Lifestyle change & your telomeres

by Christina on October 7, 2009

There’s been some recent talk about telomeres (pieces at the ends of the chromosome that influence the health and aging of our cells) and telomerase (the enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres), as one of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, helped discover telomerase.

In the image below, the red parts are your telomeres – the pieces of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes:
Dr. Blackburn worked with Dean Ornish and others on a study published last year in The Lancet which showed that lifestyle changes actually increase telomerase, and thus increase the length of telomeres. While most of the medical world is talking about the potential of medications to increase telomerase, Dean Ornish is saying that “Lifestyle changes are not only as good as drugs, but often, as in this case, even better.”

The Ornish study enrolled 24 men with prostate cancer willing to make the following lifestyle changes for 3 months:

  • A 3-day intensive residential retreat, followed by an outpatient phase where participants met with staff for 4 hours per week and had weekly telephone contact with a study nurse.
  • Lifestyle modifications included a low- fat (10% of calories from fat), whole foods, plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, legumes, and low in refined carbohydrates.
  • The diet was supplemented with soy (one daily serving of tofu plus 58 g of a fortified soy protein powdered beverage), fish oil (3 g daily), vitamin E (100 IU daily), selenium (200 μg daily), and vitamin C (2 g daily).
  • Moderate aerobic exercise (walking 30 min/day, 6 days/week)
  • Stress management (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation tech-niques 60 min/day, 6 days/week).
  • A 1-hour group support session once per week.
  • Participants were provided with all of their food during the intervention period. A registered dietician, exercise physiologist, clinical psychologist, nurse, and stress management instructor were available for education and counseling.

They measured telomerase activity in peripheral blood cells at enrollment and at 3 months to see if there was any change. They found a statistically significant increase in telomerase activity (p=0.031). After only 3 months!

What might they find after several years of these lifestyle changes?! 

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