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Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging

Diet, Meditation, Exercise Can Improve Key Element of Immune Cell Aging, UCSF Scientists Report

By Elizabeth Fernandez    |   UCSF.edu | September 16, 2013

Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging

A small pilot study shows for the first time that changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging.

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It is the first controlled trial to show that any intervention might lengthen telomeres over time.
 
The study will be published online on Sept. 16 in The Lancet Oncology.
 
The study was conducted by scientists at UC San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit public research institute in Sausalito, Calif. that investigates the effect of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease. The researchers say they hope the results will inspire larger trials to test the validity of the findings. 
 
"Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate," said lead author Dean Ornish, MD, UCSF clinical professor of medicine, and founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.
 
"So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it,’" Ornish said. "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."
 
Study of Early-Stage Prostate Cancer Patients
Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. They are combinations of DNA and protein that protect the ends of chromosomes and help them remain stable. As they become shorter, and as their structural integrity weakens, the cells age and die quicker.
 
In recent years, shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including many forms of cancer, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.
 
For five years, the researchers followed 35 men with localized, early-stage prostate cancer to explore the relationship between comprehensive lifestyle changes, and telomere length and telomerase activity. All the men were engaged in active surveillance, which involves closely monitoring a patient’s condition through screening and biopsies.
 

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