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Mind-Body Lifestyle Changes Impact Cancer Genes

If the genetic cards are stacked against you, do not give up hope. Intensive lifestyle changes may be able to influence powerful genetic factors, according to recent studies. Dean Ornish, MD, president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, led a team of researchers investigating the impact of an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention on men with low-risk prostate cancer.

The scientists compared gene expression profiles from 30 male participants with prostate cancer before and after a vigorous 3-month program of dietary change, moderate exercise, stress management and group support. All participants had low-risk prostate cancer and had refused immediate surgery, hormone therapy or radiation; instead, they elected to participate in the lifestyle program, which included periodic monitoring of tumors to track any growth.

Program participants followed a vegan diet; walked 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week; and practiced stress management, consisting of yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery and progressive relaxation. Subjects also took daily supplements of soy, fish oil, vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C. After 3 months, the researchers observed changes in gene expression that affected the tumors: genes that promoted the cancer were no longer active or were less active, and genes that helped fight the cancer were switched on.

“I thought younger people with milder disease would show the most improvement, but neither age nor disease severity made as much difference as adherence [to the program],” Ornish told HealthDay. That means that the more people are able to change, the better. And these findings suggest that you’re never too old to make changes that can positively affect your health.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2008; 105 [24]; 8369-74).

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