased activity in anti-cancer genes in people undergoing intermittent day time fasting

Cancer-causing and anti-cancer genes 

In the human body, millions of cells are being made every day. These cells are made by replicating existing cells from the same organ. These new cells help to replace the old and damaged cells.

However, during these replications, there are chances of mutations occurring in the genome. Some of these mutations can change a cell from a normally functioning cell to a cancer cell, aggressively replicating and invading surrounding organs.

The anti-cancer genes help to keep in check that these mutated cells don’t become cancerous cells and cause them to self destruct. 

Not only that, every day we are exposed to various cancer-causing agents, such as ultra-violet light from the sun, chemicals, food. So without these anti-cancer genes play a vital role in keeping us cancer-free. 

Even though there are different methods of intermittent fasting the study has studied 14 hours or more intermittent fasting from dawn to sunset. And it is not the typical overnight intermittent fasting method practiced by most people.

Other benefits of intermittent fasting

The study has also found that intermittent fasting also helped to 

  • Reduce the body mass index
  • Reduce waist circumference
  • Improved blood pressure control
  • Better diabetes control by increased anti-diabetic genes
  • Increased anti-aging proteins

It is not the first time that intermittent fasting has proven to be a benefit to prevent or control diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 

However, there are some things to note about the study. The study population is 14, which is relatively small and might not represent the whole population. 

Also a 14 hour intermittent fast during day time may not be practical for most people, especially people engaging in demanding activities.

If you plan on starting intermittent fasting, make sure to consult your doctor first. If you have type one or type two diabetes, fasting for a long time can cause hypoglycemic episodes, which can be life-threatening. 


Dr Rukshan Ranatunge is a graduate from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya (MBBS). He is currently studying for his masters in health informatics.

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