While many continue to hope for a “magic pill” to prolong youth and sustain health indefinitely, encouraging research demonstrates the power of a back- to-basics, integrative approach—a plant-based diet, exercise, stress management and social support.
Under the leadership of Dean Ornish, MD, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers conducted a 5-year follow-up study on men who had low-risk prostate cancer. Study subjects were divided into a control group and an intervention group. Investigators collected blood samples at baseline and 5 years later and compared telomere length and telomerase enzymatic activity. Telomere length and telomere shortening are indicators of cellular aging.
Data analysis showed an association between adherence to comprehensive lifestyle changes and increases in relative telomere length. "Out genes and out telomeres are not necessarily out fate," said Orinish in a UCSF press release. "So often people think, 'Oh, I have bad genes, there's nothing I can do about it.' 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 illness and longer life."
Lifestyle changes in this study included eating a whole-food, plant-based diet that was not strictly vegetarian; walking for 30 minutes 6 days a week; engaging in 60 minutes of stress management, including yoga and meditation, daily; and attending a 60-minute support-group session once a week. Study authors suggested that larger randomized, controlled trials be conducted to confirm these initial findings.
The study is available in The Lancet (2013; doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8).