Perspective: Do Fasting, Caloric Restriction, and Diets Increase Sensitivity to Radiotherapy? A Literature Review

Adv Nutr. 2020 Sep 1;11(5):1089-1101. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmaa062.


Caloric starvation, as well as various diets, has been proposed to increase the oxidative DNA damage induced by radiotherapy (RT). However, some diets could have dual effects, sometimes promoting cancer growth, whereas proposing caloric restriction may appear counterproductive during RT considering that the maintenance of weight is a major factor for the success of this therapy. A systematic review was performed via a PubMed search on RT and fasting, or caloric restriction, ketogenic diet (>75% of fat-derived energy intake), protein starvation, amino acid restriction, as well as the Warburg effect. Twenty-six eligible original articles (17 preclinical studies and 9 clinical noncontrolled studies on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets popularized as ketogenic diets, representing a total of 77 patients) were included. Preclinical experiments suggest that a short period of fasting prior to radiation, and/or transient caloric restriction during treatment course, can increase tumor responsiveness. These regimens promote accumulation of oxidative lesions and insufficient repair, subsequently leading to cancer cell death. Due to their more flexible metabolism, healthy cells should be less sensitive, shifting their metabolism to support survival and repair. Interestingly, these regimens might stimulate an acute anticancer immune response, and may be of particular interest in tumors with high glucose uptake on positron emission tomography scan, a phenotype associated with poor survival and resistance to RT. Preclinical studies with ketogenic diets yielded more conflicting results, perhaps because cancer cells can sometimes metabolize fatty acids and/or ketone bodies. Randomized trials are awaited to specify the role of each strategy according to the clinical setting, although more stringent definitions of proposed diet, nutritional status, and consensual criteria for tumor response assessment are needed. In conclusion, dietary interventions during RT could be a simple and medically economical and inexpensive method that may deserve to be tested to improve efficiency of radiation.

Keywords: Warburg effect; caloric restriction; fasting; immunity; ketogenic diet; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Diet, Ketogenic*
  • Energy Intake
  • Fasting
  • Humans