Ornish and Telomeres

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It’s been over twenty years but Dean Ornish is back at it again.  His claim to fame was putting people on a strict lifestyle change and then reversing heart disease.  His new study appears in the journal The Lancet Oncology, he and his researchers feel they found proof that a healthy lifestyle helps the body’s cells fight aging.  Researchers recruited 35 men, 10 of whom were asked to follow this lifestyle structured around a whole-food, plant-based diet, moderate daily exercise, yoga-based relaxation and stress management, while the other 25 were not asked to make any lifestyle changes at all. In addition to the diet and daily physical and mental routines, the 10 also attended weekly sessions for three months where their new skills were reinforced by specialists, including a one-hour weekly “support” session. After five years, the scientists assessed the participants for a hallmark of biological aging called telomeres.  The longer the the length of telomeres, the younger/healthier your cells are.  Among the 10-man group, telomere length increased significantly by an average of 10 percent over the five years — and it was higher among those who had adhered most faithfully to the new lifestyle. Among the “control” group, though, telomeres had shrunk by three percent on average.  The study, very much like the one that brought Ornish to fame (PLEASE READ THIS LINK!), is fraught with limitations.  The number of participants was small, and it was conducted as part of an investigation into prostate cancer, and the research was not empowered to test whether lifestyle changes affected the risk of cancer.

I give this Ornish credit.  He has done a lot but he was dead wrong on the low fat diet in his first study.  His studies also mix too much crap together, which make it difficult to tease out what is important.   The takeaway point from this study, to me, is that telomere testing will be the new rage for all doctors and patients.  Bet on it.