When less may be more: calorie restriction and response to cancer therapy

BMC Med. 2017 May 24;15(1):106. doi: 10.1186/s12916-017-0873-x.


Calorie restriction (CR) extends lifespan and has been shown to reduce age-related diseases including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases in experimental models. Recent translational studies have tested the potential of CR or CR mimetics as adjuvant therapies to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and novel immunotherapies. Chronic CR is challenging to employ in cancer patients, and therefore intermittent fasting, CR mimetic drugs, or alternative diets (such as a ketogenic diet), may be more suitable. Intermittent fasting has been shown to enhance treatment with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. CR and fasting elicit different responses in normal and cancer cells, and reduce certain side effects of cytotoxic therapy. Findings from preclinical studies of CR mimetic drugs and other dietary interventions, such as the ketogenic diet, are promising for improving the efficacy of anticancer therapies and reducing the side effects of cytotoxic treatments. Current and future clinical studies will inform on which cancers, and at which stage of the cancer process, CR, fasting, or CR mimetic regimens will prove most effective.

Keywords: Autophagy; Cachexia; Calorie restriction; Chemotherapy; Drug resistance; Fasting; Insulin-like growth factor 1; Ketogenic diet; Metabolism; Radiation therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diet therapy*