Study Finds Healthy Diet May Reverse Aging
Healthy lifestyle may slow aging in our cells
By Michelle Castillo CBS News September 17, 2013
It's no secret that paying attention to diet, exercise, stress levels and getting social support may extend your life. But a new study shows healthy living may even reverse aging deep in our cells.
A small study shows that positive lifestyle changes lead to longer telomeres, which are protective caps at the end of chromosomes that help protect a cell from aging.
Telomeres are made of DNA and protein, and they work as a shield for chromosomes and help keep them stable. Over time they become shorter and weaker, leading the cells to age quicker and eventually die. Scientists have compared telomeres on chromosomes to protective plastic caps at the end of shoelaces. Telomere length has been linked to risk for diseases including some cancers, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes and even the common cold.
"Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases," senior author Peter R. Carroll, professor and chair of the department of urology at University of California, San Francisco, said in a press release. "We believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions and perhaps even lengthen lifespan."
For the study, researchers tracked 35 men with localized, early-stage prostate cancer for five years. Even though the study involved cancer patients, the researchers said because they looked at telomeres in the patient's blood and not their cancerous tissues, they felt the results could apply to the general population.
Ten of the subjects were asked to eat a plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, but also low in fat and refined carbohydrates. They were also told to exercise moderately (meaning walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week) and reduced their stress through yoga, breathing and meditation. The subjects in this group were required to attend a weekly group support meeting.
The remaining 25 study participants were not asked to make any major lifestyle changes.
The group that made the alterations significantly lengthened their telomeres by about 10 percent. The more positive changes they made, the longer their telomeres were at the end of the study period.
The control group who didn't change their lifestyles had 3 percent shorter telomeres by the end of the five years.
Lead author Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at UCSF, pointed out that the genes and telomeres we are born with aren't always an accurate predictor of what's going to happen in our lives.
"So often people think 'Oh, I have bad genes, there's nothing I can do about it,'" Ornish said in a press release. "But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life."
Ornish lends his name to a diet he has researched that incorporates healthy eating, aerobic activities along with meditation and yoga for stress relief.
Dr. Lynne Cox, a biochemistry lecturer at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study, told the Telegraph that the study shows the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but it might lead to a longer life.
"Perhaps too soon to judge whether this increase in telomere length will correlate with increased longevity or healthspan," she said.
Previous research has linked telomere length to longevity, including a June 2012 paper that found older dads may pass longer telomeres to their children.
Healthy lifestyles have been shown to reduce risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. A recent paper found eating healthily helped some women avoid endometrial cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported that at least 200,000 deaths each year from cardiovascular disease could be prevented if people kept their weight, drinking, diet, blood pressure and cholesterol under control, in addition to engaging in physical activity.
Dr. Nan-Ping Weng, an investigator with the National Institute on Aging, told NPR that the study was "intriguing," but also cautioned that telomeres aren't the only factor when it comes to longevity.
"Can we demonstrate that cells with shorter telomeres have weaker immune function? The answer from our data is yes," Weng says. "But I don't believe the telomere is the only parameter that determines aging. There are many other things."
The study was published on Sept. 16 in the Lancet Oncology.
Study Finds Healthy Diet May Reverse Aging
By Maggie Fox, NBC News
A program of healthy eating, exercise and stress reduction can not only reverse some diseases -- it may actually slow down the aging process at the genetic level, researchers reported Monday.
The lifestyle changes affected the telomeres -- little caps on the end of the chromosomes that carry the DNA, the team at the University of California, San Francisco report.
The report, published in Lancet Oncology, is based on just a few men, and prostate cancer patients at that. But it shows surprising results: Men who switched to a vegan diet, added exercise and stress reduction had longer telomeres.
The men followed a program advocated by Dr. Dean Ornish, who has long researched the role of a very low-fat, vegetarian diet in improving health. Ornish, a professor of medicine at UCSF, worked with telomere expert Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discoveries.
“Taken as a whole, this is really the first study showing that any intervention may reduce cellular aging,” Ornish told NBC News. “I think these findings are almost certainly not restricted to men with prostate cancer.”
Ornish and Blackburn’s team examined 10 prostate cancer patients who had chosen to try Ornish’s program, and compared them to 25 patients who had not. They all had early stage prostate cancer that wasn’t considered dangerous.
The program includes eating a diet high in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains and keeping fat to 10 percent of calories. The average American gets more than a third of calories from fat. For the first three months, volunteers got take-home meals.
They also exercised, walking at least 30 minutes a day, six days a week, did yoga-based stretching and breathing exercises, practiced relaxation techniques and went to weekly one-hour stress-reduction group sessions. And they gave blood samples.
“We found that telomerase increased by 30 percent in just three months,” Ornish said. Telomerase is an enzyme that affects telomeres. They also looked at gene activity. “Gene expression on 500 genes changed, in every case in a beneficial way,” Ornish told NBC News.
Five years later, the team took blood samples again. The 10 men who followed the Ornish plan had significantly longer telomeres five years later -- on average 10 percent longer. The 25 men who had not followed the program had shorter telomeres -- 3 percent shorter on average.
“The more people changed their lifestyles, the more they improved,” Ornish said.
Ornish was working with prostate cancer patients who had chosen not to get any treatment for their tumors. Only a few men had given enough blood in the study to make it possible to test their stored samples, so he thinks a larger study should now be conducted.
Ornish says the program is easy to follow. Each of the 10 men had stuck with it for five years and longer -- long past the time they were enrolled in the study.
“We are getting 85 to 95 percent adherence to our program,” he said. “We are getting ridiculously high levels of adherence.”
Ornish says that’s because it’s pleasant, and comprehensive. “And most people feel so much better they change their lifestyle,” he said.
“People often think that it has to be a new drug or a new laser, something really high-tech and expensive to be powerful. What we are finding is the simple choices that we make every day are more powerful.”
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