In a small study of men with early-stage prostate cancer, a program of rigorous diet and lifestyle change designed by prevention and wellness advocate increased telomere length, a finding the researcher says may indicate that people have more influence over the aging process than once thought.
In the study published in the journal Lancet Oncology, Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and UCSF, with a group of researchers (including Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn) followed a group of 10 men with low-risk prostate cancer over five years and compared them to similar men who did not follow Ornish’s rigorous program.
At the end of the study period, telomere length in the men who participated in the diet and lifestyle change program increased (by 10 percent), while telomere length decreased (by 3 percent) in those who did not participate.
Ornish called it a “striking finding” particularly because there was a significant correlation between the degree of change in telomere length and the degree to which the men adhered to the lifestyle change program.
Ornish’s program, which is now covered by Medicare for the treatment of heart disease, advocates a whole-foods, low-fat, largely vegetarian diet, regular exercise and stress reduction, as well as increased social support from family and friends.
In order for telomeres to function properly, they need a steady supply of vitamins and protein to aid in their everyday functions. Eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, seeds, whey protein, dairy, legumes and nuts are all excellent sources of dietary protein and support telomere function. Increasing B vitamin intake is also beneficial to improving and supporting telomere function, which can be done through multi-vitamins and foods such as fish, broccoli, spinach, chickpeas and more.
There are some significant caveats to the current research, however. The study examined a very small group of men with early prostate cancer, in a non-randomized fashion (meaning that the men weren’t randomly assigned to either follow the program or not). And not all of the men who participated in the program followed all of its tenets.
“I think this is a very empowering message to say that our genes are not our fate,” Ornish said. “If you’re genetically unlucky or have shorter telomeres it probably means that you need to make bigger changes than someone else, but if you’re willing to do that then it can make a really big difference.”