Ornish and Telomeres


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.


Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  2 comments for “Ornish and Telomeres

  1. September 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Doug, you’ve become too cynical. Giving up Maine Lobster for Southern Fried Chicken has changed you and your Telomeres. There are many reasons why a plant based diet (Ornish says use meat as a garnish ), moderate exercise, and relaxation are healthful personal changes. These changes also bring our species diet down the food chain, and our self awareness up the cortex, which has a huge impact on our consumptive patterns. There’s more to saving your body and soul than parking your Prius BEHIND your BMW.

    • Doug Farrago
      September 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      I actually agree with that but Ornish was off the mark on a few things. That was my point.

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